Facilitate don’t participate

Over the last few years, ever since I first published this article, people have asked me over and over again to write a translation of it in English. Better late than never! As I was preparing for my summer holiday break I thought I’d republish and translate some articles from before. Here’s a first translated article about a golden rule that I hold dear in my work and that is a guiding principle for all of us at Minkowski: when you facilitate you don’t participate.

From developing strategy to facilitating strategy

It is one of the more important changes that organizations want to learn how to master themselves. If strategy and vision can no longer be set in stone, because the world is changing continuously, then how do you make sure your organization can adapt continuously as well? As a facilitator I can design an intervention to get a company on the right trajectory again, but when companies truly want to become future proof they have to be able to do it themselves. Then everyone inside the organization should be able to make an intervention to course correct.

Facilitation as a basic skill for everyone

Years ago I was hired by a bank in Zürich and they understood perfectly well that their own people should be able to facilitate sessions. That way, they reasoned, they could tap into the collective wisdom and insights of their own people. The answer to the question on how to fundamentally transform can more often be found inside an organization than outside. Because that is where the change should occur: outside consultants can never be as impactful to change a culture as inside employees can. Facilitation is slowly becoming a basic skill that every employee should be trained in (and more companies are in fact training their employees for this)

Learn how to ask questions instead of answering them

So, what am I going to teach the employees of the bank in Zürich? One of the most important things I’m going to tell them is that they are facilitators during the break-outs that they will run themselves. That may sound like an open door, but it is a fundamental insight to facilitate a session well: when you facilitate you don’t participate! Most often when employees organize a brainstorming session inside their company they participate just as much as they try to facilitate. Which is a very natural phenomenon: they want their voices to be heard as well. But as soon as you blur those two roles, you loose all the control to lead the session to a valuable outcome, because you loose the authority to intervene. Facilitation for that matter is a very humble role: you are a servant to the process and you are only serving it well, when you let go of your own ‘agenda’. Simply put: as a facilitator you never give the answers, but you always pose the questions (so that the others can formulate the answers and work together to a shared outcome).

When the employees in Zürich understand that, the chance of success increases dramatically.

How to: moonshot thinking in a crisis

Many organizations are in survival mode after the corona-crisis has almost put the entire world to a stop. During such times of uncertainty and extreme volatility it gets very hard to focus on the long term. The present is for most organizations most pressing at this moment in order to stay alive and to try to control the damage. ‘Moonshot thinking’ as a business practice to identify where you want to be in the future seems to be irrelevant right now. But during the Apollo-program many challenging moments were part of the path to the moon. And most of the biggest problems were overcome. In times of crisis you can find inspiration not from the Apollo-11 mission that got humanity to the moon, but from the Apollo-13 mission that got a crew safely back to home base in a life threatening crisis. Here are some take-aways from that historic moment that you might be able to apply to your business today.

Moonshot thinking: from Apollo 11 to Apollo 13

Could it be a coincidence that exactly 50 years ago (on April 13) the third mission to land on the moon ran into a major problem when one of the oxygen tanks blew up? Things unraveled fast after that. If you want to get into the details of everything that went wrong and how it was solved, then I can greatly recommend Gene Kranz’s recount of the events in his book ‘Failure is not an Option‘. Kranz was the flight director in mission control during the Apollo 13 mission.

This is what I have taken from his account, translated to making better business decisions in a time of crisis. It’s a long list of ingredients that work, but it can all be summarized in three words: courage, resourcefulness and experience.

Courage

  • trust your intuition (it comes from your experience and what worked in previous crises).
  • trust your team, and your team trusting you is of the utmost importance, because you don’t have time to brief everyone in detail.
  • don’t second guess each others decisions: you’re in it together, everyone is responsible for every decision.
  • make sure everyone can voice their opinions freely and that no one is worried about hurting someone’s feelings (it saves a lot of time).
  • believe that you are going to get through it: believe in a positive outcome (and then your teams will too) and operate from it.

