Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend
Leaping the Abyss:
Putting Group Genius to Work
Tactical Planning at Warp Speed
It's Friday morning, the last day of the Wharton
DesignShop. Outside the hotel in mid-Philadelphia, there's sweltering heat,
high humidity, and occasional thunderstorms-which do nothing to break the
heat. Combine the weather with the high-crime environment outside the hotel,
and it means that many of us haven't been outside in several days. To participants
from more human-friendly external environments, it seems that the DesignShop
event is an oasis constructed in hell. The two long days behind them and
the nine-hour marathon ahead don't seem to have tired anyone out. The participants
come in gladly, picking up breakfast as they head toward the large group
As people ingest their doses of caffeine,
Matt and Gail sketch out the tasks ahead. Today it all comes together. Each
organization will leave with a detailed and critiqued action plan. For two
days you can see some people have been resisting the urge to say, "Yes,
that's all very well, but what exactly are we going to do?" and "That
goal is too ambitious-how could we possibly accomplish it?" Implementation
issues have been deliberately ignored in order to get the right goals set
and the participants speaking a common language. Now it's time to figure
out how to get there from here.
Or rather, how to "bring there to here."
The key is to envision the preferred future state, and then see how to "bring
that preferred future back to here every day, in every action you take."
Who would guess that this simple reformulation of the implementation challenge
could make a difference?
Gail Taylor points out that, "Today will
be 80% of the work." What does she mean by that? The whole group has
been working their tails off the entire time. Sure, it's been a non-standard
kind of work-different from what they do back at the home office-but it's
been intense. So what could "80% of the work getting done today"
mean? Maybe it means that all of the "real" work will get done
today, because today is when the action plan-the most concrete product-gets
We asked Chip Saltsman of Ernst & Young
what he thought Gail meant by this. Chip's numbers are a little different,
but the idea is the same:
If on the first day we get X amount done,
then on the second day we'll get 2X, and on the third day we'll get 4X
done. On the third day, if we say, "We're half way through,"
people say "huh?" But, we'll get more done on that last day than
we did during the prior two days. Once the group is aligned on what their
answer is, they are capable of incredible output, working in parallel.
As everyone prepares to separate into organization-based
teams, Matt has a final challenge:
When I was a builder-architect and said we
could build a building 10% faster, people would say "So what?"
But if you said that we had nine months, but would do it in six weeks,
bam! A big change is easier to get alignment on than a little change. Don't
exhaust yourself in the little changes. We have to make deep changes, or
be victims of change.
Matt's advice as they launch themselves into
work helps add to the creative tension. Chip adds,
You want to be building up creative tension.
If you are shooting an arrow, and only draw back the bowstring halfway,
the shaft barely travels. If you pull the bow back to your ear, the arrow
really flies. Creativity comes out of the conundrum of the need to be organized
and flexible at the same time. People who say, "I need to work under
pressure, I need to be worried"-that's creative tension. Many of these
insights are well described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity.
He points out that, in creativity, a state of tension exists between being:
REBELLIOUS - - CONSERVATIVE
PASSIONATE -- OBJECTIVE
HUMBLE - - PROUD
IMAGINATIVE - - ROOTED IN REALITY
PLAYFUL - - DISCIPLINED
For the next three hours, the various organizations
work intensely and creatively on their plans.
Transitioning from Focus to Act
In what ways does the strategic and tactical
work about to be done in the DesignShop session differ from the same type
of work done by the same people back home? Chip offers,
At a DesignShop event, everything is happening
faster. The work is much more collaborative. This may be a group of executives
who have never come together before to work on these issues, but the communication
is outstanding, because you've begun speaking the same language. They may
be deluded that they all speak the same language in their work life but,
in fact, they speak 'dialects' depending on location and function.
How do you tell when you are ready to move
from Focus into Act? And what is that moment like when all are focused solely
on one company and its issues, in contrast to the wide range of groups gathered
here at Wharton? Chip explains:
In a large group, the transition to Act usually
comes around some kind of an emotional synthesis conversation. They have
to talk it out in a long, emotional discussion-an intense conversation.
In order to reach their destination, they have to walk away from something.
