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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?

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Thinking Wrong: How Might We Rethink the Agency Model?


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Think Wrong in Action.

Kari Hernandez is the President + Co-founder of INK Communications Co. in Austin, Texas. Kari became a Certified Wrong Thinker at a recent Think Wrong Master Class. Thanks Kari for sharing this early story of how you’re using Think Wrong at INK Communications Co.!

This article was originally posted on the INK Communications Co. Blog July 12, 2018

 

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We hosted a two-day retreat in Austin for the whole staff last month. For some new folks, it was their first chance to meet colleagues from other offices in person. For others, it was the chance to be with their everyday companions with a different agenda, or how about no agenda for a change? For me, it was an opportunity to test out our new Think Wrong chops with our whole team and see collectively what we could dream up for the future of PR and INK.

Our mission is good work with good people makes for a good life. It’s a balancing act and sometimes in our fast-paced agency world of client service and media relations, that good life side can take a hit. We all felt that coming out of a very busy Q1 and Q2. We talked about it a lot as a group over the last few months – how we were and were not living our mission – and a lot of our woes and challenges came back to the same thing: not enough time in the day.

We were recently certified in Think Wrong, the radical problem-solving system that helps you imagine, create, and operate what’s next. During that training, when the group would break, our team would rush to their computers and pound away for as long as they would let us while the other students would chat, step outside, or have a snack. This prompted us to ponder the reason why PR, more than any other creative service, is so “always on.” The obvious answer is that it’s because of media cycles – the news is always on, therefore, so are we. But then what is driving this for our digital, design, and content teams?

We put the traditional agency model to the test on the first day of our retreat. The challenge of the day was, “How might we rethink time and space, in a way that allows us to live our mission, so that we might do more thoughtful and meaningful work that inspires ourselves and others?” We wanted to look at agency life with an open mind, unrestricted from how it is now and has been, outside of structure and rules.

We used a drill called Moonshot, inspired of course by Kennedy’s original moonshot as well as Google X. (In this TED talk from 2016, Astro Teller talks about Google X’s moonshot strategy and the amazing things that can happen when you reward failure.) In this exercise, teams are challenged to think of the most astounding thing they might do together that would have an impact beyond our walls and lives, based on the challenge.

Our teams took on the status quo of agency life.

The first idea? Eliminate timesheets!

That might not be astounding or impact millions of people (or would it?) but it gets at a bigger opportunity: changing we way we value our work. We thought through the absurdity that every hour of work is worth the same amount of money. We asked how we might instead set a budget through the potential value of the impact we’re making for a client. Or the value of the team of specialists needed to attack a particular campaign strategy.

Other teams looked beyond the billable hour at how we form our teams. Two groups rethought our semi-permanent team structure and argued for the benefits of a more dynamic ecosystem of talent where people move more fluidly between clients and projects and even between specializations. We definitely see the value at INK of breaking down silos – between offices, communications specializations, and accounts to share value and experience and form truly integrated programs and cooperative teams. (Our one big happy family “1BHF” approach.) But this is taking that much further and we’re interested to look at how we can continue to meld our skillsets and make them available to our clients more dynamically.

Another interesting concept that bubbled up was eliminating the stigma of stress, anxiety, and depression in our industry. If change is a constant in life, and certainly our industry, and anxiety is a natural brain reaction to change and uncertainty (damn lizard brain), then how we all deal with that is a skill we should teach, and a normal part of being human. It’s certainly not something to hide or feel alone about. We all feel it in some way. We’ll definitely be thinking through this more within our culture at INK and looking for opportunities and resources to help all of us navigate change, and the stress and anxiety it brings, more peacefully.

Overall, we knew an hour-long drill or a day-long discussion wasn’t going to map out the future of the agency. But it was a great way of setting up some themes that we can continue to explore and discuss in our effort to make INK – and hopefully, other agencies out there – a place where you can do good work with good people, and at the same time, live a great life.

