Anatomy of a DesignShop™: Designing Pan Value Chain Support Systems,
A Facilitator's E-mail dated November 23, 1996
with commentary by Bryan Coffman

(published 12/6/96)
back to sections 4 and 5

Section 6: Matt Taylor's Conversation With the Sponsor Team Following the DesignShop

The sponsors had a very difficult time on the day following the DesignShop in coming to grips with what they wanted to communicate. In part, this was because it had not emerged clearly on Day Three. Matt finally engaged them in a conversation about memes. A meme is to human culture what a gene is to a living cell. Memes are ideas or concepts or fads or trends reputed to act like a virus which goes into another individual and splices its own nucleotide sequences into the cell's DNA. In the case of memes, this process is not usually fatal. Some of the most powerful memes are structured around new terms of art inserted into the culture's language.

How could we turn the work product into a meme? Could it be a document that gave the participants the opportunity to recreate the event in their heads, and also gave them a language to talk about their experiences. Matt talked about it for some time, and it was very interesting to feel the reactions of the sponsors. Several were fully engaged in the conversation, but two from the Engagement Team were distinctly uncomfortable. One got to the point where he had to stand up and leave, visiting the capture team that was beginning to lay out the work product. I have reproduced Matt’s comments at the end of this piece.

Matt brought up the notion of ‘Envelope Economics’, which means, can everyone in the organization describe the company’s purpose, guiding principles and reason for being in three sentences on the back of and envelope? Can they simply diagram how the company makes money and what the basic processes are? If not, how can they possibly act to produce value? (I have heard this described as elevator economics as well; something so brief (but not necessarily simple) that it can be described during an elevator ride.)

He also mentioned that rapid iterations of distributed design/build/use throughout the enterprise will produce things that are "good enough for now", instead of relying on one grand iteration of design to produce the perfect solution (that unfortunately takes seven years to complete, and is obsolete before it's implemented). An organization that allows this type of leadership to take place will build leaders for tomorrow, but a hierarchy will produce a ‘followership’ mentality unable to move forward. Rigid hierarchies and bureaucracies cannot employ rapid iterations--too much friction builds up in sending information up and down the chains.

He talked about how, as a facilitator, you have to initially avoid conceptual conflict. Avoid words to offend people, or to argue with them, if they initially appear hostile. After some time in the DesignShop, they will see that there is ‘no threat here’ to their ideas and they will participate.

Assignments and synthesis discussions consist of formulating questions, and this is what leads to success or failure in a DesignShop. You have to establish context: Who are you, when, what’s going on? Then you can pose the challenge. Finally, you can develop your deliverable. But without asking the right questions up front, you can't get to valuable answers.

An information system has to do three things. It has to facilitate an event or transaction. It has to capture that event. And it has to compile information about events, either in aggregate or recognize the significance of a particular event, and communicate it. [See the Ten Step Knowledge Management Model] Too many times we decide on a system and then go right to task, right to a level of detail that misses these three points. There is a often creative tension between the cleanest technical approach and the business need or value derived from the system.


Matt's Sponsor Conversation

This integrated experience revealed where we are on this project. The President's input to the synthesis team came close to articulating a powerful, simple principle: Envelope Economics. What is the core wealth production of the entity and how do I participate in it? The Company seems to understand that we are leaving 99 cents out of every dollar on the floor due to our size, and the bigger we get, the worse it gets.

We are building a different kind of organization. Use the model drawn yesterday as an acid test for all investments, not just this project. A project like this is subject to slippage. It is subject to changes in sponsors and force of will. If this is reengineering in a high margin, low frequency way (like the budget cycle) it is vulnerable. As we move forward, if we can draw people into the structure of the system, we can achieve more.

The President's point of view is, "why prop up a distributor when it will result in a purchase price ten times higher than we could purchase it now?" This is not valuable in the long run: it is counterproductive to the future. Larger organizations are becoming integrators of huge value webs. And small, sometimes very small, organizations are proving that they can compete in their particular niche very effectively. Coming up in the future are incredibly powerful ubiquitous systems that are going to radically shift the balance of competition, enabling the small organizations to compete effectively.

