Why Scan?
Day One of the DesignShop® Process
by Chip Saltsman, Gail Taylor and Matt Taylor


(edited by James B. Smethurst)

[Editor's note: this article has been compiled from several e-mail messages exchanged between the authors on November 1-2, 1997.]

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." -- Albert Einstein

The Scan Focus Act model is one of the foundations of the DesignShop process. Scan Focus Act is the natural way to solve problems, but all too often, groups of people choose to eliminate one or more pieces of the model, inevitably leading to solutions that are far less effective. The "Scan" that occurs on Day One of the DesignShop event allows participants to work well beyond their usual boundaries, uncovering assumptions and establishing context for the rest of the event. The "Focus" on Day Two iterates ideas, begins testing assumptions and strategically positions the organization. "Act" on Day Three works the strategy developed during Focus into tactical steps: establishing work processes, projects, time lines and goals.

In today's corporate environment, we have become very comfortable Focusing and Acting, but we take little time to Scan. We make assumptions, many of them unconsciously, and presume that the rest of our colleagues and the rest of the world share our beliefs. Without a Scan we often find ourselves well into Act before we discover that we are acting from a very different vantage point than the people with whom we are working. Day One of a DesignShop event is often the first time that the participant group--made up of senior executives and members of all parts of the ValueWeb™ community--have ever worked together. Creating common language, discovering common and divergent assumptions and forging common understanding is the critical work of Scan.

Common Language
Organizations arrive at a DesignShop event deluded that they are all speaking the same language, even though they are sometimes aware that they come from different cultures. Even in a geographically centralized unit, individuals speak such different languages as accounting or marketing or manufacturing. These individuals must 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 people in the back office really do have the same objectives as the front office folks, but that they are each coming at the problem from different vantage points.

Language Specific to the Problem
Not only must the group create a common language, but frequently the organization lacks the tools (and language) to describe or to communicate about their specific problem or solution. The participants need to discover or to learn models, ideas and terms with which they can collectively conceptualize their issues. We frequently see terminology created during the Scan day resurface later in the DesignShop process 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 language of the organization without an embryonic period. Participants are often grappling with new concepts, such as acting along process lines rather than functional silos, and it takes time to mentally absorb the new information and patterns. Sponsor team members have had time to work out possible solutions and internalize them, but they sometimes forget that they are way ahead of the majority of the participants who are encountering the information and the problem for the first time. Most participants need time during the DesignShop process to absorb concepts new to them. The Scan day gives them time to wrestle with the issues and make it their own problem, not somebody else's. This is often difficult to accept for those who think they have the solution, but experience has shown this to be entirely necessary.

Getting Issues on the Table
Individuals frequently come to a session with "their" answer in their hip pocket. "Their" answer is very likely to be a position-centric solution limited by their own truncated perspective. They have particular issues, fears, perceived roadblocks, concerns and hopes that are both very real and very limiting. "Their" answer is also likely to hold important components or kernels of ideas that need to be part of the solution that the entire group finally designs. All of these concerns and vantage points need to be expressed (one of the reasons the "Take-A-Panel®" exercise is so valuable). Participants must express their hopes and concerns and they must listen to others doing the same. By having an opportunity to express and hear multiple perspectives on the issues, participants will be far more supportive of a final solution in which they recognize their own contribution.

Truncated Perspective
Managers of organizations tend to look only at competing organizations in their own market niche. Pharmaceutical firms are very interested in the activities of other pharmaceutical firms. Bank managers run around looking at other banks. This self-referential view is a sure way to remain with the herd.

There is very little time, opportunity or inclination to look outside one's own market niche, but that is precisely where the ideas are! That is where managers will discover ways of doing things that their competitors have not considered. By looking outside the field of vision that they have every day, managers can discover innovative ideas that have been tried and tested, sometimes for years, in other industries. One of the benefits of holding DesignShop events in our facilities is that participants are engaged by the new and challenging environment to think in new ways.

