Extraordinary results require extraordinary means

Posted on by Brandon Klein


If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.


Existing systems produce existing results. If something different is required, the system must be changed.” --Sir Chistopher Ball, More Means Different  


One of the reasons the ASE can deliver months of work in a few days is that it is a highly unusual process from ordinary techniques, meetings, project management or other management methods.

Things we take away:

· Desks

· Pagers

· Mobile Phones

· Jackets and ties

· Flipcharts

· Overhead Projectors

· Offices with doors

· Physical, temporal and language separation between key players

· Daily distractions and crisis du jour

· Interruptions

· Agendas

Things we add:

· Acceleration - A process that rapidly moves through design to decision and value based action.

· Solution - Systematic release of individual and group genius, combined with E&Y expertise and knowledge base, collaboratively driving to solution—action plans.

· Environment - Space that is big, flexible, enables engagement and discovery, facilitates sharing of information, supports modeling, simulation and rapid prototyping, encourages design and creativity, focuses their attention, and is neutral space. Neutral space means there is no ‘home turf’ and we can create ‘time out of time’ as much as we can manage.

· A sense of shared/common experience - A feeling of having been in the trenches together that generates a unity of purpose, generating new lines of communication in the organization, and the sentiment of positive action that will conquer the problems facing the group.

One of the video clips we have shown in the past is the ‘Four Hour House.’ It chronicles an attempt to break the world record for building a house from bare ground to finished house. In order to meet such an ambitious goal, the planners had to totally re-think the construction process, discover how to assemble pieces in parallel, get trade groups to work together, inspire everyone to achieve the objective and generate innovative use of technology. The extraordinary results required extraordinary means.

“The larger the number of people in the room the higher the probability that something will come out that is really quite clever.” --John Kotter at Partner Leadership 12

“Great deeds are usually wrought at great risk.” --Herodotous

As we plan DesignShops, the most frequent challenge we receive from very well-meaning, best-intentioned results-oriented sponsors/participants is: Why Scan? What is the purpose of this entire day spent doing the touchy-feely stuff, reading about bugs, and seemingly not trying to solve the problem? Why are we not listing alternatives, looking at options, nailing down gray areas and, in general, making progress? It just doesn’t make sense! We’ve got three days with the senior executives of this organization and I don’t want them to conclude that we just wasted the first one. We need to be a third of the way to our solution. And don’t even talk to me about pipe cleaners and string—the client just won’t stand for that! It isn’t relevant. We aren’t just here to play. Lose the stuffed animals.

These concerns usually rise from several sources:


· Fear of looking foolish in front of a client

· Mistaking a non-linear process for a linear one.

· Lack of understanding of the value of the Scan activities

So why do we Scan? What is the value?

Recognize these important points about the Scan day (some of these points are also patterns of themselves):


· Truncated Perspective. Managers of organizations tend to look only at competing organizations in their own market niche. This self-referential view is a sure way to remain with the herd. Pharmaceutical firms are very interested in the activities of other pharmaceutical firms. Bank managers run around looking at other banks. There is very little time, opportunity or inclination to look outside one’s market niche. But that is where the ideas are! That is where they will discover ways of doing things that their competitors haven’t thought about. Through looking outside the field of vision they have every day (one of the reasons we and the participant on our turf, also—they can’t think the same way when they are in a new environment).

· Common Language. Organizations arrive at a DesignShop deluded that they are all speaking the same language (though sometimes aware that they are from different cultures). But even in a geographically centralized unit, you have individuals that speak accounting or marketing or manufacturing. They have to spend time interacting with each other to define common terms with which to dialogue about their problem. They need an opportunity to discover that the idiots in the back office really do have the same objectives that the front office folks.

· Develop language specific to the problem. Not only is common language needed, but often the organization has no way to describe or communicate about their problem or solution. They need to find for themselves (or have the facilitator introduce them to) models, ideas and terms with which they can conceptualize about their issues. Often, we see terminology created during the Scan Day surface later in the DesignShop as the only way to articulate a new concept. The ‘banana model’ or the ‘four knights’ or the ‘win-win solution’ could not gestate, gain acceptance and then be wired into the organization without an embryonic period. Client groups are sometimes grappling with new concepts, such as acting along process lines versus functional silos, and that takes time to mentally absorb. Engagement team or sponsor team members have had time to work out possible solutions and internalize them, but forget that they are way ahead of the mass of participants. The majority of participants in a DesignShop need time to absorb concepts new to them. They need time to wrestle with the issues and make it their own problem, not somebody else’s. That may be agony for the folks that think they have the solution, but it is entirely necessary.

· Iteration. Our adage about seven iterations producing a thousand-fold improvement in the quality of a solution means that we need to come at problems and issues multiple times. It is not sufficient to ‘cover’ an area once—it requires revisiting and stress testing and coming in again from another angle. This is occurring at a high level during the Scan Day, preparatory to the closer-in visits on the Focus and Act days.

· Getting issues on the table. How many individuals come to a meeting with ‘their’ answer in their hip pocket? ‘Their’ answer is likely to be position-centric—a solution that comes from their own truncated perspective. They have issues, fears, perceived roadblocks, concerns and hopes. There are also likely to be kernels of ideas that need to be in the answer the DesignShop finally reaches. All these need to be aired (one of the reasons I like Take-A-Panel so much). Participants need to have their say. They need to hear others having their own say. Then they will be far more receptive to new ideas and far more willing to support a solution where they recognize their own work.

