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10 Design Principles For Generative Initiatives

The finite game is played for the purpose of winning,
an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play,
...and bringing as many persons as possible into the play.
  1. Design initiatives for multiplying benefits.
  2. Evoke and channel commitment-based energy.
  3. Appreciate that which you want to multiply.
  4. Go for the highest possible game — 10X commitments can open the door.
  5. Design for metamorphosis.
  6. Sow seeds of accountability where the soil is fertile; nurture growth through its early cycles.
  7. Mine breakdowns for the nuggets. Be on the lookout for a mother lode.
  8. Keep Core Developmental Work in the foreground of developmental initiatives until it's so rewarding it's irreversible.
  9. Wholeness is contagious. Be a carrier.
  10. You are not in this alone. Ask for help.
These principles were created for organizational leaders and change practitioners who are ready to move the game of organizational learning and change to a new level. They provide pragmatic guidance.

When used together with our Wholeness Lenses, these principles increase our field of vision. They can expand our consciousness of our choices and our understanding of the consequences of those choices. They help illuminate what's missing and what's possible.

Together, these principles and lenses challenge us to design our initiatives for wholeness — initiatives that are both alive and enlivening. They help us flesh out a shared and generative vision, and to develop highly leveraged learning and change strategies congruent with that vision. They represent a distillation of decades of organizational learning and change exploration — and, they are only a beginning.

For best results, experiment with all of the principles until they become natural for you and your organization. They represent strands, which when woven together appropriately, help ensure that your initiatives will indeed be generative.

  1. Design initiatives for multiplying benefits — "Multiplying benefits" are what distinguish generative initiatives from more traditional approaches to organizational change.

    Please review our initial examples of historical generative initiatives to begin to appreciate the nature of multiplying benefits. In each of these examples it's easy to imagine the incredible ripple effect — the true wealth generated by and for all those affected by the initiative.

    Designing for multiplying benefits is a path to ultra-high true ROI. Single purpose solutions tend to yield marginal ROI at best — and usually aren't sustainable. The difference between a truly generative initiative and traditional "solutions" can be as great as the difference between a pair of rabbits in the wild and a single rabbit in a cage.

    Generative initiatives are designed for wholeness and self-propagation.

    Artwork Credit: Jennifer Landau

  2. Seek out and unleash commitment-based energy.

    Work with innovators and early adopters.

    Many change initiatives take longer than expected, are much more painful than expected, and simply don't deliver the expected results. Implementing "programmatic approaches" to change often feels like trying to move a mountain.

    Artwork Credit: Vision Nest

    Everett Rogers' Diffusion of Innovation provides a more natural and infinitely more effective approach to making a lasting difference. The "flower" in this picture represents a desired future state, a compelling and shared vision.

    Everett Rogers' extensive work at SRI on the diffusion of innovation provides us with a powerful way to approach organizational change work. He found that in any social change there is a normally distributed population in terms of readiness to change. The key to having change flow smoothly, naturally, and swiftly is to first work with the "natural innovators," those who are already seeking change. Then support these innovators in enrolling those next most likely to change, the "early adopters." The early adopters will naturally attract the interest of the "early majority," and so on. Rogers' research has shown that when an innovation is adopted by 20% of the population, it's virtually unstoppable, it will move naturally throughout the rest of the system. The secret is to identify, challenge and nurture the infinite player in the innovators and early adopters.

    Grow alliances with high momentum initiatives that are heading in approximately the same direction. Find ways to weave their energies and resources into a larger/higher game that unleashes the "white space energy," the energy of co-creative collaboration, which lives within, between and among us.

    In 1990 a number of bridge-building practitioners, representing a wide variety of organizational change methodologies, were involved in a venture we called The International Center for Organization Design (ICOD). We staged a number of large scale (50-120 participant) learning expeditions in the US and Canada. A key element in the functional success of each of these "expeditions" was our commitment to "seek out and unleash commitment-based energy."