Resourcefulness

  • build a plan on every decision that needs to be made and when it needs to be made.
  • make everyone part of the solution.
  • a 100% correct answer on most challenges doesn’t exist: rely on best judgments.
  • avoid chatter and communicate clearly in smaller (sub) teams, so you can stay away from too many distractions.
  • focus on what is still working/going well, because those are most likely the things that you can use as a lifeline to the future.
  • take good care of the ‘resources’ you have, they are the ones that are crucial. So don’t let them get distracted by guessing what they have to do.
  • make sure to have fresh eyes look at your situation too, either from outside or from a separate team so you don’t miss any opportunities because you are operating from your own tunnel vision.
  • work on multiple options (all possible options) first and then make a swift decision which one to follow. Get there through brief, intense and conclusive conversation together.
  • always think in options.
  • and remember to believe in a positive outcome: failure is not an option!

Experience

  • the most difficult of all, because you should have already done this before a crisis. During the Apollo-program the SimSup-team imagined every conceivable spacecraft failure and they then developed workarounds and procedures based on simulating these failures and the solutions that were found. This gave everyone a ton of experience to build upon in times of crisis.
  • make sure that you reflect and learn from what you’ve done after this crisis is over.

Safely back on earth

Today, exactly 50 years ago, on April 17th the Apollo 13 crew safely returned back on earth landing in the South Pacific. I hope that for all of you out there, that are trying to safely return to some kind of ‘home base’, you will find the courage, the resourcefulness and the ability to guide your organizations to a new dynamic equilibrium. Failure is not an option and adversity can be overcome.

For the years of pandemic crisis to come the new moonshot thinking will be about returning home safely, not about getting to the moon. And so we shift from the Apollo 11 thinking that got us to the moon, tot the Apollo 13 thinking that brought us back.

If you want to chat about what you could do and how you can apply these ingredients to design a sustainable path out of this for your organization, let me know and we’ll jump on a call to discuss the possibilities for your future.

Nobody knows Minkowski, but everyone knows Einstein

At Minkowski we always say: “nobody knows Minkowski, but everyone knows Einstein”. We use this statement as an illustration for something that is at the core of who we are and what we hope to accomplish in our work. Our work is not about us, it is about the people we help and work with. And we believe that our work can only be successful (help organizations with transformation) when it is not us that execute a transformation for our clients, but it is the people inside organizations themselves that make a transformation happen. It is them that should be in the limelight not us.

A million Einsteins to change the world
Minkowski was one of Einsteins teachers. He was of course in no way responsible for all the great work that Einstein accomplished, but judging from the documented interactions that they had on special relativity at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where Minkowski taught Einstein, they both learned from each other. Einstein’s theories have changed the way that we see the world and it has transformed everything we do and learn. That is our goal as well: we have the ambition to ‘create’ a million Einsteins so that the world can transform and become a little bit more sustainable.

Agency for change
So our story for transformation is a story about empowerment of individuals. Through the actions (and interactions) of the people we work with we think that transformation becomes much more successful (I’ll write some more on the reason for that in a next post). Our programs are designed to give the people in companies ‘agency for change’: the capacity to act in a given environment. That means that we also take responsibility to give people the ’tools’ to make it happen, because otherwise, when we leave our impact is gone too. Just like Minkowski: you don’t take away from someone what you’ve learned them.

Einstein, who was primarily interested in physics at the time, found great value in mathematics only years later when he used some of Minkowski’s fundamental mathematical equations in his own theory. It’s a great example of giving someone agency to act and go way beyond the initial spark.

So: nobody knows Minkowski, but everyone knows Einstein. And that is just the way it should be. This goes for us as well: we don’t strive to be known, we’d rather let the results of our sparks speak from the words of the people we have worked with.

The effects of virtual closeness and physical distancing

A fascinating thing is taking root in our societies these days. For years we’ve heard complaints about people loosing touch with the localities they live in while taking refuge in (sometimes extreme) online environments. It was often said that nobody knows their neighbor anymore, but that everyone could find like minded people online creating these virtual echo-chambers of opinion and populism. I think that the corona-virus will eventually have a bigger impact on shifts in society than it will have on public health, because: the physical distancing rules that are in place are pushing more people online to experience virtual closeness.

From social distancing to psychological nearing

Many of you will have worked from home and will have used various online conferencing tools (maybe for the first time). At first that might have felt awkward and strange, but I bet that after a few times it is already beginning to feel more natural. I’m beginning to hear remarks around me that people actually enjoy the fact that they don’t have to travel for meetings anymore and that an online meeting can be just as effective. In some instances (when you are in a one-on-one video conference) it might even feel more intimate than when you would have met the person in the physical world. Even psychiatrists are pushing their practice online.

