Archive for July, 2012


As human beings scenario planning is what we do all the time.  The healthy brain is constantly writing scenarios, interpreting signals in the environment and reframing them into meaningful images of and trajectories into the future.  Healthy organizations do this too.

Persons, Relationships and Organizations [P.R.O.] will not/do not survive without the ability to draw scenarios, and from those scenarios emerge alternatives, possibilities, and strategies.

Consider that there is a huge potential for performance improvements in most organizations through scenario thinking and planning.

One question I am holding: How does an organization achieve with distinction in the endlessly and rapidly changing world within which it resides?

 Critical to success in fast-moving, ever changing, and increasingly complex environments are the needs to learn at a rate that is equal to or faster than the rate of change (which requires ‘team/collaborative-learning,’ ‘systems’ thinking and ‘systems’ learning), the capacities to renew/evolve, adapt, become more and more flexible, responsive and appropriately reactive, and the commitment to continuously learn (at the P.R.O.levels) via second curve evolution/renewal (the Sigmoid Curve)Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice and the queen in Through the Looking-Glass illustrates the nature of fast-moving worlds.  Alice is not moving forwards, although she is running fast, and when she notices this, the queen remarks that she must come from a very slow world.  In a fast-moving world you have to run for your life just to stay where you are, and run twice as fast in order to get anywhere.

Consider for example an Independent High School that exists today and is directly affected by a turbulent, complex, often ambiguous, frequently confusing, paradoxical environment.  This requires that she must develop the capacity for continuous improvement and continual renewal/reinvention of herself in a profound way if she is to be around in ten years.  This requires the capacity for recognition, good thinking, searching conversations, decision-making, innovation, creativity, and implementation done with speed and flexibility.  I believe that by engaging in Scenario Planning – and integrating that with the Second Curve Initiatives — that such a school can develop the capacities necessary to not only survive but to thrive during what has now become the norm: turbulent and rapid change (and  all that this implies).

Consider ‘speed-learning.’  The benefits of speed-learning can be illustrated by the fighter-pilot metaphor which I was introduced to in the mid-90s by air force pilots stationed at Wright Patterson near Dayton, Ohio.  I learned that the air force assesses a pilot’s ability to learn with the OODA Loop, a model of mental processes of a fighter pilot.  The OODA Loop is the cycle of Observation (sensing environmental signals), Orientation (interpreting), Decision (selection from a set of responses), and then Action (executing a response).  Fighter pilots with faster OODA Loops tend to win dogfights, while those with slower ones get more parachute practice.

Applying this metaphor to the Independent high school, we could say that the ‘new high achieving and sustainable school’ is going to be quicker to observe changes in the competitive landscape, quicker to orient itself to the new landscape, quicker to decide what to do, and do it.  The school will, in this way, be a ‘quick responder’ (and, will, in most cases, then avoid being a ‘quick-reactor’ – although it is crucial at times to react quickly and appropriately AND the school needs to develop both capacities and also needs to be able to know when to engage one or the other).

It seems that the OODA Loop is closely linked to the planning cycle.  The Observation is the result of environmental scanning, a search for threats and opportunities, and the Orientation is the outcome of the interpretation or analysis of the information.  The Decision is the result of a decision-planning process, and the Action that is carried out implements the decision made.

Consider unconditional response-ability and response-capability as necessary complements to ‘speed-learning.’  It is crucial that each element of the P.R.O. develop the capacity and accept the accountability for ‘unconditional response-ability.’  Each element must develop its ‘response-capability.’  Consider that a ‘big’ challenge is to learn to manage the balance between stability and flexibility, between maintaining and developing (evolving and renewing), and between holding onto – letting go – and taking on (embracing and integrating).  Scenario Planning can also help each element [i.e. Persons, Relations, Organization] engage and balance these.



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I am not very technologically savvy so please bear with me as I use the metaphor of a computer in my entry today; this is part of a longer piece I wrote in my journal in 1998.

