Anatomy of a DesignShop™: Designing Pan Value Chain Support Systems,
A Facilitator's E-mail dated November 23, 1996
with commentary by Bryan Coffman
to sections 4 and 5
Section 6: Matt Taylor's Conversation With the Sponsor Team Following
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complete, and is obsolete before it's implemented).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
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
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
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
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.
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