For many of us, this time of social distancing will begin to feel more and more like an emotional nearing to the other (be it online). By the time we reach the end of this pandemic many organizations will question their old ways of doing things and wonder whether they should keep up with part of the online practice as it saves time and money. This experience of meaningful connection is spreading throughout all layers of society and age cohorts just as fast as the corona-virus is spreading around the world. A big societal shift is thus already under way.

Distancing in the physical world

At the same time, when you are walking outside, the distance you feel to the people that you live in close proximity to is growing each day. You literally take a step back, to get out of someone’s (private) space. Cashiers have glass windows in front of them to separate them from their customers (everywhere now); massive gatherings are prohibited; children don’t meet and connect in their schools anymore. All these signals in the physical world are shouting at us: keep away from the people close to you.

It is fascinating to see and at the same time worrying if it is going to last too long. I hope that in the near future we will forget the distance we kept to our neighbors and that every community will throw the biggest party ever to celebrate that we’ve lived through this. But more importantly to celebrate being able to hold on to each other again.

Yes, we should learn from the effectiveness of online collaboration for the future, but let’s also not forget to hold on to some things from the past that are worth to cherish for the future.

The beauty of this pandemic

I’m writing this from Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where the schools have been closed for at least three weeks and almost everyone is working from home. Only the most vital functions in society are still fully operational: people in healthcare, educators, law enforcement, fire brigades, government, etc. I’m sure most of you across the globe are experiencing something similar or will soon. We can still go outside on the streets here and when you do, you see a new kind of society. I see parents with their kids playing, educating, shopping. The rat race has come to a full stop. Everyone nods at each other in mutual understanding. I wondered: can you imagine when society stays like this, what it would feel like? Of course, we have to beat that virus (it’s horrible, no question about that), but can you imagine a society in which the truly important functions are really valued for what they do? Can you imagine a society in which the rest of us are just taking a step back and have come to terms with ‘less’?

Striking educators, healthcare professionals and law enforcement

In the Netherlands we’ve seen strike after strike in the last few months. Educators demanded less pressure on their jobs and better payments to keep the system up. Healthcare professionals demanded more as well, as what they are paid is ridiculous in comparison to the meaningful work they are doing. Law enforcement, fire brigade people etc. demanded just a little bit more safety from civilians that attack them while they work. And farmers wanted to be able to produce food for our society without being limited in their work because the rest of us prefer to sit in our cars to work every day. But they got nowhere with their demands. However, right now it almost seems as if the universe has aligned with them. All of a sudden we have this immediate threat to what matters most to us: our lives. And now we shut up and shut everything down that doesn’t really matter all that much. And everyone is in full support of these people that do make a difference. Now we value them, now we need them. Maybe we should keep that up after this pandemic starts to slow down.

The rest of us are in the backseat now

And the rest of us are slowing down. I have people around me, that are wondering what they’ve been doing up until this point. Was the work, and the stress related to that work, so important that they had to push everything to its boundaries? At the start of the year I wrote a post about entering a new decade: an era of less. I’ve called it the lessera. I have been struggling myself to find solutions for how I could do with less. The moment we are going through right now is showing us how it is possible to do with less. We can travel less to work and do things from home. We can work less and be home for our kids, just to name a few things.

At least at this short moment (who knows what tomorrow and the weeks after will look like), the world looks a whole lot better when we organize ourselves that way. There were no traffic jams today, there’s a calmness in the city and I see a whole lot more (emotional) connection than ever before. A friend who’s view on life I value tremendously, rabbi Irwin Kula from New York said it beautifully yesterday: “physical distancing invites us to develop new ways and opportunities to innovate emotional and psychological nearing”. I agree so much with that: we shouldn’t let this momentum go down in history as a pause of society after which we all jumped right back at it. I think we should see this moment as a reset and understand what is important and valuable and see if we can identify new principles for a more sustainable future for all (after we’ve beaten this virus). We are all in this together and the power of community that that generates makes the world so much better. Let’s embrace that and figure out for yourself these days: how can I do with less? How can I organize in ways that are more sustainable for the world, but more importantly for yourself?

