I contributed a case study to this book based on some work I did with HopeLink, a start up in Silicon Valley during the heady internet boom of 2000. See Chapter 5 entitled Find Common Ground, page 85 of the Weisbord and Janoff book.
The acceleration technique of backcasting
from the future creates an opportunity for people to tap into their
deepest hopes and heartfelt dreams for the future. When a meeting calls
for future scenarios
you can ask people to put themselves X years in the future and imagine
their dreams as it they have been realize; describe structure, policies
and relationships in the present tense; and look back to the single
most important step they had to take x years earlier to get started.
This book is much more than a menu for how to run meetings more
effectively. It is filled with strikingly simple and
practical steps to make a gathering of any kind more humane and
But in a deeper context, it embodies a particular theory
and philosophy of leadership and planning that recognize that every
person does the best they can with what they have, and that people come
equipped with the capacity for extraordinary cooperation if given a
chance to use their own experience and wisdom.
Note: Meg is one of my favorite thought leaders of our time. This is an adaptation of the Epilogue in Leadership and the New Science, Second Edition, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 1996
Twelve years after preparing the Second Edition of Leadership in the New Science, I’m still trying to come to terms with the experience of seeing, feeling, tasting and working earnestly from a new paradigm while living in the old one. And I’m more concerned than ever that we understand how crucial it is that we stay together and support one another.
I was in this work a few years before I was able to identify its real nature. I realized that I and others weren’t asking people simply to adopt some new approaches to leadership or to think about organizations in a few new ways. What we were really asking, and what was also being asked of us, was that we change our thinking at the most fundamental level, that of our world view. The dominant world view of Western culture–the world as machine–doesn’t help us to live well in this world any longer. We have to see the world differently if we are to live in it more harmoniously.
Once I understood the nature of the work, it helped me relax and be more generous. I learned that people get frightened if asked to change their world view. And why wouldn’t they? Of course people will get defensive; of course they might be intrigued by a new idea, but then turn away in fear. They are smart enough to realize how much they would have to change if they accepted that idea. I no longer worry that if I could just find the right words or techniques, or describe multiple case studies, I could convince people. I no longer expect a new world view to be embraced quickly; I don’t know if I’ll see it take root in my lifetime. I also know that people are being influenced from sources far beyond anyone’s control. I know many people who’ve been changed by events in their lives, not by words they read in a book.
These people have been changed by life’s great creative force, chaos. One of the gifts offered by this new world view is a clearer description of life’s cyclical nature. The mechanistic world view promised us lives of continual progress. Since we were in control and engineering it all, we could pull ourselves straight uphill, scarcely faltering. But life doesn’t work that way, and this new world view confirms what most of us knew–no rebirth is possible without moving through a dark passage. Dark times are normal to life; there’s nothing wrong with us when we periodically plunge into the abyss.
Emerging, and understanding the patterns of emergence and the zone of emergence, is the sixth leadership skill. This is what happens when we come together as a system and see patterns and interconnections. This is about feedback and self-organization and adaptive learning.
It's important, as leaders, to create a time and place for your team, for your people, and for your organization, where they might have a zone of emergence. Where do you have a place for your patterns to unfold, to make connections, to connect the dots? This is really the place for innovation and creativity to occur. I think blogs are a particularly interesting zone of emergence. The whole blogging phenomenon is an online zone of emergence. In teams that still have the ability to sit together, there'll be somebody's cube wall or hallway where stuff will start to get posted—diagrams, drawing, comments, reports and pictures—and you're able to visually map what it is that you're trying to figure out, be it a new market, a new industry, a new product introduction, or a new service.
These zones of emergence happen in lots of different systems, from biology to geography to societies, all the time. As leaders, I’d encourage you to be really aware of emergence. Again, how do you create a zone of emergence for your team?
The fifth leadership skill is what I call futuring, or scenario thinking. This is how we bring the THERE here. Often, what we want to do is be able to anticipate the future, and scenario thinking is really about both anticipating the future and rehearsing the future by creating alternative future environments in which we can recognize warning signs, avoid surprises, adapt and act efficiently. Executives and leaders like to run scenarios; it’s a favorite module and technique that we use in our work. Run a win scenario, run a lose scenario, run a wild card scenario at whatever level of the organization you're at, and see
where the thinking goes. This is probably one of the most active processes or modules to use to think about what it is that you’re really trying to predict or anticipate in the future.
So futuring is an important skill to have. There's a technique called back-casting, where you allow yourself to be in positive future. So pick a date in the future--go to 2010, and you're in a successful win, whatever your win is. And think back and tell your story from success about your wins and free your team from any type of negative constraints. Let them tell you how they got there in a positive environment.
What will emerge out of this process of back-casting is sequencing and order. How did you get there? What did you do right? Who came along? What connections were made? Back-casting is a really, really powerful technique when used as part of scenario thinking and futuring.
So now what happens? What’s next? What happens when we're scanning, and what happens in the creative process, and what happens when we’re engaging other voices, and when we’re iterating and futuring, is that something starts to emerge.
Once you get all these people in a room, and you're going through your creative process, recognize that iteration is an important part of the process. Ask the same question three to four times throughout a design session or a working session.
The practice of iteration is really comes from the school of architecture and design science. I've been able to live with many designers in my life, from architects to landscape designers. I'm married to an architect. I've worked with amazing designers and have watched their creative processes. I have come to understand that the higher order really emerges when we iterate over, and over again--multiple times and multiple tiers and multiple iterations. A whole system will basically evolve to a higher order when you work iteratively. Use rapid iteration to break, churn, and to get inside the problem. So, iterations will evolve, and then you can design and build and use So, iterate, iterate, iterate.
Instead of trying on your own to solve a problem, or create the problem, or figure out the solution, and instead of trying to take a small handful of people and figure it out, I frequently recommend opening up to many different vantage points or multiple perspectives. This is where more is better than less. Invite your people in, and solve the problem, or, better, to first frame the problem and then solve the problem.
There are multiple vantage points in an organization, from philosophy, cultural policy, to strategy tactics, logistics and tasks, and many feedback loops within these vantage points. And this is a major point of acceleration. I often hear, “I want to bring no more that 10.” But the iterative relationships and interdependencies within the organization may mean you need to have 20 or 30 people there to really get to the answer. Sadly, this really tends to freak people out and scare people away. But there’s nothing to be afraid of. You need to invite people in to help you solve your problem (with a with a process in hand). This is a key way to get multiple vantage points in an organization, scanning together, framing a problem, understanding their creative process. And then, you can go through design, build, use.