What do you think? How might we, as an industry, rethink the agency model to allow for more thoughtful work and eliminate the “always on” mentality in areas where it no longer serves a purpose?

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Think Outside the Box (At Your Own Peril).

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Think Outside the Box (At Your Own Peril).

Artists, like many founders of startups, are bootstrapping their artistic lives. They are raising funds through their in-the-box-jobs and putting that money directly into their art—uncertain if there will be financial returns, yet compelled to do their work.  

So, how might leaders tap into the passion and transformative power of artists rather than alienate and run them off?

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

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How might we learn to solve next, when we really don’t want to?

Even in our own small business we use automation, algorithms, AI, SaaS packages and Amaze-on Web Services to do many tasks that were previously done by us mere mortals. As astounding as this new technology is, none of it would have been created without human creativity, curiosity, innovation, imagination, and passion.

To maintain your ever fleeting competitive advantage (Check out Rita Gunther McGrath’s point of view on competitive advantage) in a hyper-disruptive-amazon-fueled world you’ll want to focus on the people who can imagine how you might use those tools in clever, practical, and original ways to deliver effective satisfaction to the jobs to be done for existing and new customers.

But, we humans have a bug in our operating systems—we’re evolutionarily coded to have an emotional bias towards the status quo, because good enough was good enough when the choice was eating the bland thing you knew rather than being poisoned by a delicious looking berry, or when acting counter-culturally resulted in being thrown into a volcano or being ostracized from your village only to be eaten by a saber toothed tiger. And let’s be honest, that still happens in the workplace.

So how do you manage the opposing forces of knowing how to change and not wanting to with each other to produce the killer solutions that leverage these just-a-click-away assets to power your organization’s future state?

On one hand we know humans are ingenious. On the other hand we know that we are hard-wired to keep doing what’s been done before and is good enough (for both rational and irrational reasons, but with no real ability to discern the difference).

To achieve the results, we’ve been charged with achieving and create a cognitive advantage for our organization, we have to consciously, deliberately, and systematically solve problems by learning to trick our brains, and creating a cultural context where it’s OK to do so—especially in larger or established organizations where the immediate risk of starvation is less. (Scott Kirsner has a provocative take on the difference between Intrapreneurs and Entrepreneurs that’s worth a read).

Both sides of that equation are tricky without a defined language, frameworks, and tools that are culturally inclusive—exclusive change is going to be a losing battle (just ask the Sneetches).

We created the Think Wrong problem-solving-system to provide just such a common language, frameworks, and tools. We like to describe it as design thinking’s punky little brother mashed up with the scientific method, and topped up with a dollop of behavioral science to help your people create and propel solutions beyond the status quo.

We’ve also learned that, to overcome those pesky heuristic and cultural biases, you need to adopt a scalable, habit-forming, learning-system that gets people excited, provides the pokes and coaching they need to keep putting what they’ve learned into action—and ultimately to be confident and fluent enough in the system to teach and coach others how to use it too.

Click here to learn more about how you can achieve scalable learning and inclusive problem-solving to address your organization’s gnarliest problems.

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Fail Fast. F*&k That!

How often do you hear platitudes about failing fast, failing forward, celebrating failure, embracing failure, feeling free to fail?

Well I’m here to say—f*&k that.

I’m here to say failing is not good, whether it’s done fast, forward, or by high fiving each other in an end of year celebration.

If you are a Chief Innovation Officer you know the truth: People don’t like failure. Failing is scary. Failing hurts. Failing is something to be avoided.

Why?

Because failure is what happens when you try, things don’t turn out as you expected, and don’t learn from it.

When we appropriate cool sounding glib alliterations, they cover up and excuse failure—they invite ignorance, laziness, incuriosity, and poor performance. Who wants to celebrate that?

So here’s what I invite you to do instead: Hypothesize, explore, experiment, invite the unexpected, observe, be surprised, learn fast, change your hypothesis. 

And do it all again.
And again.
And again.

That’s not failing.
That’s learning.  

