Foresight "Group Genius" Weekend
Leaping the Abyss:
Putting Group Genius to Work
Since this is a rather unusual book, you deserve
an explanation of how it came to be.
A while back, we got an email from someone
saying they were using our first book in some kind of management seminar
called a DesignShop. Now, that first book was about nanotechnology, not
business, but this email implied that they were finding the book useful
in getting people to think creatively about the future and change their
companies' strategies to adapt.
Well, this was flattering, but we couldn't
figure out how it would work. What could this mean - that DesignShop participants
were using our book - and what is a DesignShop? We put in a phone call to
satisfy our curiosity, and so discovered MG Taylor: Matt Taylor with his
background in architecture and design processes, Gail Taylor with her experience
in accelerated learning and creativity with individuals, and how this combination
evolved into DesignShops.
The techniques, environment, and thought underlying
their work were fascinating. Now we were more curious than before - could
reducing barriers to performance make as much of a difference as they claimed?
Did environment really count so heavily in structuring group dynamics and
promoting-or inhibiting-creativity? How could a short workshop make such
a dramatic difference to organizations? Our list of questions only got longer.
But we heard enough examples of solid success to want to understand the
The more they told us, the more curious and
interested we became. They were pulling together insights from fields as
diverse as architecture and brain chemistry and applying them to business.
They were also incorporating insights from the best business theories around.
They seemed to have brought it all together in a completely unique three-day
format that sounded challenging, fun, and actually generated solid work
Could this be real? Could complex problems
be solved that fast? It was hard to believe. We decided we had to see this
in action for ourselves. Enquiring scientific, journalistic, and business-oriented
minds wanted to know whether this had really delivered hard-core, bottom-line
results as claimed. So we went and checked it out.
Our initial reaction to this first event was
to start a thought experiment, applying this process to past situations.
It was definitely a case of "If I'd known then what I'd known now,
here's what I would have handled differently." Our second reaction
was "Here's how I'm going to start using this knowledge today."
Then the next thought was "We want our friends and business colleagues
to know about this." Practically all the interesting people we know
are trying to accomplish something difficult - from CEOs to non-profit executives,
they are all working on challenging problems, and we felt they could make
great headway by applying the DesignShop process.
Those who are in Fortune 100 companies may
well encounter DesignShop-style processes as MG Taylor and their colleagues
at Ernst & Young carry it into the corporate world. But most managers
aren't in Fortune 100 companies, and a way was needed to get the word out.
The DesignShop concept takes a while to explain, so someone really needed
to write a book.
We suggested that MG Taylor write the book.
They suggested that we do it. Eventually, we saw this made sense, for two
- First, our background in nanotechnology:
we already knew that an immense technical, business, and social tsunami
is coming along shortly, so we're always looking for great new techniques
to help people and organizations cope with change. And here in Silicon
Valley, companies are already being forced to deal with a blinding rate
of technological change. This speed-up will likely increase, and definitely
- Second, we've been around in business for
long enough to know that it's tough out there, and we all need whatever
help we can get. In high-tech startups, no matter how smart, talented,
and hard-working you are, you need to use every possible advantage to succeed.
In more traditional companies, such as large military contractors, it's
tough to continually reinvent what you're doing instead of fighting fires
and sinking beneath endemic problems.
So we agreed to spend a month writing this
book. Instead, it took two years.
But it's been worth it, because - for a change
- this is something really new, really profound. Even if all you take away
from this book is a handful of techniques and insights - even if you never
use the full-scale DesignShop process - knowing these techniques can make
a big difference for you and your company.
When we ran the book draft past our favorite
B School professor, who's seen every piece of change literature since Noah
got off the ark, she said "wow, this is actually new!" Part of
what's new here is bringing insight from other fields - such as architecture
and education - into business. The other part is synthesis - taking the
well-known insights of business theorists like Drucker, Deming, and so on,
and getting them to play together in a new way.
So there are ideas here that you can extract
and use immediately. We've provided some pointers to the sources of inspiration
for the DesignShop concept, but this is not an academic-style tracing of
the intellectual roots of the process or its components. You'll find some
supporting theory to show the logic of the process, but this is not a textbook.
Instead, the purpose of this book is to bring to your attention this new
tool and some examples of its success.
You'll find that we focus on MG Taylor, the
company that originated this process. That's because the original work was
done largely by Matt and Gail Taylor, and by the facilitators who have worked
on their team for a long time. To tell you this story, we wanted to go to
the source - the originators - and give you as immediate a feel from them
You hear a lot about Matt and Gail in this
book, but they've trained up lots of other facilitators, who are now training
more. Soon, you be able to get great facilitation from a variety of sources.
Which is a good thing, given how many organizations need this process, and
urgently. Nobody needs to tell us all how increasingly desperate everyone
feels: swamped, overloaded, operating right on the edge - or over the edge.
And it's only going to get worse. We wrote this book to help.
So: have fun with the ideas, and use them
Gayle Pergamit and Chris Peterson
Palo Alto, California