Stay safe and take care…of each other.

The delusion of digital transformation

Is there a project in your company around digital transformation? I’m guessing that most of you are involved in, have heard of, or have been in a digital transformation program by now. If you haven’t, then your company is probably going to loose in the short term. At least, that is what people tell you. But if you take a good look at digital transformation then you’ll see that it might just be a delusion.

Digital native or immigrant
Some companies were born in the digital age. They have a digital product or service and they are successful in selling it to the masses. These companies show rapid growths and it hardly seems to cost them any effort to be successful. They are not going through any type of digital transformation, they just are digital.

Most other companies that are not digitally native look envious at them. And that is when they decide to launch a digital transformation initiative to catch up and be as successful as those new entrants into the market. And very often, they argue, they have a note worthy heritage, a lot of capital and will therefor beat the newcomers if they just fix this digital transformation thing. So they implement new software, start using SAAS-products, launch new things into the market, start collecting piles of data and get themselves trained in a digital mindset. But that is not what really matters.

Digital as a distraction for what matters
Digital transformation very often is just a distraction from what really matters and what transformation should be about. Yes, the world is changing rapidly and technology is an important driver for change, but merely digitizing is not a winning strategy. Incumbent companies seem to forget what they were great at and investigate and design how the thing they are great at can be sustainable in the future. Instead, they launch an innovation lab to embrace the digital and start experimenting and doing without reflecting on their past and asking what it is they really believe in (or believed in).

I’m not arguing that the world hasn’t changed. It has. And (digital) technology might have set it off exponentially. But that is just a starting point. The real change comes when people apply these technologies in daily life. Then you see that we’ve moved from delivering just a product at at single point in time, to delivering a continuous stream of value and building long-term relationships with clients. Businesses are no longer structured hierarchically. There is no longer a single product owner, but an entire team is in charge of product development. The way companies run has changed, but not what companies are about! It is still about the products and services that people want to pay for; the services they care for and that are valuable to them. Every (design) question for any company wanting to innovate (or transform) should be: how might I change a customer’s life?

What are you willing to struggle for?
If you believe that ‘digital transformation’ is a magic bullet that will solve all your challenges, then you are fighting a delusional battle. As soon as you’re done with digitizing the really disruptive change kicks in. You’ll realize that this digital transformation means that your systems should change, that behaviors of everyone involved should change and that your company structure is incapable of doing all of that at once. And before you know it you are going to argue to stop transforming: the projects are not making real money, it is taking too long, etc.

This happens because you haven’t identified the things that could come in the way of change: you’ve dreamed of an outcome and haven’t wondered about the process. Because transformation is a painful process. It is not just about what you want to be in the future, but also what you are willing to struggle for in getting it done.

Designing a cone of possibility
Yes, companies should transform to become more sustainable for their future, but digital is only a means to an end. Start by asking why you as an organization matter? Then explore what you want to achieve in doing that in the future; confront yourself with what is holding you and your company back and then start working (or perhaps I should say: struggle) towards it.

It is what we at Minkowski call ’the design of a cone of possibility’. It has a strong grounding in your past and focuses on the future. It will allow you to take action (but not before you’ve confronted your limiting beliefs and have started to think differently). As a result of that process you will wake up to what really matters (what matters to your clients) and you can then begin to transform.

The future is not about digital transformation, the future is about transforming your organization to the possibilities that are in front of you.

Agile is good. Agility is better

How to achieve agility apart from using agile methodologies

Agile is not a silver bullet
Don’t get me wrong. I am a big advocate for agile methodologies. From the start I was involved in initiatives within ING that led to the successful agile transformation based on the Spotify model. This ‘agile way of working’, with multidisciplinary teams, called squads, and where the old functional departments have disappeared and merged into Tribes, combines a high degree of autonomy within teams with clear common goals and direction.

But I have seen (and tackled) enough examples in which agile does not lead to agility. And even though I am happy to help others with the use of the various agile methodologies:

An agile methodology is and remains a response to a need and not a goal in itself
Agility is a key to future success
Nobody can predict the future. It is therefore not surprising that in a lot of studies about success factors of business transformation, the ability to respond quickly and easily; usually defined as agility; is mentioned as the single most important capability for successful transformation.