How you integrate is very important. Managing the value web over a long period of time requires a more neutral point of view. Treat members with an evenhandedness to create an environment where you are the preferred integrator of the Web. The pattern of ideas reflected a deep thought process that is creating a new emerging construct. Knowledge is king, so it is ubiquitous and distributed. This is counter to the current business principles and paradigms. It is an opportunity to propel not only the project, but the organization.

What we have experienced here is only a small taste of what it will be like to manage in an environment where information is shared. I read a recent assessment of the Gulf War, where the military examined the use of information as a weapon, rather than as an asset. Our society is becoming increasingly defenseless to attacks through the use of information.

People almost totally respond to context, not content, particularly the Japanese. The DesignShop creates context. Leadership’s traditional role of maintaining homeostasis causes it to be almost incapable of learning, and therefore it has low leverage into the organization and organizational change. Getting leverage into a collaborative environment is important. People need to be more supported in order to use the information for a powerful result. The feedback loop between the project and the leadership is a delicate issue. If we can get leadership of equal stature into an environment like this, we can really tap into the power and create high impact.

A pitfall is that the pilot organizations using Value Based Management have not had the capability and maturity to distinguish putting a tool in place versus Envelope Economics. The experiences of an organization can create a closed feedback loop that keeps it where it is. If you break out of it wrong, you create worse results. If you do it right, you create learning.

Deliberately strip some of the associations from the project, act in a different way. Demonstrate new behavior through your actions and the actions of the project. There is so much structure in how you gather and deal with the information in Value Based Management, that management grabbed onto the structure, not onto the concept or the business.

How do we allow leadership to emerge and function at all levels of the organization and how do we create leadership? Create a place where you can run a different set of ‘rules’ and allow people to gain skills and learn. Information shared by all is hostile to the hierarchical environment in which we are now placing it. The project will impact the rest of the organization and the organization will react. Protect the project’s environment so it can perform and be the exemplar for the organization. How can the project facilitate the dissemination of its work to the system? Determine the ‘centering proposition’ and on every pilot make sure they know, not just recite what this is. If they can't understand or abide by the proposition, then facilitate them out. We have to make this pay tomorrow, not just five years from now.

Do you know what a meme is? A meme is an idea that acts like a cultural virus-- goes into another individuals and replicates. When it gets into an organization and replicates itself, it in time turns the organization to its purpose. The ‘Pull’ for the project was for what emerged, not for what we originally thought would emerge. A key difference was the contribution to highly targeted value creation issues. The concept of linking throughout the value chain had relevance to each participant in his or her own way. This also creates entropy, which we have to be careful with. Currently the value chain is a group of separate entities in a tension system. Much energy has gone into internal tension, rather than external. We have to use what we have in a better way. So in a sense, the project is like therapy for the Company.

The response to this reflects a prejudice from past experience. A group of participants are going for political positioning, not the value inherent in the project. When the message is about the whole, it brings it all together. When the action reflects the view of only a part, it pushes it all away. One way to create a shared space is to set in motion lots of little projects with short time frames aimed at a common purpose. We can do this and one implication is that it forces us to push responsibility and leadership out faster than was originally planned.

I urge you to incorporate this energy into the work product. Treat failures as investments in people's skills. Get it clear that you do not have to wait for a perfectly constructed thing, but that the attitude of "Good Enough for Now" applies. That gets you though continuous cycles of Design/Build/Use, a rapid iteration of feedback.

What is the implication of all this on the document you are discussing today? It is a matter of tone. How strongly do you want to push it? How declarative do you want to be? How do you want to use the document? A suggestion is to use the document to have a dialogue around what does this mean? Use it as a means to compel or prompt action.

copyright © 1996, MG Taylor Corporation. All rights reserved
copyrights, terms and conditions


© MG Taylor Corporation, 1995 - 2002

iteration 3.5