It's obvious that the group has reached a decision, and it is now time
to act on it. Sometimes you feel the "we gotta do that" feeling.
This is a culmination of a pattern that started
back on Day 1 during Scan. You've spent two days getting them loaded up
to do the work on Day 3. The linear types want to do Day 3 when they walk
in the door-they want to solve it first. However, the creative process
doesn't work that way.
During Scan and Focus, you are also working
through the questions of identity and vision. When you are dealing with
identity, you are asking, "Who are we? What kind of problems and conditions
are we are dealing with?" You look at it from many different vantage
points and develop lots of different ways to see the problem.
When you are developing vision, you ask,
"How do you see it going into the future? What does "there"
look like? What's the difference? What is it about the new "there"
that allows different operating conditions?" You get your hands dirty
sometimes when you're busting some cherished beliefs. "Who said anything
about bicycles? Why do we have to be a bicycle company? Why not a transportation
company? Why not a toy company? A racing company? Who said we have to do
it that old way? [It's like Carl's Jr.-are we a lunch concept? a sandwich
concept? what are we?] Expect that there will be moments of "What
the heck am I doing?"
In working with intent, you have to see if
you have the resolution to go through with it. When the group has that
conviction, you hear, "By golly, we are going to solve the problem."
You can ask yourself the test questions-Are you excited yet? Do you have
the juice to make it happen?
You have got to have a problem to solve. And
the group has to feel that this is a problem worth solving. Often it is
up to the leader to articulate this, to stand up and say, "We aren't
going back to the old way. I'm burning the boats behind you." Very
often, you need to achieve Intent before you get the Insight on how to do
Insight is the ah-ha! the Eureka! The moment
when everything slips into place. In the rest of our lives, we use words
like "breakthrough," "epiphany," "getting religion."
It's the moment you imagine a design and allow for a new thing that will
make the future happen.
How reliably does the insight, the ah-ha,
the answer, show up for people? Do people know when they have the answer?
Here is Chip's perception:
Most commonly, they have the answer, but
they don't know they have it.
Next most common, is that they have the
answer and know it.
Third, is that they don't have it, and they
know they don't.
Last is that they don't have it, and they
think they do.
The most mystifying is the common state
of "they have the answer and they don't know they have it." What
on earth does that mean?
It sounds unlikely, but it echoes as a common
pattern through the various DesignShop experience stories. It means that
someone in the room has spoken the golden solution, or scribed a golden
solution up on the board. But so far, everyone is still hunting around rough
pebbles and fool's gold, passing by the nugget again and again. Remember
back at AEDC, Matt was saying, "What if it wasn't the law? What if
it wasn't the law?" like a broken record, but no one could hear him.
This was completely obvious to all that were outsiders to the situation,
but when you're right in the middle of it, those habitual barriers and mental
strings that we don't even recognize any more can block our view of a beautiful,
The habits, mental strings, and old concepts
have to be left behind.
The facilitator's job is to keep participants
in the struggle, keep them engaged, moving forward, working the problem.
The facilitation team is thinking, "What are the barriers that we need
to remove to get them to insight?"
What the facilitator is not thinking is, "How
do we force them into this particular answer?" As a facilitator or
as a sponsor "voice of authority," you may just be itching to
jump up and yell: "Look! Here's the solution to the whole problem!
Just drop all this other nonsense and get with it." Resist this urge,
because people don't learn from being told, they learn from the experience;
they need to experience it.
The facilitation team continues vigilantly
providing direction toward the goal, easing the way, but allowing the result
to emerge on its own. It's analogous to how a butterfly hatches. If you
think that the chrysalis is a barrier that needs to be removed and decide
to help the butterfly out by slitting the chrysalis open, the butterfly
will crawl out the doorway you have made. But you'll find that it will never
be able to unfurl its wings, never be able to fly, never be a butterfly.
Struggling to free itself from the chrysalis is an important part of the
process of becoming a butterfly. Biochemical changes go on in the butterfly
as it struggles, rests, and then struggles again to forge its way out of
the container of its old form and into the shape and mobility of its new
life. Without the biochemical learning of the struggle, you don't get the
When the group emerges from its chrysalis
after the struggle, it's got wings, the energy to fly, and the deep learning
that will continue to help guide each individual as he or she performs tasks
during the upcoming Act segment, and also months from now and miles away.