Failing and learning are not the same thing, they are antithetical. They shouldn’t be clumsily exchanged with one another.

Buckminster Fuller said: “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

Too often in business, when things don’t turn out as expected, it is labeled a failure. The brakes are put on. Someone gets a black mark. And attention and resources are shifted elsewhere.

That’s what real failure looks like.

A failure to recognize the unexpected as a promising window into a breakthrough.

A failure to stop and say, “Wow, I never imagined that would happen! What did we learn? And how does it change what we should do?”

F*&k failure. It should be  feared and avoided at all costs.

So, if there’s a need for a pithy platitude, here’s one I just made up: “Learn without fail.”

Or here’s another: “Fail to learn or learn to fail.”

At Future we’ve developed six Think Wrong Practices and over 150 Think Wrong Drills that we use to help organizations create a Culture of Learning not a Festival of Failure.

 
 

If you want to learn how to do this yourself, we have a handbook that will help you do just that.


“The founders of Future take readers on a wonderful first hand journey of disruptive innovation. Think Wrong is as inviting as a cookbook by Jamie Oliver and as instructive as a business book by Clayton Christensen. The authors show us how to unlock human ingenuity to build and grow clever, practical, original, and viable solutions to our biggest challenges and most exciting opportunities.”
Rita Gunther McGrath
Professor at Columbia School of Business, Best-selling author of The End of Competitive Advantage
 

And if you’re already in love with the prospect of thinking wrong you can learn about our cloud based problem solving system and in-person service here.


“Branson can’t afford his pilots to fail again or fail better or fail forward or, frankly, fail at all. Ever. Pretending to embrace failure when you don’t is disingenuous and potentially dangerous.”

Rob Ashgar pulls back the curtain on Silicon Valley’s Fail Fast lie in this Forbes article from July 2014. “Why Silicon Valley’s ‘Fail Fast’ Mantra is Just Hype”


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Build a Rocket

Be Bold: Moonshot Drill


Use when you need to escape the biases, orthodoxies, and assumptions that define the status quo—and that limit the impact you might have.


Think Right
Operate within the status quo pursuing incremental improvement and risk mitigation tactics such as market research and adoption of best practices.

Think Wrong
Boldly seek challenges and opportunities that exist beyond the limitations of the status quo. Imagine impact others would never dare to.


Outcomes

  • Elevated impact
  • Shared vision of impact
  • Aspirational goals
  • Reasons to believe

Instructions


Step 1
Introduce the Moonshot Drill.

Step 2
Have Blitzers generate ideas for the most astounding thing we might do to address the Blitz Challenge.

Step 3
Give three dots to each Blitzer. Have Blitzers dot vote on the three moonshots that they find most compelling.

Step 4
Have Blitzers move their top vote-getting moonshot to the “Why people will think that is crazy?” portion of the Moonshot Poster.

Step 5
Have Blitzers identify why people with think that they are crazy for pursing the promoted moonshot.

Step 6
Give Blitzers three more dots. Have Blitzers dot vote on the three most compelling reasons people will think their moonshot is crazy.

Step 7
Have Blitzers move their top vote-getting reason people will think their moonshot is crazy to the “What we know that they don’t” portion of the Moonshot Poster.

Step 8
Have Blitzers identify what we know that no one else knows—why we believe the moonshot is possible.

Tip: It can be challenging for teams to push away from the status quo to set goals and imagine moonshots. Visit each team as they’re generating moonshot ideas and encourage them to be as aspirational as possible—“Imagine achieving something that your grand children’s peers might be amazed to learn you were a part of.”

 

When to use the Drill

Introduce the Drill

Run the Drill


The Origins of Moonshot

Astro Teller is the inspiration for the Be Bold: Moonshot Drill. Watch his recent TED talk about the role of moonshots at X (formerly Google X).


Want to use more Think Wrong Drills to generate status-quo busting solutions?


Buy Think Wrong, the book here.