· Establishing ground rules. Scan Day sets the tone for the three-day DesignShop. The participants learn to use the space and what is in it: hypertiles, knowledgeworkers, work walls, functioning without physical barriers. This enables them to be far more effective in how they use the space during subsequent days.

· New vantage points. “Out-of-the-box” has become an overused term, the same way re-engineering did several years ago. What we mean is to look at a client’s issues from different vantage points than usual. Step into the future and envision success. How does our organization resemble a rain forest? How can we build a three-dimensional model of a supply chain using a model kit? Only by stepping beyond the truncated and self-referential perspective of one’s ordinary work life will we find the creative ideas and connections where our solution emerges. If it was obvious or easy, it probably would have been solved by now. If it hasn’t been solved, it is because the solution is not obvious or the collective will has not yet emerged to do anything about the problem in a coordinated way. That is what a DesignShop is for.

· Working beyond boundaries. Creativity is usually not engendered by limitless options. More often, creativity comes from the constraints placed on the organization. NASA created the Mars Pathfinder precisely because they had a quarter of the budget and a quarter of the time. The group needs time to understand the boundaries, whether they are really boundaries, and then how to creatively escape them. Going straight to Focus or Act ensures that boundaries are neither described nor challenged.

· You only read about ants if its good for you. We don’t read about ants just because ants are cool. We read about ants because the participants need to looks at their own issues from the perspective of another system—teaming and success without centralized control, in the case of ants. The biggest misconception about modules like metaphors is that they have no point and we just pick them at random. No so. We explicitly identify the issues underlying an organization’s situation and choose metaphors and other exercises based on them. Is the group making lots of assumptions without realizing it? Time to consider assumptions as a topic. Are they grappling with limited resources? SimCity is all about limited resources. Is leverage a problem? Read up on how Cortes conquered Mexico. The topics we choose may not appear to be relevant at first, but they will circle back to the issues soon enough.

· Teeing up the Focus and Act days. Just as an aircraft cannot spring into a takeoff climb without rolling down a runway, neither can a DesignShop spring into Focus without the Scan Day to explore and play with the issues, craft a common language, and learn how to use the DesignShop space. Scan Day suggests the patterns that we need in the final output of the DesignShop.

· It isn’t linear. DesignShops are like making a good stew. Stews are made by putting a bunch of ingredients into a pot and cooking for awhile. DesignShops are made by floating a lot of ideas and cooking them together in many different ways. Sure, we didn’t get a third of the problem solved in the first day. We did only a ninth. But that ninth is the thin edge of the wedge. That ninth is the foundation upon which a solid structure will be built, or even the concrete forms that won’t be present when the structure is completed. If we pressurize the group correctly and cook them with the right issues and identify the wider perspectives, Day Three is more than enough time to write down the answer. You can no more start a Day Three at the start of a DesignShop than you could write down an E&Y proposal no-notice off the top of your head.

· Getting out of the comfort zone is . . . uncomfortable. The challenges I find many organizations have is that they are too comfortable. There is no gut-felt reason to change. No ‘burning platform.’ Sometimes they know intellectually what they need to do, but the pain of the current state is not greater than the pain of changing. Making them uncomfortable is an important way of inducing change. That is the reason for the ‘Stock Analyst Meeting from Hell’ or the ‘Simulation’ that demonstrates that the participants really don’t have the answer. That is the reason for a powerful sponsor message. Only then can they summon the will to change. It is true not everyone finds value in all the activities themselves, but the activities are part of a larger process they must go through.

· Trust the process. Why Scan? Because it works! The real proof is in the outcome. MGTaylor has 20 years of evidence that Scan is a critical part of a successful DesignShop. E&Y has about 150 DesignShops under our belt as I write this, and we come to the same conclusion. Why would we tinker with something that works? If anybody has any other ideas on how we could get this much work done in three days, do it. If they want more Act, the solution is to add more Act days, not cut the Scan.

· Discomfort. Participants need to stay uncomfortable long enough to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox so as to avoid premature closure. As long as they are comfortable doing things the old way, they won't change. They need to be off-balance to make progress—walking is really just ‘controlled falling.’

· Crop Rotation for the Mind. People who have been chewing on a problem for a long time and not getting anywhere need a fresh viewpoint.

· Managing Complexity. People are used to putting together linear meetings, where they can show how each piece of the meeting contributes to a bit of the final solution. And we are pretty good at meeting skills: make an agenda, push the agenda, manage the discussion--all very linear. Overwhelming complexity overwhelms us. People let linear methods undermine how they handle a complex problem when they say, "My problem is so complex I can consider only one or two options."

· Building metaphor. In construction there are a number of things we use or construct and then remove, such as concrete forms or scaffolding. They are things you need to build, and then tear down. To get the building the right shape we do a lot of things that don't match the final building, but they still contribute to the final product in important or critical ways. Same with Scan.

If participants don’t do a true, thorough Scan, we are doing them a disservice. If they don’t do a solid Scan, they can easily uncover a good idea or two and jump right into the Focus phase. Or perhaps they observe the symptoms of some difficulty and assume the nature of the problem without proper investigation. The resulting solution only palliates the symptoms, leaving the true problem unaddressed. Scan Day is an inescapable part of a DesignShop. We won’t shortcut it. The process doesn’t work if we don’t do it. The Scan is the due diligence of the DesignShop—ensuring they have gotten far enough out to find the hundreds of good solutions to their adverse condition.

“One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.” --Andre Gide