People have to work on the problem enough
to make it their own. Not until you've wrestled with it, do you own the
problem and own the solution.
How Does the Facilitation Team
Prepare for the Moment of Insight?
The facilitation team has been concerned with
how to get the participants to the moment of insight. They have also prepared
the next set of steps for moving into Act, once insight has been reached.
How do you prepare for a decision that hasn't
been made yet? You can do it because, most commonly, the participants have
already created the solution to the problem, even though they may not recognize
it yet. The pattern of the solution is more apparent to the facilitators,
or to anyone who is not wrestling to rid themselves of a conceptual barrier.
In a DesignShop session being held for a single
company, the fifty to eighty participants will break into teams during Act.
So using that pattern as a guide, Chip describes the continuing process:
The night before, we'll have chunked the
work into six-plus-or-minus-two bits of work. We'll select the ones we
think we're going to work on.
At the moment of insight, we have created
topics around which to form teams. Once the teams have crystallized around
a "there," or made their decisions, we use those topics-usually
on hypertiles-to validate that those are the topics that need work. Sometimes
we eliminate some or add others on the spot. The participants "vote
with their feet," join the topic that most interests them, and then
they get to work.
In one DesignShop session for an E&Y
client, the chunks related to a series of product lines. But for another
one done for E&Y internally, some of the topics for the groups were:
- communicating to outside world
- what they were going to sell
- how they were going to sell it
- Internet consulting
Often, a synthesis team will be coordinating
the work of all other teams. After all, there can be as many as eighty
people in a DesignShop event.
The facilitation team will ask themselves,
"How do we put closure on this, so that people can resist the day-to-day
pressure?" Therefore, you will often have a team working on a covenant
Sometimes during Act, a new team will materialize.
At an E&Y event, for example, we realized that we had to assign account
execs to 300 clients. So a team came together, made the list, and then
went back to their original teams.
On the last day, the morning of Day 3, the
facilitator's job is to stay out of the way. By now there is usually violent
agreement about what needs to be worked on. Very often participants aren't
assigned to groups. They sign up for topics for which they have a passion.
Now we are in the second half of the creative
cycle: building and testing. The work is engineering: you design, you put
the skeleton together, and flesh it out. You need to go through a couple
of cycles of design, build, and test-multiple cuts at the same problem
coming from multiple directions. You need to bring it in front of others
to test it: "Well, have you considered this?" "Well, no."
So they go back to their group and continue to flesh out the problem.
Reaping the Benefits from Focus
Wait a minute-doesn't this all sound just
too rosy? Too easy? Unrealistic?
The reason the work goes so very quickly and
yet maintains excellent quality is because you paid your dues yesterday
in Focus. During Focus, every group looked at the whole solution-not at
parts, the way you are now working in Act. During Focus, you did repeated
stress tests of the whole situation and of entire proposed solutions.
You can stress-test an idea along many dimensions.
Having two or three groups working separately on the same thing is a great
way to test their solutions.
The stress tests were to look for fatal flaws
and essential elements. The search for fatal flaws either went on implicitly,
as in building a 3-D model, or called out explicitly, as in these examples
Try solving the problem, but without a key
thing that they think they need. So, for E&Y it was "design a
consulting practice that has one third of the people you think you need."
Solving the problem without a key element brings up, "What's gotta
go in the lifeboat?" You get down to the real essence.
"You are bought by a corporate raider.
You have six months to hit aggressive targets or you're history. What do
you do? Can you take away the things you think you ought to have, but don't
This forces them to think about it not working.
Since they are going to be thinking about that anyway, you may as well
have it addressed explicitly and use it to test and improve the solution.
After that, every group works on different
pieces of the problem. Often you get a lot of insight by having two or
three groups working on the same thing. There is a constant reshuffling
of teams and, with that, a constant amount of idea sharing. Either implicitly
or explicitly, because they have reported-out, the ideas are exchanged
throughout the group. Repeatedly, there is time to take what they are developing
and stress test it. We will test the structures that the groups are proposing.
We suggest: "We can divide up the work this way."
