Envisioning is a vital leadership capability in the information age.
On-line streaming media shouting “the next big thing is...” creates uncertainty and confusion about current realities. Big data produced by technology reveals abstract patterns of a global world in ways that seem at times incomprehensible except to those who specialise in big data interpretation whilst organizations reduce risk at all costs by adhering to technology processes stifling the envisioning required to drive imagination and innovation.
The truth is envisioning - to picture in the mind - is a human attribute technology cannot replicate.
My recent research reveals most organizations and their leadership talk about the future yet very rarely develop envisioning as a basic organizational skill for creating value. The odd thing is envisioning is innate. Daily at work, we engage in it through focused dialogue and productive conversations that surface collaborative learning and collective insights to solve problems.
Skilful envisioning uses imagination instead of problem solving to direct the creative flow in an organization articulating purpose in a manner that has the power to bring employees, stakeholders, customers together to create meaningful futures.
The practice works best in a live environment where participants can bring all their aesthetic senses into play physically to express opinions, to observe and listen to others’ points of view, no matter how controversial or contentious.
In an organizational context, there are only three design elements in envisioning
Properly researched and worded questions are the basic framework for envisioning and are crucial to successful outcomes. Ask the wrong questions and the outcome will be skewed towards specific interests or stakeholder needs rather than a genuine vision of future possibilities and opportunities.
Designing questions is not a simple or quick task. To obtain breakthrough thinking, the wording of questions needs to be revisited several times in the pre-planning stage to ensure questions are clear, concise, targeted and unambiguous in their intention.
Questions that explore issues such as “How can we enhance our capacity to talk and think more deeply together about the strategic and critical issues facing our organizations or systems?” and “How can we access the mutual intelligence and wisdom we have to create innovative and positive paths forward?” are good starting points for thinking about question construct.
Questions can be epic or tactical or a combination of both and should be limited to no more than 5 in any one event. Examples of recently used questions exploring the future of different industries and product and services can be seen at the bottom of this article.
The participants provide the content for the vision. Create a matrix mapping the topology you are exploring to include the widest possible representative participation including those who will potentially add to and be affected by your vision. Miss representatives from quintessential elements of the topology you are envisioning and you will miss essential components of the vision.
Representatives working in an analogous field with no vested interests or positions and a recognizable and successful track record are a must inclusion. In a recent envisioning event focused on rowing, senior representatives from the digital world and triathlon as well as senior bureaucrats from Olympic sports funding bodies were included.
It is always good to add about 10% agent provocateurs to any participant mix. Envisioning requires you think on the edges of current conditions so it is smart to include those you may consider far from the centre of current thinking that have something to contribute.
One condition I insist in any envisioning event is agreement that participants operate under the Chatham House Rule. The Chatham House Rule is a core principle that governs the confidentiality of the source of information received at a meeting. The rule originated in June 1927 at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London and states
“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed"
Technology has not found a way of capturing and revealing insights in a live event simultaneously and collaboratively so old fashion butchers papers and coloured pens act as the recording media. Participants record their insights as they occur on the butchers’ paper that cover the tables at which they are seated.
Envisioning events vary from 90 minutes to 6 hours depending on the importance of the agenda and how deep you wish the dialogues to be. Participants move from table to table and question to question maintaining the anonymity of their comments left on the butchers’ paper.
The big task is the transference of the handwritten comments into an ordered and meaningful document at the completion of the event. Often there are hundreds of sheets of butchers’ paper with illegible scrawls and I am always grateful to the persons who have spent hours deciphering and transcribing the comments.
What to do with the final envisioning document?
Comments need to be summarized under themes or topics so you can quickly observe patterns and outliers in the collective envisioning.
Once the document has been compiled, circulate it to the participants so they can be given the chance to review it and comment. Finally use it as the basis to design a powerful forward looking strategic plan built on the common language used by the participants, devoid of the nonsense of managerial language and jargon buzz words.
Skilfully facilitated and carefully constructed envisioning has been known to stop wars, remove intractable impediments to change, create visionary new products and to provoke solutions to wicked problems.
Watch this early Steve Jobs video and reflect on just how powerful envisioning can be!!!
Recent Examples of Dr Kerle's Envisioning Projects