Tuesday, June 08, 2010

We was bored. We decided to have a go at changing an industry.

From my friend, John Caswell, at Group Partners ... a guest post:

Masters of Disruption

The problem though was that the industry didn't quite exist. Even so we observed a gap in it. We, and Clients, realized that we had a problem in how to think about how to think - about any problem. In a phrase, we were too close to it to see, external agencies were too biased by the way they thought about it to care and we didn't know what it was in the first place. Of course back then we didn’t know this.

Business is actually set up to fail.
It’s designed that way. 'Divisions', 'Departments' and 'Units'. Surely they should be 'Completes', 'Wholes' and 'Unifieds'. As a direct result business breeds separate smaller business pieces, silos as they are known, that have their own language, religion and faith. It cannot possibly add up to a single minded stated goal. How could it. We aim to break all that.

What are business folk doing if they aren't thinking about what makes business business?

What makes business work is knowing, as much as you can, the 24 modules of 4D™. The logic of 4D™ is simple yet beguiling. In order to achieve a cohesive set of actions, know what to stop doing, start doing – you need to have a framework. Sustain a vision and agreed strategy across an aligned leadership team – you need to structure that. All these would seem a daily refinement if only there was a blueprint. Knowing all the barriers, knowing the customers, developing winning solutions, building clear and compelling positions, engaging with everyone around the right processes and systems, knowing how to make these choices. This seems a natural aim. It so seldom is. That’s what 4D™ does.

To me there is little else required in business than to get this stuff right. But. It never fails to shock us. Very few if any of our 2500 assignments has seen much fluidity or confidence in more than half of these modules. Let alone their integration into a coherent set of plans. It also surprises me greatly that often good enough is good enough. In the 21st Century it isn't. The aim seems so low. By raising peoples sights and ambitions it’s possible to do so much more. People prove that all around us every day. So why is business conditioned to not think – or conditioned to think that it’s always going to be the same.


Humans are classic. When they see something new or different they fall into two camps. Attack. Wonder. Like Blackbirds pecking a Canary to death - or like David Attenborough.

Painfully Simple.

Those that attack see our work as over complex, impenetrable, hard work. Unless we can get them to think for longer than one minute and explain how simple it actually is then they remain pained with the threat of the unknown. Peck away. Once they overcome their fear, like a first time bungee jumper, then they are it’s biggest fans. Field trip.

The wonderers are intrigued from minute one. While they may never fully get it they are entrapped for a lifetime by the idea of visualized knowledge, eco-system dynamics and creative logic. Guess who become the best ambassadors for Group Partners in the longer run?

It's quite hard to tell a simple story about what we do as a business. It's a practice. It has a big production element. It exploits the two inventions - Structured Visual Thinking™ (the philosophy) and 4D™ (the application and method). We say that this is designed to help our clients avoid solving the wrong problem really well. It does.

We work with big and small partners. They bring us in. We want to remain neutral to any outcome.

Simply put it's about making better decisions and doing so creatively. Big and messy word that - creativity. For me in this market creativity is the application of one's mind to solving problems in a different but more valuable way than the norm. Going beyond the humdrum, same, ordinary to find the innovative, unique and extraordinary. To me that's what's required so we just apply it to everything we do. Simples.

We've always had an Expert Network™

Yes we've always had an Expert Network™
this made complete sense when setting up the business and now even more so. In the early days people didn’t get it and suggested it was a distraction. I told them to F off. We have stayed true to it although we haven’t fully leveraged it. We find people who may be able to help our clients when we uncover a need. We also go and support our partners with our tools and techniques to improve their work. It works well. We remain neutral. Weve made great friends around the world. We are working with them now.

Creativity is a really big part of Group Partners and it comes from the strangest places. When you are least expecting it. But you can practice at making it more likely. In over 2500 cases our approach has resulted in creativity of one form or another - innovation, inspiration, ingenuity, communication. Breakthroughs, epiphanies, catharsis. We like that.

12 Reasons to get over yourself around creativity and Innovation - http://johncaswell.posterous.com/zager-and-evans-the-eve-of-eruption

Fundamentally the approach forces the audience to reach into unexpected areas. Places they didn’t think they could get. Places and spaces where creativity is more likely - where they have not been before. We make sure the outcomes are creative too. We work at scale. We find massive walls and bring magic paper. People look at us strangely. We like that too.