Back to Act
"Usually we have one full group check-in
session." Chip explains, "The facilitators do very little talking.
We facilitate the conversation so it's not dysfunctional. We test to make
sure the participants don't have more to say on a particular subject. To
test, we'll say, "Let's move on." Well, sometimes they have a
lot more to say! When they weren't getting any more out of it, then we would
move on to the next group."
The first big payoff of the ruthless stress-testing,
design, and redesign in Focus is that the plan evolves like lightning. There
isn't any of the standard stuff such as appointing a committee to research
and plan for six to twelve months.
The next payoff is that every responsible
party has already kicked the tires. If you have pulled representatives of
all the stakeholders together, then the entire value web is already educated
and signed up to work on the plan. Because you put the time into developing
a common set of experiences and a common language, everybody is finally
talking about the same thing. The standard business of months of education,
selling the plan, watching it get misunderstood and distorted isn't there.
In three days, start to finish, you're ready to fly with a new course of
E & Y Clients Do a DesignShop
Chip told us about a DesignShop event for
an E&Y client, a major consumer products company. They had done an excellent
job during Scan, so good that at the end of their Scan on Day 2, they had
covered the work walls with 30 or 40 product ideas that were worth $100
million or more apiece.
Their Focus and Act segments illustrate how
testing can locate weaknesses which can then be fixed in the midst of building
the Tactical Plan. It also provides an example of another issue that concerns
facilitators: how to achieve closure so that people can resist the day-to-day
pressure of the old environment.
As this company moves from Scan to Focus,
they are looking at the work walls covered with a plethora of $100 million
product ideas. Chip, standing up in front of the walls, would point to an
idea and ask, "How many people here think that this one idea is easily
achievable?" And then hands would go up. Eighty percent was Chip's
cutoff point. Anything that got less than 80% of the participants' hands
up in the air wasn't a candidate. For some ideas it was 100%-a sure thing.
At one point he stopped pointing out ideas.
He turned to the participants and said: "On the board behind me is
a billion dollars of easily achievable business, right now."
The room became completely silent.
Potential victories covered the walls in front
Then the participants broke into groups for
the next exercise: to start testing for areas of weakness in this pie-in-the-sky
dream. Each team was handed an abundant supply of Post-It Notes and given
the same mission: Explain "Why We Can't Do It." They had to write
as many Post-its as they could, listing barriers that would prevent them
from moving forward.
While the participants were off at work in
their groups, the facilitation team implemented an architectural change
that was going to create a major mood alteration. Using kids' building blocks,
the team built a big brick wall that stood as a barrier between where the
participants would be sitting and their $1 billion of sure-fire new products
on the work walls.
When everyone came back for the last exercise
of Day 2, there was a brick wall between them and their goal. Then, things
got even worse. The next exercise was the report out dealing with "Why
We Can't Do It."
Group after group showed up with their pile
of yellow stickies and read through all the reasons why the company was
never going to reach the goal of a new $1 billion in products. They were
all cultural, organizational reasons: "We won't work together."
Each yellow sticky in turn went up on the brick wall, until the surface
was covered with them. It was a visual representation that the cultural
issues were what stood between the people and the achievement of their goal.
With all these problems staring at them, blocking
them, the participants were told that they were finished for the day. Time
to go home.
The president took the barriers like a real
blow. The participants went home a sobered bunch.
But, they were asked not to think about the
problem that night. Instead, they were asked to sleep on it, and write down
their first idea upon waking the next morning.
Day 3: Moving from Focus into Act
When they showed up in the morning, the brick
wall and the yellow stickies were gone, but the tension of what it all meant
hadn't dissipated. This was deliberate. The designers wanted the tension
created by the brick wall to be the springboard for moving from Focus to
Act. It was.
According to Chip, "After about two-and-a-half
hours of discussion and they were ready to go Act. Teams formed around eight
promising product lines, one on option prioritization, synthesis, barriers
and vision. After a one o'clock check in, the president huddled with his
executive team to polish the vision while the rest of the teams plowed on."
The final report-out of the day was staged
so that the product lines went in order of increasing drama.