Get the Moonshot Poster and other FREE online resources to help you run the 18 drills featured in Think Wrong here.

Sign up for our next Think Wrong Master Class here. Enter promo code: FREE BRAINS for an additional 10% discount.


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Set brazen goals.

Be Bold: Deflection Point Drill


Use when you want to explore the difference you might make—and the change that might require.


Think Right
Optimize the status quo.

Think Wrong
Create a bold path that deflects from the status quo to change things from how they are to how they might be.


Outcomes

  • The way things are and how they might be are framed
  • Identification of useful trends and global forces that might be leveraged
  • People and partners are emotionally and functionally engaged

Instructions


Step 1
Introduce the Deflection Point Drill.

Step 2
Have Wrong Thinkers make a horizontal line on the wall with blue painters tape. Have them write: “Today’s Path” on the line with a Sharpie.

Step 3
Using Post-its, ask Wrong Thinkers to describe “Today’s Path” (e.g., vulnerable food supply, disconnect between food and seed, general apathy, etc.).

Step 4
Using the blue tape, have Wrong Thinkers create a new line coming off the status quo at a 45° angle, and label it “The Bold Path.”

Step 5
Using Post-its, ask Wrong Thinkers to describe “The Bold Path” (e.g., sustainable food supply, a clear connection between food and seed, real interest among the public, etc.).

Tips You might spend time considering big trends you can take advantage of to help shift from Today’s Path to your Bold Path. 

You might also take stock of current assumptions, orthodoxies, and biases that keep you on Today’s paths, and new habits, ways of working, or capabilities that might help you create and stay on your Bold Path.

 

When to use the Drill

Introducing Drill

Running the Drill


Want run more Think Wrong Drills?


Buy the book here.

Sign up for FREE online resources to help run the 18 drills featured in Think Wrong here.

Sign up for our next Think Wrong Master Class here. Enter promo code: FREE BRAINS for an additional 10% discount.


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Hey Chief Innovation Officer. You’re Fired.


(And Two Simple Ways to Stop That From Happening)


Trying to innovate within your organization is one of the most courageous or foolhardy jobs you can choose to take on, because between you and the needed change are a hundred named and self-appointed Chief Don’t F*&k It Up Officers who’ve made it their mission in life to keep everything running just the way it is.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You're charged with delivering Goldilocks Innovation—change that isn't so big that it causes disruption and distraction to the revenue producing machine, but not so small that nobody notices. You need to find the enigmatic innovation sweet spot that's just right.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You're expected to demonstrate measurable ROI for the unknown, in an environment where certainty is valued more than great questions. And where not knowing is seen as weakness rather than an exciting opportunity to discover.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

You gather motivated outlaws who want you to lead them on the bold path of change to the land of “how things could be.” But metrics, policy, personnel, business-as-usual, best practice, embedded culture, and CDFIUO roadblocks stymie you at every turn. Over time your merry band of intrapreneurs gets worn down and depressed. Now all of your effort is spent lifting the moral of some of your organization’s top talent—for fear of otherwise losing them.

Get it wrong—you’re fired.

“Think Wrong holds a mirror up to leaders and demands that they do the hard work with their internal entrepreneurs to overcome the orthodoxies, antibodies, and inertia that kill new ideas or, at best, starve them of oxygen.”
Linda Yates, CEO and Founder at mach49, Henry Crown Fellow with the Aspen Institute

Make sure you and your team don’t get fired.

Use the following Think Wrong Frameworks to identify a bold path from which you can deliver high impact change—and to create meaningful context to defend your efforts from forces that might otherwise destroy them.

The Deflection Point Framework

The well-trodden path of the status quo is known, understood, and predictable. But if we stay on this predictable path nothing changes. So nothing changes. The impact you seek requires that you depart from this predictable path and chart a bold new path—one that delivers a shift from “How Things Are” to “How Things Might Be.”

Start by drawing this simple diagram.