My brain is a computer and it is running a program.  My needs, wants, desires, perceptions, values, beliefs, assumptions, guiding life-principles, prejudices, stereotypes, tastes, etc. have been entered by myself, my parents, my teachers, my culture, my society, etc.  I am now 54 years of age and my computer, with unlimited storage capacity, continues to hum along.  Now my computer, for the most part, operates at an unconscious level and so I find myself reacting without thinking (my computer takes care of generating my feelings which I then respond to with my behavior).  My computer is demanding of me; it demands that I follow my programming – any deviation from my programming and my computer will zap me with powerful feelings – mostly negative.  If I follow the commands of my computer I will have moments of ‘peace’ and small experiences of contentment.

For example, when others don’t live up to my computer’s expectations it torments me with frustration or anger or bitterness.  When I cannot control things or people, my computer engages my ‘worry, or anxiety, or fear’ programs.  I then spend a great deal of energy copying with these feelings.  Even when I succumb to my programming the peace I experience is precarious – why – because at any moment an event or a person will occur that is out of conformity with my programming and I will be off and running – in the negative, emotional sense.

I do have a way out – or is it a way in – for I also know that others – situations or people – cannot ‘make me’ feel any feeling I don’t want to feel.  Even though my programming is powerful I still have choice. I HAVE CHOICE.  I am now thinking of a person that I need to be with in a few weeks – and when I am with this person I generally have negative feelings [this person, in effect, should not be who she is – she should be who I want her to be].   I also realize that others can be with her and have radically different feeling responses to her.  My conclusion is that it is ‘I’ who am creating MY feelings – she isn’t.  I cannot erase my programming but I can add filters to it and I can add new programming that will – with practice, time, effort and commitment – be integrated in such a way as to over-ride my old programming.  My ‘oppression’ comes from me not from other people or situations.  Even Viktor Frankl found some ‘peace’ and ‘meaning’ when he was in the concentration camp.  Until I integrate my new programming I will be susceptible to the automatic responses of my old programming.  Even as I write these words today, I am feeling more at peace and more in control of the responses I choose.  In order to continue with my new programming I must continue to develop my capacity to be awake, aware, intentional and purposeful.  No small task for me.

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Each of us will, at some time, be faced with an ethical dilemma – a dilemma is a sort of forced choice (although some dilemmas can be dissolved and hence can ‘go away’).

Here are two ethical dilemmas that I was invited to help with and I offer them to you, dear reader, so you can reflect upon them and decide in what ways you would respond to them.

1.  A young reporter, feeling pressure to meet a deadline, copied word for word from another source.  The editor of the paper was faced with a ‘right-right’ ethical dilemma.  Ethically, it was ‘right’ for the editor to immediately fire the reporter (justice).  Ethically, it was also right for the editor to help the young reporter learn and grow (mercy).  The editor knew that 50% of the staff would applaud the firing and 50% would be angry for the lack of compassion shown for the young reporter (compassion was a core-value of the organization) for ‘no harm’ had really been done for the article had not been published.  On the other hand, the editor knew that if compassion were shown and the situation was used as a ‘learning situation’ that 50% of the staff would be upset because the editor was ‘weak’ and that ‘integrity’ had not been upheld (integrity was another of their core values).  If you were the editor, what would you do?

2.  A barista in a coffee shop was informed that a ‘new product’ was coming on line and that the barista was expected to encourage customers to ‘buy and try’ this new product; the store was going to be rated regarding how many of the new products were sold in a month and not only was the store going to be rated, if the desired number of units were not sold then the bonuses of the baristas would be negatively affected.  ‘We are all in this together’ said the store manager and ‘we don’t want to let one another down, so we must all do our part.’  The barista held a personal value that it was unethical to ‘sell’ something that a person did not need (nor necessarily want) and the barista also supported the other members of the team and did not want to let the team down.  If you were the barista, what would you do?

Gentle reader, if you care to let me know how you would respond please send me an email: searcherseeker@yahoo.com

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In 2002 I made the following entry in one of my journals.

I like to imagine.  Today I imagine that part of the thinking behind all these humongous bonuses that top executives receive is the assumption that they will motivate all us lesser mortals to aspire to the same sort of heights.  No doubt that does work for some.  However many of the people I have had the privilege of meeting these past thirty-plus years – those whose salaries lack a number of zeros at the end – tend to get more depressed than motivated by the thought.  One thirty-something manager told me recently that ‘It really makes me wonder what life is all about.’  After pausing for a bit this young manager continued, ‘If these mega-rewards are what we as a society thinks are the real measure of a person’s worth, then I might as well give up right now. I am going to die anyway so why bother.’