The second to the last report was done by
the Barriers team. The Barriers team built another brick wall, smaller than
the original monster, but replete with the emotion and symbolism of the
first. With the wall lurking there, they presented a vision of how they
would like the company to be, a plan for getting there, and a personal committment
Now it was time for the last group to report.
What could this group possibly say or do that would overcome the crushing
weight, the impossible barrier of all those reasons for failure?
Suddenly, bricks and yellow stickies went
flying as the president smashed his way through the brick wall. The whole
group was on its feet, cheering, applauding. "Here's our vision!"
he said, the work that he and his team had been doing to guarantee success.
The president worked his way through the new operating imperatives that
had been created that day, swept the barriers aside, and presented the new
People came out of the DesignShop event pumped
up. The group left on a huge high.
"Later, we got a call from the president.
He said, 'The corporate jet doesn't need fuel to get back home.'"
The wide-ranging work of Scan and the stress-testing
of Focus left them stronger. The stress-testing of cultural issues was clearly
uncomfortable. But the way out of the problem is through the problem-and,
in this case, "through the wall" as well. This group left the
session with a dynamite plan, and the path smoothed of obstacles in order
to help that plan succeed.
The unmistakable statement of the physical
presence of the wall and the unmistakable statement in the president's smashing
the barrier did more convincing than hours of discussion or debate could.
It put an intellectual, behavioral, and emotional seal on the work that
has been done.
Symbolic acts have a strong, powerful emotional
impact. At another DesignShop event facilitated by Ernst & Young, they
performed a symbolic act to indicate that the past was gone. On a red card
each participant was to write the thing that they were leaving behind. On
a green card, each wrote the idea that they were bringing home. Leave this
old attitude behind-take this new idea home.
"Hmmm," said Chip as he thought
about it. "We should have burned the bad thing, maybe used flash paper,
do something to blow it up. That would have been even more effective."
The Eagle in Action
Back here at Wharton, the progress in the
groups is strong. People are working intensely. Ideas and iterations happen
quickly. There are no pauses in work process, no lulls. It really is fast-paced
The F-15 group with Col. Bill is having a
great time. They work like those old DesignShop pros over at the AEDC breakout.
The DesignShop process spread into the military
the same way it has spread among commercial organizations-through word of
mouth by people who have seen it work. In this case, the motivating force
was the migration of Col. Bill Rutley from heading up AEDC to leading the
System Program Office (SPO) for the Air Force's F-15 fighter aircraft.
He had been the force behind getting DesignShop
environments, tools, and processes established at AEDC, and he brought this
enthusiasm with him to the SPO. In April 1994, shortly after taking his
new post, he sponsored the first F-15 DesignShop event.
Col. Bill had good reason to want the best
tools available. The F-15 is in a difficult position. This plane has been
flying for twenty years, and it's getting old. And yet, its successor, the
F-22, has been delayed so many times that now it looks as though the F-15
may have to fly until the year 2020.
How can you keep an aircraft that old flying
well enough to fight wars? Especially since there appears to be some kind
of rule saying that a class of aircraft can't be upgraded when it will be
replaced within five years by a new aircraft. With the F-22 being delayed
by small increments, this means that the F-15 design could be forced to
stop evolving when needed.
Moreover, the funding cycles for the aircraft
are messed up, leading to instabilities in the flow of dollars. Somehow,
the Air Force has got to keep winning wars until 2020 with an old aircraft
and unreliable funding. Quite a challenge for Col. Bill and his team attending
the Wharton event, despite their intensive training in DesignShop processes.
Col. Bill had great success introducing DesignShop
techniques at AEDC, but since that command changes hands every couple of
years, he'd had to move on. We were curious about his next command-are the
techniques being as well-received at F-15? Col. Bill:
Here we have worldwide responsibility for
over 700 airplanes and a prime contractor, plus subcontractors and international
contractors. We are on the road all of the time. I am on the road 250,000
miles a year.
Compared to AEDC, the DesignShop work with
the F-15 program has had a tougher road because there are much more complex
organizational needs-but it is having a serious, positive effect.
The F-15 challenge is more difficult because
it has a beginning and an end. AEDC has no definable end whatsoever. But
by the year 2025 or so, most F-15s will be out of service. There is a complete
life/death cycle and no return after death. Also the F-15, like AEDC, had
not thought about where it was going to be in the future. It will now have
twice the life anyone anticipated. But due to the short lifetime expectation
for the aircraft, no one thought beyond one to five years out. SPOs [System
Program Offices] have a very short reach.