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1. Draw a horizontal line. This line represents your Predictable Path. Below it, identify the current projects, policies, practices and structures that represent how and what your organization does today— and will continue to do if nothing changes.


2. Draw a line at 45° from the Predictable Path. This line represents your Bold Path. Above it, identify the initiatives that your organization is engaged in that represent a departure from the status quo. The further up this line and to the right, the greater the departure from the way things are. Also add what you might want to change from “Current State” if you could—be bold about your aspirational “To Be” State.

3. Plot what and who might complicate or resist your departure from the status quo in the space between the lines—conspiring to pull you back onto the Predictable Path.

Engage your colleagues in envisioning the changes that need to be made, what might get in your way, and what still needs to be done and done better—by inviting them to draw this picture with you.

The Uncertain/Unknown Framework

All projects are not the same—that goes without saying. So, not all projects should operate under the same set of practices and rules.

Start by drawing the 3x3 grid above. Then map the projects you plotted on the Deflection Point Framework onto the 3x3. Be honest about where they live. Depending on your organization the distribution will vary.
 


For well-established organizations many projects will be in the top right where both the challenge and solution are certain and known. These projects are often focused on improvements in efficiency, optimization, or technology. The Think Right Practices of ROI, metrics, analytics, and best practices make a real difference here.

For less well-established organizations—and organizations that are trying to shake things up—many projects will focus on disruption and change. Those are likely to fall in the uncertain and unknown territory.

You’ve now identified the projects where Think Right Practices are the go-to tool set, and those where you should Think Wrong. Use the Uncertain/Unknown Framework to set new ground rules—and expectations—about which practices will be applied to which projects.

Overtime, your portfolio of change (read: innovation) projects will move up and to the right as you become more certain of the real problem you are solving, the needs you are meeting, and which solutions truly work best.


To check out some fantastic tools for managing your innovation portfolio reach out to the fine folks at www.valize.co. And follow Valize founder and Think Wrong co-conspirator Rita Gunther McGrath on twitter @rgmcgrath.


To learn more about thinking wrong order a copy of Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters and check out our website.


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Innovators Start Your Engines


(Or, Design Thinking’s Fatal Flaw)


If I asked you to choose between two machines that could determine how your organization might compete, create value, grow market share, increase revenues, and deliver impact in the future how would you know which one to pick?

Chief Innovation Officers have been kicking the tires on design thinking’s engine for more than a few years now. But Think Wrong is not just this year’s model.

What’s the difference?

Design thinking and thinking wrong are both problem solving systems. Like a machine, each requires certain inputs, performs specific functions, and generates outputs that produce value.

Design thinking is defined by IDEO (the driving force behind popularizing design thinking) as: “A human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

At Future, we define thinking wrong as: “The ability to conquer biology and culture to change things from how they are to how they might be.”

Picture design thinking as a machine that puts the the person for whom you are solving at its center.

Picture thinking wrong as a machine that puts the impact your organization wants to have and the people to whom that impact matters at its center.

Design thinking produces simpler, more intuitive solutions than what existed before—solutions that reflect the users’ environments, ways of operating, and their cultures.

Thinking wrong produces unexpected, disruptive solutions that break the biases, orthodoxies, and assumptions that form that status quo and have the ability to drive the positive change their champions aspire to create in the world.

IDEO and design thinking found their way into the popular vernacular in 1999, when ABC’s Nightline ran a story on them. That segment included IDEO’s redesign of the shopping cart. It featured their user-centered observations in supermarkets and what they revealed about shoppers’ behaviors. It showcased IDEO’s futuristic cart with a detachable basket—IDEO had noted that shoppers repeatedly parked their carts and walked down aisles for specific items. They designed a cart that had the potential to improve things for shoppers. Disappointingly, 17 years later, shopping carts remain largely unchanged and unimproved.