The writing is on the wall.
Something special and hard to explain happens when a conversation is translated live onto a wall. It is part synthesis of many layers of discussion, part honoring the audience, part performance art and part warranting the vital component in something yet to be. Visually Thinking and Acuity - http://johncaswell.posterous.com/visualizing-thinking-hallucinatory-drugs

Creativity is also applied to deliverables, words, stories, technology and tools and everything we do when we show up.

Our success is to take the traditional, random and often abused process of strategy, transformation or change and then drive a truck through it. Do everything differently. Remove the anesthesia of Power Point and endless droning meetings and replace it with smart, focused sessions that are enjoyable, visual and meaningful. Come out the end with something that can be used immediately. We've removed the biased lens of the solution provider, the expert, the ad agency, the consultant seeking the thousands of hours and 4 square matrices. Chucked it all out.

We've changed the dialog by asking sharper questions and we’ve extended the context so that the discussion has a chance to breathe. By really mastering the idea of structure and the effect of them on existing patterns we built frameworks of a logical nature. These frameworks bust open the status quo and stuckness in a friendly, visual and energetic way. They force teams to think openly and out loud. By doing it often we learned that our clients became more confident and more able to see for themselves where gaps lie and opportunities and decisions needed to be made.

Our frameworks are intuitive and deceptively simple. But they are great friends in ensuring we think well. They remove the idea of opinion and blather. They take no prisoners. That's quite magical.

Design is another of those bear trap (with sticking up in the air fatally poisonous toxin tipped bamboo shafts. Lots of them) words. Innovation is another, knowledge, leadership, brand. Oh don't get me on brand. Marketing is another one. All of them loaded and highly dangerous.

We mean the skills and competencies of conscious and thoughtful, experienced people crafting a new something. Obsessing until it works beautifully, behaves exceedingly well and looks fit for the task it was designed for. It may also take your breath away. We also use the term Information Design. That is our definition of the word design applied to Information and its need to be communicated to others well.

Columbo Questions

The most powerful questions of all come when they are least expected. The ‘so what’ question, the “I don’t quite get that” - “It doesn’t quite make sense can you explain that to me again?” question - all writ large on a 60 feet wall. The Columbo Questions - http://johncaswell.posterous.com/columbo-questions-and-the-semantic-answering

And finally.

  1. We avoid making our clients do too much preparation for sessions. It encourages positions - a stance that may not be helpful. We do a lot of work behind the scenes to get ready and understand the context so that our questions cause the most effective and efficient conversations. 20 Critical Questions around Innovation - http://johncaswell.posterous.com/ask-a-silly-question-go-on
  2. Our assignments are short, focused interventions set amidst a program of analysis and development of deliverables at each step. Because we believe the client has the key to solving the issues themselves our aim is to get them doing the bulk of the work. Not expensive external consultants.
  3. We study the concepts behind living systems, design and integrative thinking. We are avid followers of technology trends, innovation in the semantic web. We are Apple fanatics.
  4. We stopped telling clients the answer and started to enable the answer to emerge naturally by working with them. Co-creating. This builds enormous trust and integrity into any complex program of work. It binds teams, it creates a frame of reference, it enables ownership and shared intention. It’s the way to go.
  5. We've applied this to every conceivable issue and opportunity. These days mostly in Government and with the top multinational brands. We like to solve wicked problems. We like to put something back and make it sustainable, ethical and be sure it stays real for people. 7 Secrets of leadership that the consultants wont tell you http://johncaswell.posterous.com/7-secrets-of-leadership-that-the-consultants
  6. We've developed deeper and more specialized frameworks to deal with specific topics such as Customer Experience and best practice architectures to ensure compliance or rigor around standards. All through the logic and philosophy of 4D™ - http://www.grouppartnerswiki.net/index.php?title=Experience_Design
  7. We didn't stop with the frameworks. The ideas and insights from them find their way into user interfaces in digital systems. They can be animated, interactive tools for ongoing change and learning, induction or further challenge. We call ourselves the Pixar of consulting. http://www.grouppartnerswiki.net/index.php?title=The_'Pixar'_Of_Consulting
  8. We are now gearing up for full training and enabling scale through partners. We've always partnered. It's an exciting time.

Oh and we write a lot more about all this on Twitter, Facebook and blogs and wikis and more. We can't stop. Stop.

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