Here's how life is at F-15: You get a phone
call from Washington, and someone is mad and wants something today, and
so that item is shipped. You get a call from England, and they have a jet
down, and you work that now and drop everything else. There is a higher
level of fire-fighting and near-term focus than at AEDC.
AEDC has a sense of history. I was able to
capitalize on that by using the DesignShop experience to remind them of
it. Now at F-15, there are also some things to capitalize on. There is
a real loyalty to the airplane. It is like the World War II Spitfires-very
emotional. There is a sense of the history of the airplane and what it
means to the war fighter.
I constantly point out that, of the people
who will be flying the airplane, some have not been born yet. We have a
tremendous responsibility to make the right decisions in the next few years.
Because of the way our budget cycle works, if we screw it up today, the
recovery will not occur until close to the end of the life of the jet.
The critical investments are being made from now to the year 2000, and
we have to make the right decisions.
A budget downturn is necessary, and what
we have to do is to reengineer, reconfigure, reinvent the box it will fit
in, and redo this thing with our contractor teammate so that the war fighter
never knows the difference. The fact that things are changing back here
is irrelevant to them. All they want is a plane that does the job every
day, every place.
With the F-15, we have already had breakthroughs.
We call one the Eagle Enterprise, which addresses the problem of how to
neutralize geography, time, and cultural differences. We recognize that
we are scattered all over the place, and we have to have technology and
ways of thinking about each other and working with each other that neutralize
time and culture differences. Deacon is the head of that. He is a bright
young guy making a lot of headway. That is evolving.
The broader effort with Matt and Gail has
been two-fold: One, to effect the cultural evolution of the F-15 program
and to aid that. This combined command is only three years old, although
the airplane is 20. Previously, there were two separate commands in separate
locations. Although the F-15 SPO still has two locations, Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base and Robins Air Force Base, they both work for the F-15 SPO
Director. Now they are all one organization working with the same mission.
There is still a lot of that left-over culture
from the two organizations. They are not completely one organization. It's
a merger situation in which our predecessors kind of stapled the organizations
together. You can still see the cultures of the old organizations, with
really large differences. It used to be that the group at Wright Patterson
did not even speak to the people at Warner Robins. Now, due in large part
to the DesignShop series, Wright Patterson is beginning to understand what
Warner Robins is doing, and Warner Robins is beginning to understand what
Wright Patterson is doing-it is starting to be more and more one team.
We found a facilitator at the Wharton event
who had also been at the key F-15 "merger" DesignShop session.
While not as colorful as burying a hatchet, Gunner Kaersvang recounts, it
was indeed a dramatic change which emerged as a natural part of the process
of working in this environment and having a common experience:
I was at the particular F-15 DesignShop session
when they were integrating the north and south sections. There was a lot
of animosity between the two groups. All of a sudden, it clicked. They
had a fuss they called a "furball." Then the two groups were
milling together in the middle of the room, and they were so excited that
they were talking so loud that I could hardly get them to hear me. It was
Col. Bill is now having some success with
using the DesignShop processes to work with those outside his direct command:
We are also bringing in more and more people
who work on the F-15 who do not work for me. I do not "own" about
8000 people out there who do things for us. Engines, for example, are technically
out of my control. In fact, they work very well with us and work to our
requirements. They are coming in through the DesignShop approach as well.
Here's part of the reason--If you sit down
and are separated by tables, like in a routine staff meeting, everyone
is already in a fixed position when they come through the door. There might
be utility in doing that for routine things. There is no utility in doing
it for serious thinking-serious D&D [dialogue and debate]. Everyone
has to get his passions, questions, and feelings on the table without being
called an idiot. It worked that way at AEDC, and it is working that way
And, in fact, here at Wharton we can see that
it is working just fine. It would be understandable if everyone associated
with the F-15 was burned out and frustrated-they have been working for so
long to keep an old system working, with resources that alternate between
sufficient and insufficient, seemingly at random, based on politics in Washington
rather than on the needs of the war fighter whose life is on the line. This
is more than enough reason for morale problems, one would think.