Think Wrong problem solving machine would not have started with observations of shoppers. Instead, it would begin by exploring what the client (grocers in this case) most aspired to accomplish. Thinking wrong would challenge the grocers to be bold and to imagine the greatest impact they might have. It would ask: “What value are they seeking to produce for the communities they serve, their stakeholders, society at large, the environment, and future generations?” It would invite shoppers into the process, to ensure their wants, needs, and ideas were central solutions that might create that positive change. It would enable grocer and shopper to imagine, prototype, and implement new ways of shopping that might lead to that impact together.

Like design thinking clients, think wrong clients need help putting their customers, beneficiaries, constituents, members, partners, and people at the center of their design efforts. But they also want to have impact that is not just marginally better than others. They want to change the game. They want what John and I have for years had called “Big D” design. Not the decorative stuff that gets applied after the strategic thinking has been done, but the kind that has the power to change the course of markets, nations, society, and future generations.

So, choose design thinking when you want to make a significant improvement to the way things are. But if you’re aim is to change the way things are to how you think they should be, choose thinking wrong.


“REBBL has $1 billion opportunity ahead of it. That’s quite a market for a company that currently has annual sales of less than $10 million, and just six employees.” Mark Rampolla, co-founder of PowerPlant Ventures, in a recent Fortune Magazine article.

REBBL is a wonderful example of what the Think Wrong engine can produce. It was born at Not For Sale’s Montara Circle, where Future helped more than 50 leaders from across the private and public sectors take on the challenge of ending the exploitation of villagers and their environment in the Peruvian Amazon. The result, a refreshing tonic made, in part, from ingredients purchased from those villagers, economically inoculating them from exploitation. “We love launching products that have the power to change culture, start conversations, and challenge the status quo” says Palo Hawken, co-founder of REBBL in this recent BEVNET release.


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Too Big to Solve


(Or, The World’s A Mess And We’re Taking It Personally)


Our partner John often gives a talk that begins with many of the big problems facing us as a species:

Hunger, poverty, war, obesity, AIDs, climate change.

It can be pretty daunting. His despair about these issues is real. So is the optimism he, Mike, and I share about mankind’s ability to create ingenious solutions to those challenges.

It might matter less to us if we were not fathers. I hope not. I like to think that we’re conscientious people who care about our fellow man. But, because we are dads, it’s personal.

Our children will inherit the crises made by our and prior right thinking generations. Solving those crises requires stepping outside the status quo—conquering biology and culture—and coming up with answers that might seem crazy or impossible today.

We started Future to put a dent in that particular universe of problems. We’ve sought to work with people who do work that matters. We built our business inspired by—and to help more—leaders like you.

People who are working hard to make the world a better place through their businesses, foundations, government agencies, nonprofits, and schools.

People who are not happy with the way things are.

People who have a vision for a better tomorrow—and the scars to prove how hard they have been battling to create that change.

As a consulting firm run by three partners we've always sought out clients and partners with whom we might be multipliers for good. When we all join forces we make a big difference. But what we can accomplish through our services alone is not enough.

That’s why we’ve written our forthcoming book, Think Wrong: How to Conquer The Status Quo and Do Work That Matters, and why we’ve built the Think Wrong Lab, our cloud-based software.

We want to foster resilient, resourceful leaders and organizations capable of making a difference and blazing bold new paths.

We want to unleash what one of our Think Wrong Heroes, Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, might refer to as your inner-juvenile delinquent. He recently told Bloomberg, “...to understand an entrepreneur, you should study a juvenile delinquent. They're both saying: ‘This sucks and I'm going to do it another way.’ You have to want to break the rules and prove that your way works.”

We couldn't agree more. We want to equip that restless delinquent, our children, and their peers with the necessary resources to bring crazy, mind-bending, rule-breaking solutions to life.

If we do our job well, the next time someone proclaims a challenge, “Too big to solve” you’ll have the confidence to reject the way things are, to think wrong, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.


Watch a recent TEDx talk by John. Thinking wrong is the opposite of following accepted orthodoxy. Future has developed an undeniable problem solving system that works across many disciplines and levels of difficulty. It's the best of design thinking married with positive change and impact.


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