    One example: We developed an alliance with GOAL/QPC, one of the world leaders in approaches and tools to quality improvement. We then challenged our various change practitioners to demonstrate how their particular methodology would contribute to the (at that time) burgeoning total quality movement. Our "Transformational Approaches to Total Quality" events were well attended in spite of the beginnings of an economic downturn.

  3. Appreciate that which you want to multiply.

    Artwork Credit: Jennifer Landau
    Appreciative Inquiry, championed by Case Western's David Cooperrider, is seriously challenging the problem-centric paradigm that has dominated and severely limited management science and the social sciences for centuries. Check out The Thin Book of Appreciative Inquiry, by Sue Annis Hammond, for a wonderfully succinct and clear description of that evolving philosophy/methodology.

    What we pay attention to tends to grow. By constantly focusing attention on what's wrong with the organization we tend to suck the life out of that system — producing exactly the opposite of what we want.

    We can unleash the natural genius in ourselves and others when we frame our valid need for problem-solving within a culture of challenge, respect and appreciation.

    Developing an appreciative mindset is not about putting on rose-colored glasses or denying harsh realities. Rather, it has to do with developing a way of seeing and acting that intentionally and explicitly values wholeness. If we aren't looking for and expecting to find the unique genius in others it's highly unlikely that we'll find it.

    Whenever we value that which we experience in others, we open the door to all manner of exciting discoveries — about them, about ourselves, and about the potential for our organizations.

    When we choose to approach both exemplary performance and persistent problems from an appreciative mindset we will produce constructive ripples throughout the organization.

    There is perhaps no better example of "ultra high true ROI" than the true wealth generated when an organization's leadership learns to operate out of an appreciative mindset. If approached creatively, there is no true cost involved — only energizing life-giving benefits — as much for the appreciators as the appreciated.

    When limited to a problem-solving mindset,
    wholeness is dissected—endangered.
    When choosing an appreciative mindset,
    it is possible to see and experience wholeness.
    Wholeness is alive, life giving—enlivening.
    With wholeness, the possibilities are endless.

  4. Go for the highest possible game — 10X commitments can open the door.

    Most "problems" are problems of scale.
    Mazes are easily solved with a little perspective.
    Problems, when seen from a well-chosen perspective, become opportunities.
    Choice of perspective is our birthright.
    Choosing perspectives that illuminate wholes is our responsibility.

    Everyone sees problems and has problems. They exist at all levels of system. It's easy to think of organizations as collections of problems and measure the excellence of management in terms of their proficiency as problem-solvers.

    Unless an organization's leadership is systemically wise, and accomplished at change design and management, many problem "solutions" produce unintended new problems — sooner or later. This is also a natural consequence of seeing problems as separate and distinct, or having only one cause.

    Since large whole games are a lot more fun
    and infinitely more rewarding than small partial games,
    go for the highest possible game!

    Whatever the initiative, there is the potential for "scaling up," taking the game to the next level of system — and beyond. By designing games that are attractive to players at multiple levels, we can grow a web of ownership that is virtually irreversible. Small fragmented games are highly susceptible to infant mortality. Small divided initiatives are easily stamped out by an organization's natural immune system.

    Going for the highest possible game challenges us to rise above the maze of problems and craft our initiatives in ways that embrace whole systems. By making the game important enough — by putting enough at stake, we increase the odds of attracting the level and quality of resources required to develop truly generative solutions.

    Unlike programmatic approaches, or "quick fixes," truly generative initiatives tend to solve more problems than anticipated. Generative initiatives, by definition, produce unintended positive ripples, e.g., they promote greater trust and confidence, improve the quality of relationships, stimulate innovation, and strengthen feedback loops in all directions.

    We invented the Personal 10X Commitment notion back in 1990, as a design element in our International Center for Organization Design (ICOD) events. It proved so successful in helping to create a culture of out-of-box thinking and exploration, that we've used it in countless action/learning expeditions over the past 15 years.