Instead, we see a highly-motivated, upbeat
team which accepts their situation cheerfully and focuses on coming up with
creative ways to deal with it. One task for this DesignShop session is figuring
out how to better communicate the effects of randomly fluctuating funding
to Congress. It is a complex system in which erratic funding cuts can lead
to serious waste, not just of money but potentially of human lives as well.
Often it is not the exact size of the budget that causes the problems, but
instead the sudden changes. It must be like trying to run an industry at
the whim of a bunch of emotional Norse gods without memories. Col. Bill
words it succinctly for us: "Washington is going down a slippery slope
and they cannot see the abyss. This is due to their feedback loops. You
have a one-year budget system with two-to-four-year feedback."
The problem should not be so hard for Washington
Now, up on the F-15 wallboard is a diagram
of the F-15 funding, decision making, and work process. The discontinuities,
the break points where problems arise, stand out bright and clear. This
summary diagram can now be the basis of a new tactical plan for communications
This is just the beginning of a more ambitious
project that would enable Washington to get a much better feel for the effects
of their funding decisions. Matt explains:
The long-range goal, about 4-5 years out,
is to take something like SimCity software and actually put the F-15 "game"
on it, and then hand it to Congress. Then they can experiment: "If
I do this with appropriations, and this with readiness, and this with that
over there, here's what happens to casualties and the country's ability
to win a conflict."
Bill concludes his story with an explicit
discussion of the issue of morale and commitment:
Our entire group should get together every
ninety days. I am convinced that to manage a group you should do that.
But for us to get together every six months is about all we can do.
Outside the DesignShop process, normally
you will have one meeting addressing one topic-but not within any context,
unless you are lucky. You sit around a rigid table and get a briefing and
send it back to the drawing board. For a lot of things that are routine,
day-to-day activities, that works, and you would not want to do a DesignShop
approach for them.
But with all of that taking place as individual
actions, without DesignShop events you have no idea where you are taking
the entire program. It ends up somewhere by accident, and you do not know
where the strategic vector is going. People just do not know. They say,
"I don't know where I am going, and Rutley is supposed to figure it
But when you have people from every corner
of the organization together, and bring all that to bear, it forces people
who don't want to be accountable to find out that accountability is neat,
and they begin to engage. It is fun to watch. There are some who do not
want to engage. They do their job every day, but it is hard to get them
to engage beyond that. There is a place for that, and it is OK. But using
the DesignShop methods, you get more and more people to engage, and it
spreads like wildfire. It was like that at AEDC and is getting there at
Design, Build, Test. Redesign, Build, Test.
Not only is the Wharton F-15 group going like
a house on fire. So is the E&Y team, and the AEDC teamall the groups.
After three hours of impassioned and detailed
planning, with each team assisted by facilitators, the groups emerge ready
to present their results for peer review and more stress-testing. The comments
this time are more content-oriented, less focused on making sure that the
presenting team has used a process that digs deeply enough. The comments
and questions include:
AEDC is asked whether they can consider offering
services overseas; it's clear they've addressed the issue.
Ernst & Young is queried about whether
they will be able to get the internal support for their plan; yes, it looks
F-15 is challenged: are more resources absolutely
needed, or is there another way? After discussion, it appears that, yes,
the team is right: given the mandate that the F-15 is ordered to fulfill,
there is no other option. It emerges that faulty government accounting
systems are at the heart of the problem, and the team is addressing that.
Carl's Jr. is questioned on how they deal
with having 400 COOs-the general managers. Their plan is seen to address
the issue by giving them more responsibility. This critical issue of balance
between the corporate business and local entrepreneurs is addressed further.
So is the question of feedback on experiments-that looks good: the results
of a given promotion are already available overnight.
Orlando Regional Health System is queried
on alliances and outsourcing. The response is reassuring; these are being
Overall, the teams are feeling confident about
their plans, and the peer review has given them some items to recheck. It's
time to iterate-the big group splits into organizational units again and
takes another shot at their plans over lunch and through early afternoon.
What if someone wasn't confident about the
plans? What if the stress-testing by the group had revealed a fatal flaw?