New Vantage Points
Our processes and environments encourage participants to look at their issues from different vantage points than they are used to using. "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 be stepping beyond the truncated and self-referential perspective of our ordinary work life will we find the creative ideas and connections from which our solution will emerge. If the solution were obvious or easy, it would have been discovered and implemented long before the DesignShop event. If a solution has not emerged, it is because either the problem has not been properly formulated or a collective will has not emerged to approach the problem in a coordinated way. The DesignShop event is an opportunity to grapple with tremendously complex problems and to design appropriate solutions.

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. Meetings have become so rote that we have difficulty not thinking in linear ways: make an agenda, push the agenda, manage the discussion. Overwhelming complexity overwhelms us. People let the traditional linear methods of meetings and work undermine their own approach to complex problems: "My problem is so complex that I can only afford to consider one or two options." By ignoring complexity in order to falsely simplify the issues, we guarantee that our solutions will address only symptoms of the real problems. By Scanning the complexity of the issues involved, participants can design solutions that address the true problem at hand.

Nonlinear Processes
The Scan day is the time in which ideas are floated and explored. It is a vital day of exploration and communication, but for many participants, it does not "feel" like the kind of work they are used to. By the end of the Scan day, we will NOT solve the first third of the problem. We may be only a ninth of the way through our work. That ninth, however, is the foundation on which the rest of the work will be constructed. If the group is introduced to and interacts with the proper mix of ideas, information and vantage points on Day One, then on Day Three, the group will complete work that is orders of magnitude more efficient and effective than they are used to achieving. Act is impossible without Scan. An event is not a DesignShop without Scan. Scan is not a linear approach to work, and it makes many participants uncomfortable. It is precisely this non-linearity, however, that makes the DesignShop process so powerful.

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 normal budget and a quarter of the time they would normally use. The DesignShop participant group needs time to explore their boundaries to discover if they are, indeed, legitimate limits and then to explore creative ways to escape them. If a group were to move immediately to Focus and Act, they would neither have understood nor defined their boundaries.

A frequent Scan activity is the Metaphors Exercise, in which participants are asked to compare their organization to any number of seemingly unrelated phenomena like an ant colony, a human body, or a rain forest. While this exercise may seem rather whimsical at first, it forces participants to step back from their limited perspectives to look at their issues from the vantage point of another system: teaming and success without centralized control, in the case of the ant colony. We explicitly identify the issues underlying an organization's current conditions and design the metaphors exercise (and the entire DesignShop event) to address those specific issues. Is the group making assumptions without realizing it? We then design an assignment around assumptions. Are they grappling with limited resources? SimCity is all about limited resources. Is leverage a problem? Read up on Cortes. The topics we select are not supposed to appear relevant at first. We select them in order to introduce new vantage points, not to feed the participants terms and metaphors with which they are already comfortable. The topics we select, however, are chosen very carefully to pinpoint some of the key issues that the participants are facing.

The challenge that many organizations face is simply that they are too comfortable. There is no gut-felt reason to change. There is no "burning platform". Sometimes people understand intellectually that change in needed, but the pain of the current state is not greater than the anticipated pain of changing. Making participants uncomfortable is an important way to induce change. This is the reason for exercises that demonstrate that participants do not fully understand their problem. This is why a strong message from the sponsor is so vital. The participants must choose to change.

The DesignShop process is more interested in generating solutions than in the minute-to-minute comfort of individual participants. The Scan day will introduce participants to challenging new vantage points in order to allow innovative solutions to emerge during Focus and Act. Participants need to stay uncomfortable long enough to deal with uncertainty, ambiguity and paradox in order to avoid premature closure. As long as they are comfortable doing things the way they are used to doing them, they will not change, and innovation cannot occur.


Very simply, DesignShop processes work. MG Taylor has over 20 years' experience that documents the power of this process, the key component of which is the Scan. The Scan allows participants to explore each other and the vast wealth of knowledge that exists, to play with scenarios and visions for the future and the past, to generate new understandings of themselves, their organization and their world, and to build a solid foundation from which to grow their organization. Without the foundation that Scan provides, the DesignShop event will produce results that are far less than optimal. With a proper Scan, the DesignShop process can produce results unimaginable using traditional ways of work.

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