    Incremental approaches tend to keep us ensnared in our dominant worldview, e.g., "continuous improvement" of today's intermeshed political, military, educational, economic and industrial machinery might actually be worsening our global wellbeing.

    Going for a 10X shift in the lasting difference we want to make in my world has proven a potent means of freeing us from the box of incremental ways of thinking. Making a 10X commitment demands that we involve others. It not only attracts allies, it invites skeptics to point out what's missing in our thinking.

  5. Design for metamorphosis.

    Just as metamorphosis requires a cocoon, and eggs require time and protective warmth to hatch, so it is with work of transformational change in organizations.

    Organizational infrastructure (roles, responsibilities, processes, systems, rewards, etc.) is usually tailored to barely support an organization's A-work (its normal day-to-day quarter-to-quarter operations). B-work (developmental work intended to improve A-work) and C-work (strategic work to shape B-work) requires well conceived temporary infrastructure (scaffolding) if it is to be effective.

    I've had the privilege of being directly involved in five major systemic change projects that demonstrated long-term success. They included new plant design, total organization redesign, overall organization renewal, a corporate-wide employee development initiative, and a major corporate merger. They included both traditional industrial and high tech operations.

    A crucial design feature in each of these initiatives was the development of special infrastructure that was separate and distinct from the on-going organizational structures and processes. In every case it involved highly qualified players drawn from the line organizations to play a developmental role as a full-time assignment for a significant period of time, e.g., 1-2 years. In most cases these developmental teams were supported by a high level "Enabling Team" responsible for stewarding the project, ensuring adequate resources, and "block removal."

    Generative initiatives require a protective spaciousness that enables the natural and magical co-creation process to unfold. It's vital to provide for the time, space and freedom to explore, experiment with and reflect on new ways of being and doing.

    Developing and implementing a generative initiative requires leaders who are more like gardeners than auto mechanics — leaders more committed to creating ever-evolving growth, functionality and beauty, than in finding and fixing "the problem."

  6. Sow seeds of accountability where the soil is fertile; nurture growth throughout its early cycles.

    One of the most effective strategies for supporting transformational initiatives is to focus on developing generative accountability loops for the developmental work required to support the changes needed in organizational culture and performance. Here are three rules to live by —

    1. Ensure that every important measure of developmental movement has some one accountable.
    2. Establish accountability loops in a way that make those roles intrinsically rewarding.
    3. Provide plenty of support (training and guidance) to ensure the success of these accountability loops during the initial cycles of life.

    This approach works equally well at the technician level and the executive level.

    The technician teams at Procter and Gamble's Albany, GA, paper plant were trained not only to perform all of their complex operations and maintenance duties and manage themselves, but also to manage their individual developmental processes. Although it required more up front investment in developing those accountability loops, they've been paying off handsomely for over 30 years.

    The leadership team at a major Canadian refinery consisted of managers of the major operating and staff divisions. They came up with a strategy to distribute responsibility for those performance areas that cut across all divisions, e.g., safety, environment, employee development, efficiency, cost control, leadership development, etc., among these managers. In effect each division manager played the role of the refinery manager relative to those areas of overall refinery performance. They served as both champions and stewards for those areas. They were held accountable by the refinery manager and their peers for the quality of the developmental work done to support continuous improvement in each of those performance areas.

    In the P&G example, deep accountability loops were a crucial part of their technician team design from the start. In the refinery leadership team example, they, in effect, created a parallel structure for ensuring that organization-wide developmental work received appropriate priority throughout the refinery.

    The work of organization development and change is frequently experienced as distracting players from their "real work." It is important to grow effective accountability loops for developmental work if that work is to be experienced as "real" and highly valued work.

  7. Mine breakdowns for the nuggets. Be on the lookout for a mother lode.

    When we make 10X commitments, we can be sure that we'll experience breakdowns. Every breakdown is a learning opportunity. We can choose to use the breakdown to dig for potential breakthrough learning, or we can choose to deny, to blame self or others, etc. Knowing there are important nuggets to be discovered will help harvest the benefits and minimize future costs.