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The concept of agility is not new, but due to the disruptive effect of exponential technologies, agility has really become a necessity for survival.

OK"¦ so what is agility?
There is of course no clear answer to this, but I prefer to use the model from the Global Center for Digital Business Transformation. In this model; agility is best thought of as a kind of meta-capability that rest upon three underlying capabilities:

1. Hyperawareness

The capability to detect and monitor changes in the environment (customers, employees, partners, market, etc.), particularly to changes that spotlight opportunities or threats.

2. Informed decision-making

The capability to make the best decision in a given situation. Collaborating and empowering people to make quick, evidence-based decisions.

3. Fast Execution

Putting decisions into practice rapidly, mobilizing resources dynamically, and continuously monitoring options and progress against goals.

If you take a some time to think about the above capabilities, you will quickly understand that there are many more options and answers to achieving agility in your organization. Agile is important here, but it is by no means sufficient if you really take agility seriously.

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How to asses agility?
A good start to determine the level of agility in your organization, department or yourself, is answering assessment questions about hyperawareness, informed decision-making and fast execution.

These questions usually start with: What is our / my ability to… An example could be: what is my ability to share information across the organization to support decision making? There are of course many examples of questions to assess your agility. If you are really interested, I would be happy to share more examples if desired.

The point I want to make here is that it is important to regularly ask yourself whether there is sufficient agility in yourself, your department and your organization. The challenge after assessment is to find solutions that improve agility at areas where there is demonstrably a deficiency.

How to use (design) questions to achieve more agility?
The design question "How might we…?" helps to give direction to the solution space that you are aiming for. Furthermore, the design question is a starting point for brainstorming ideas.

“How” helps us to think in possibilities; it suggests that we don’t have the answer yet.

“Might” opens up to various solutions, instead of ‘the one and only solution’.

“We” emphasizes the power of collaboration, of bringing various stakeholders to the table to better understand what problems we need to find solutions to

The Design Question, or "How might we"¦?" question provides a new lens to possible solutions. Various questions provide various directions. This not only helps to create ideas that answer that question, but in itself provides a strategy, a direction, to your future change.

Below three examples of Design Questions that can help brainstorm within your organization about possibilities to increase agility

"How might we be highly alert to the internal and external environment, particularly to changes that spotlight opportunities or threats?

"How might we collaborate and empower people to make quick, evidence- based decisions

"How might we put decisions into practice rapidly, mobilize resources dynamically, and continuously monitor options and progress against goals?

The possible answers and solutions are countless, but some approaches to innovation, such as design thinking and lean startup are really in the sweet spot of hyperawareness, informed decision-making and fast execution.

Why design thinking & lean startup almost always improves agility
Agile alone is no guarantee that you will consistently deliver truly engaging, impactful solutions. Agile can be a highly effective way of solving problems, but it doesn’t guarantee that you’re solving the right problems. Asking end users what they want, mostly results in incremental improvements, not breakthrough solutions.

Where agile is an approach to problem solving, design thinking is an approach to problem finding. It calls for a high degree of empathy and understanding of, and an iterative process of developing new ideas, challenging assumptions, and redefining problems, with the goal of identifying alternative solutions that might not necessarily be apparent.

Lean startup is a methodology for developing businesses and products, which aims to shorten product development cycles and rapidly discover if a proposed business model is viable; this is achieved by adopting a combination of business-hypothesis-driven experimentation, iterative product releases, and validated learning." It is a principled approach to new product development."

Agile naturally comes after design thinking and lean startup and is a way of working, based on an iterative development, incremental delivery and ongoing reassessment of an existing product, service and/or process.

Design thinking, lean startup and agile; a good combination
– Empathize, Define and Ideate through Design Thinking

– Turn ideas into business models following the lean startup

– Build and deliver the product incrementally and faster through agile processes.

Other iterative solutions to increase agility
There are an incredible number of approaches, apps, applications, methods and techniques that can boost hyperawareness, informed decision-making and/or fast execution in your organization. Ultimately it depends on the specific context what is desirable and will work. This too is ideally an iterative process, in which taking small innovative steps is essential. After all, it is much cheaper to fail quickly, which prevents large unnecessary investments. Only when it turns out that a solution works within the organization is it sensible to scale it to increase your agility

To change behavior: see before you act

When I was in junior high one of my teachers taught me to ‘never say what you don’t want to do’, because subconsciously you can not deal with that. Apparently it will plant a seed in your head leading you to do exactly what you didn’t want to do. In Dutch (and I don’t know if it translates well into English) we use the metaphor of ‘pink elephants’ to illustrate this. When you say to someone: don’t think of a pink elephant, a pink elephant will immediately jump into your mind.