This feeling of futility is not uncommon to me – I have had it frequently in my adult life.  On many a day life seems to be one long struggle (a not-so-healthy metaphor for life, I might add).  This struggle will end with my lying in my grave.  My son is studying art – he has the gift, no doubt about it.  Recently I was paging through one of his books that contained photos of frescos.  One of these stopped me short.  It was painted more than five hundred years ago by Masaccio.  I wrote the name down, it’s called the Trinity.  I have seen many paintings and/or drawings with this theme, but this one was the most powerful and I looked at it for a long time.

The painting is of the crucifixion, with God the Father standing rather benevolently and protectively behind the cross, and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, hovering between Him and the dead Christ.  It was commissioned to decorate a merchant’s tomb and the photo I was looking at contained not only this painting but what was underneath the painting.  Underneath the painting is a full-size painting of a stone tomb with a coffin inside – a see-through coffin, in fact, in which we can see the skeleton and above it, was written: ‘That which you are, I was.  That which I am, you will be.’  Does this mean that death is the only point to life – I hope not.

I think not.  For when I looked back up to the painting of the crucifixion I noticed that, yes, Jesus was hanging on the cross and at its foot were Mary, his mother, and John, his best friend.  They were looking up at Him, not in sadness but in what I thought was admiration.  It’s as if they were saying, ‘What a great life he lived.’ 

So here I sit pondering two paintings.  One says that ‘yes, death is inevitable.’  The other says that ‘True, and there is more, much more.’  What is the ‘more?’  I think it is going to be different for each of us – and it is going to be up to each of us to discover this ‘more’ before we die – this is the challenge and the invitation.  How will this ‘more’ be measured?  Not in money, this I believe.  Perhaps it will be measured by the look in the faces of our friends, family and all of those whom our life has touched as they contemplate our death.


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In 1987 a best selling book was titled, Complete Book of Wall Street Ethics (Jay L. Walker).  It consisted of 168 blank pages!  It reminds that the moral dilemmas of the financial world may be some sort of parable for the rest of us.  But let’s face it, it’s a different world for those who reside on Wall Street.  I have to remember that the money deals they make add up, in the course of a year, to more than all of the physical goods and services traded by our country.  More than that?  Much more than that.  In fact, I’m told, thirty times more than that.

But then money is used in two ways in that world, so I am told.  Some of it is ordinary money of the sort we all use to pay the wages and buy the groceries, but most of it is money as a commodity, money which people buy and sell, money money you might say.  Sometimes it must be confusing to move from talking money money to ordinary money in the middle of a hectic day, and it’s easy to understand how one might calculate a percentage in money money terms instead of in ordinary money.  Nor would that matter too much if that money money didn’t just occasionally end up as real money in a bank account or as a turbo-charged Porsche in the garage.

That’s the problem, I think.  One loses touch with what’s real.  It’s like flying a plane in a fog.  You don’t know whether you’re upright or not unless there’s a gyroscope in the cabin.  Lose touch with reality and you lose your moral gyroscope and do things which in the cold light of day would ‘amaze’ you.  It happens in war, of course, but more ordinarily it can happen in any intense working atmosphere, in a hothouse P.R. agency or in a sales office.  Shut out reality and you can lose your moral balance, do ANYTHING to promote that person/idea or to get that sale.

Where does one look for the gyroscope?  Not to the people around you because they are in the same hothouse, like the banker at the height of the Wall Street melt-down declared that insider trading was a victimless crime.  Not to laws, which generally deal only with extreme situations and usually after the fact.

Consider that there isn’t a gyroscope OUT THERE.  We each have to look for it inside of ourselves – it is there, I believe.  I believe this because I believe that the spirit of God is in each of us whether we formally acknowledge it or not.  Our charge is to get in touch with and live out of that spirit.  Don’t teach us (put something from out there in here), educate us (draw out the best from within) might well be the mantra for all gyroscope seekers.

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