    Seek out and embrace paradox. Our quest for wholeness necessarily involves embracing and including those essentials, which have been denied, ignored or otherwise excluded up to now. The Yin-Yang Lens offers a wonderful complement of paradoxical pairs I believe to be central to organizational wholeness. There are many other rich and rewarding paradoxes waiting to be mined, but this particular collection represents a true "mother lode" of opportunity in most all of today's organizations.

  8. Keep Core Developmental Work in the foreground of developmental initiatives until it's so rewarding it's irreversible.

    The Holographic Lens defines Core Work as including Inner Work, Relational Work and Circle Work.

    Inner work includes all aspects of our transpersonal development: body/mind, psychological and spiritual development. It's the work we do with self to move from where we are to who we are. Karen Dawson, in, speaks of many aspects of inner work for leaders as she expands on Peter Senge's definition of Personal Mastery.

    Relational work is a dancing partner to inner work. Inner work can be thought of as the work we do to evolve our relationship with our self. Inner work is essential to evolving the quality of our relationship with others. Evolving the quality of our relationships is central to inner development. There is huge potential for synergy between inner and relational work.

    Circle work has to do with the incredible power of creating some form of on-going group to support inner, relational, systemic and/or world work. Circle work can take many forms and have widely differing purposes, e.g.,
    • 12-step Programs provide essential on-going support to those who are committed to overcoming various forms of addiction.
    • Communities of Practice have existed for ages and, thanks to Etienne Wenger and colleagues, are becoming an increasingly important in accelerating individual development within and across organizations.
    • Councils of Elders have existed in many traditions and are overdue to make a comeback in today's institutions and communities.
    • Pathfinder Circles, begun in 2000, have served as a laboratory for exploring the potential for circle work in support of developing infinite players.

    Traditional organizational change and leadership development initiatives tend to give short shrift to Core Work — frequently ignoring it entirely.

    I'm a bit embarrassed to report that it took me almost 25 years in the development and change game to finally appreciate and acknowledge the centrality of this principle.

    I'm enormously excited about the strategic potential for core work in restoring soul to our social forms.

    Keeping core work in the foreground of an organization's developmental initiatives will do wonders in ensuring that those initiatives move an organization toward wholeness. For yang-centric organizational leaders seeking wholeness, core work is potent and essential medicine.

    Perhaps the greatest beauty in a deep commitment to core work among an organization's leadership is its generative nature. At first, when embedded in a yin-deprived culture, core work can seem impractical, illusive, awkward, abnormal and even unnatural — certainly not real work. However, the more core work becomes the air you breath, the water you swim in, the easier and more elegant all aspects of organizational life become.

  9. Wholeness is contagious. Be a carrier.

    Several important aspects of wholeness are described eloquently by Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz in our Distinctionary. The pursuit of wholeness is truly an infinite game. The more we become whole, as individuals and as organizations, the more opportunities for creation and contribution open up for us.

    It took me many decades to begin to awaken to this principle. Though I'm still a relative beginner, I've become deeply convinced that my greatest leverage, as a developmental agent, is to be the change I want to see in our world. A commitment to wholeness is perhaps the most profoundly generative and rewarding life commitment we have the privilege to make.

  10. You're not in this alone. Ask for help.

    There is a deep and abiding force in all of us to contribute, to make a difference, to help each other. Tap into that natural impulse. Sincerely ask for real help from all stakeholder groups. The age of the hero is passing. The age of creative collaboration is emerging. We develop our "humanness" and grow relationships and community when we ask for and deeply appreciate all we receive from others. Sharing our vulnerability as humans is both healing and wholing.

    And — miracle of miracles — the same creation force that has been behind every dramatic evolutionary breakthrough over the last 4,450,000,000 years is also fully available to us. Accessing that infinite creation force is our option, our challenge and our responsibility. The more confidence and faith we have in our role as conscious co-creatives, the more we will demonstrate our capacity to play that role.