Do pink elephants really jog your memory?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a pink elephant in my life. I don’t even know what it would look like. How can it jump into my mind when someone tells me to not think about it? So the use of the metaphor has always been a little awkward to me, but I got the point.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I find myself hosting a session recently. At the start of any session I agree upon a few ‘rules of engagement’ with the participants to make sure we will truly be collaborating. The rules are: listen attentively, speak with intention and no judgment. These rules are adapted from the first 3 stages of Otto Scharmer’s Theory U that will eventually set you up for a change in behavior. Or so I believe. As you can see, one of these rules states: ‘no judgment’. One participant recently confronted me with this and told me the metaphor of the pink elephant again.

Red cars as a filter to see the world
I was shocked by his observation. This was a classical catch-22: if I didn’t say anything about making judgments sessions would be less collaborative, but if I said ‘no judgments’ people would by subconsciously making even more judgments! Did my set-up always have an undesired effect and would collaboration never occur as a result?

No, it doesn’t. In fact I do want them to think about it. Only if you become aware of something and you see it, you can start to adjust your core beliefs about them, think differently the next time you interact, so that your behavior will really change and become more collaborative (we’ve adapted Keith Yamashita’s 4-step model of see-believe-think-act in our work at Minkowski).

It’s just like buying a new red car. You might have hardly seen any red car driving around. But as soon as you’ve bought one, you see them everywhere. And that is exactly the effect I want to achieve by saying ‘no judgment’.

What the corona virus can teach you about your future

Although the corona virus (COVID-19) that has been raging around the world has serious consequences for some that get infected, for most of us it’s a potential fear for what might happen to us in the future. It’s not an immediate threat either, which is why this is so interesting when you’re in the line of work that we operate in. We help organizations map possibilities in the future and identify with them what they might have to do to prepare and adapt to that future. Those changes are never immediate either. From that perspective there’s a lot to learn from your reaction to the spread of the corona virus, that might be valuable for your future (personal and professional). In this post I’ll describe what the possible reactions are and how they can be indicative for any path you pave into the future.

How you see the world, determines what your future is: a model

In our work we design possible paths into the future with organizations. What those future directions eventually look like is determined by what is possible, but more importantly it is determined by how people inside and outside those organizations will react to it. Thankfully there are only four possible ways that people deal with the world around them. To map this out we use a model that was developed by the great Dutch philosopher René Gude and described in his book ‘The Agora Model‘ (there’s only a Dutch version available). In this book René explains that there are only 4 basic ways that people give meaning to the world around them and extrapolating on that: 4 ways that they react to change. You have the rationalist that always tries to understand the world and is searching for models to explain the world to him. Then there is the empirist that finds meaning in what he can see, feel, hear, etc. This person uses his senses to give meaning. Then there is the affectionist that acts upon his gut feeling and instincts. Finally, René describes the voluntarist: a person that is driven by will power. These insights all stem from thousands of years of philosophy. And although they are extreme positions and every person is a mix of these drivers it is a great navigating tool for finding possible directions for the future. Do read René’s book if you want to gain a much better understanding of these dynamics than what I painted here.

What was your reaction to the corona virus?

So, as I said in the beginning of this post, how you typically react to change is indicative for how you see the future. Even organizations as a whole have a tendency to either of the 4 basic motivations in they way they are organized and in the way they operate, but we’ll leave that for now. Reflect back on the past couple of weeks and ask yourself: how did I react to this potential threat in the future when the corona virus hits your locality?

The Rationalists: are you a person that reads everything about? Are you a person that tries to understand what is going on, follows the news, reads up on all the inside knowledge of scientists or authorities and then acts upon what they say you should do? Then you are a rationalist in the Agora-model. The future for you has to make sense and you want to be able to logically construct steps forward. Without evidence, data, proof of something happening, you won’t accept any change.