What if the questioning had produced an additional flash of insight that
would suggest a totally new solution?
Design, test, redesign, test again. This is
what has been going on in the small groups all day long. This rapid iteration-quickly
cycling through the process again and again, rapidly building a prototype
solution, testing, then building a second, third, fourth, fifth prototype-has
led to results that are strong, balanced, and able to withstand environmental
stress. And if they break under stress-plow them under, and design again.
Wrapping It Up
At Wharton, each team has had its own facilitator
with them throughout the day. Their roles have shown a whole different set
of variations today: lots of testing, lots of suggesting of content ideas.
One key focus of the facilitator is to make sure the participants are putting
together action plans, "to do" lists, schedules that avoid what
Chip calls "the empty imperative." If you hear a "somebody
needs to take care of this," it has to be changed into not just "Who's
going to do this?" but "Who is taking care of it and by when?"
You want to really get it specified: "Bill Smith will handle X by August
2." or "All phone calls will be returned within 24 hours."
The tactical plans that are being built have
detailed schedules, written specifications-things that usually take weeks
or months to create.
By 3:30, it's all come together. There's another
brief report out session to give each group a chance to put their results
in presentation form-always a clarifying experience. Many have done graphics
to illustrate their plans; these are extremely helpful.
There is a sense of satisfaction, of completion,
and for the first time during the DesignShop, some serious fatigue on the
part of the participants. We're coming down off a high. We're thinking about
catching a plane out of this hot, humid city and going home to our families.
A few participants, new to the process, are
concerned about being able to take home all of their work. They are assured
that not only will they get copies of what was written on the wallboards,
they will also be getting a list of all the books brought as part of the
library, a transcript of all of the large-group discussions, the models
underlying the process itself, a synthesis work product that captures the
key issues and extends the thinking done here, and even the music log. And
all of it will be sent to them, Fedex, on Monday at the latest.
Jim Nicholson, a newcomer to both AEDC and
to the DesignShop process, is focused on the specific results attained by
his organization: "As a new member of the AEDC team, this was a new
experience for me. It let the team members include me quickly. We are not
leaving with just the start of a new product-we have a very demanding schedule."
John Poparad, also with the AEDC group but
very familiar with the process we've just been through, sums it up: "Part
of the joy of DesignShops is the ability to create a world and live in it
for a while in a fully creative, non-critical manner, and then withdraw."
A senior executive, with experience as both
a participant and sponsor of earlier DesignShop events, summarizes the interactions
between the extremely different organizations that have made up the Wharton
participants: "At a strategic level, there was a lot in common on the
issues. We are all going in the same direction. For everyone, it is the
transition that is the difficulty." It's a double transition that everyone
is facing-the transition back to the home environment, and the work to implement
the transition to the vision of the future that everyone has just detailed
The final farewell from Matt may bring closure
to the event, but it opens the door to all the work to be done once everyone
is back home. With a joke from Col. Bill Rutley and a burst of laughter,
participants race to grab suitcases and dash to the airport. Carrying the
plans and visions that they have created over the last three days, they
are about to bring the future back to the present.
1. Record ideas and questions from this chapter
to add to your growing library of observations.
2. It's time to pull together and iterate
your vision, and then delineate how you will bring the vision the preferred
future back to here every day, in every action you take. It's also time
to test again to make sure the vision is large enough to embrace your whole
potential and the potential of your enterprise. "Don't exhaust yourself
in the little changes. We have to make deep changes, or be victims of change."
3. Go back to all of your work from previous
- models of collaboration
- models of environment
- models of overcoming limiting practices
- models of the problem-solving toolbox
- models of education
- models of your enterprise as an integrated ecosystem
- a physical model of the enterprise or a critique from a respected deep
thinker of facilitation.
Now pull it all into a single synthesis:
a whole picture. You can mindmap it, or create a longer document. You may
even wish to use a business planning template, but don't attenuate the
value of your work by unnecessarily forcing it into some arbitrary form.
This synthesis may be difficult and could take a while. That's OK: persevere.
Work through it until you get the "ah-ha," and the patterns of
the whole system clearly emerge.
4. Test the synthesis for viability and depth
5. Describe and diagram how you will bring
this vision back to "here" every day.