The Empirists: are you a person that bases action on what you see other people do, especially people you trust? Do you look around you and when you see others wearing masks, you might consider getting one too? Are you a person that has stopped shaking hands or kissing? Then you are probably an empirist in René’s model. The future for you has to be tangible. You can’t relate to any plan for the future if you can not see it clearly. You need some tangible concepts and ideas that you can ‘put your hands on’ and then you get into action.

The Affectionists: are you a person that has reacted based on what feels right to do? Does your gut instinct tell you to stay calm, or to prepare? Are you a person that doesn’t really need too much evidence, but you can jump into action as soon as you feel you have to? Then you are an affectionst. The future direction you (or your organization) should take, just has to feel right for you ánd your family. As soon as you feel that energy that something is about to happen or change, you get going.

The Voluntarists: are you a person that has immediately jumped to action? Did you already get your masks, stocked up on food, have your hand washing routine practiced and executed properly? Are you convinced that this thing is not getting you down, and whatever terrible things might happen, you are going to beat it? The you are a typical voluntarist in the Agora-model. Your future is a future that you creating. You’ll try and do anything to stay ahead of the game. Change for you is hardly ever a threat, you enjoy the waves of change and you’ll ride them proudly.

What does it tell you about the future?

Now that you’ve identified your initial reaction to the potential threat to the corona virus you have identified how you see the world. And that determines how you see your future. The pathways forward that you will prefer or that you most believe in will have characteristics of the same dynamics.

And you can also ask similar questions of your organization? What happened in your company? What measures and actions were taken and why? Do they fall in either of the categories described above? If you can, then you have a wealth of insight on how your organization will see the future and what makes sense for your organization to do or not to do. Not because that is the way it is, but because those actions fall within what is realistic for your organization to start doing.

The eruption of the corona virus is a unique circumstance to identify the dynamics described above, because usually, when things are ‘business as usual’, your reactions to change are more nuanced. So, as Winston Churchill once said: never let a good crisis go to waste. Learn from your reaction to this potential crisis in the future as it can help you later on, when things get back to normal again and you want to work on you vision or strategy.

Minkowski uses the Agora model when we help organizations develop scenarios and strategies for the future (it’s part of the Awakening step of our approach), if you want to learn more, let us know.

How to develop an actionable vision

This week I was in Tallin working with a bank to design new directions for their future. In the country that some spell as E-stonia, it was great to work with a digital version of our ‘Stories for Change’ tool for the first time. As one participant said: "I didn’t know it could be so simple to develop new thinking for our future that makes sense to all of us and that we now all can’t wait to get started with". How do we accomplish that?

"Dreams are the seeds of action"
I’ve always liked the above quote of Edmund Hillary, the famous mountain climber. It’s why we stimulate people to be bold, dream big and develop futures thinking. Even when the moonshots they come up with seem far-fetched the dreams that underpin those visions have great value. Indeed, because they contain the seeds of action.

But you can rest assured that a dream is not a goal that can be achieved easily. If that would be the case it wouldn’t be a vision, but rather an action plan. So, for a dream to lead to action it has to be strong enough so you and your team will have the perseverance and the drive to overcome all the challenges you will meet. In order for it to lead to action it needs to strike a chord. Within yourself, but especially if it concerns your dream (or vision) for an organization it needs to touch the people in your company. They have to be able to understand what your vision really is about and feel the motivation to work on turning it into reality. How do you do that?

Three ingredients for an actionable future vision
First of all: getting a vision across to a team shouldn’t be done as a bulleted presentation. I agree with what Jeff Bezos wrote in one of his annual letters: create a narrative instead of a PowerPoint. A narrative has a logical structure to it, but it is far from a rational argument. Instead, it has an emotional layer that allows for the listener to feel connected to what you are saying. That way they can start to believe in your story, and perhaps more importantly they can start to belief in you! The greatest dreams of history were delivered by individuals that people believed in: Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, etc.

The three ingredients of a good narrative mentioned above are of course nothing new. Aristotle already described them as important modes of persuasion. Ethos is the credibility of the person speaking. Pathos is the emotional layer and logos is the logic structure of your story. At Minkowski we have developed the tool called ‘Stories for Change’ to help teams translate their dreams into such narratives and find the seeds of action within them. That was the tool we used this week in Tallin as well and that triggered the comment of one of the participants.