Companies want to change. However, they usually do it in front of severe crises and when it’s too late. Hence, why not "create" in advance those crises by ourselves?
This hack proposes a new adventure for you: to nudge your organization forward by immersing it in a serious-role-playing game based on a corporate earthquake, an unthinkable critical scenario that will abruptly change your organization.
Both desired and elusive, organizational adaptability is one of those make or break competencies that every company wants to have, but only few succeed to attain. "Why is it so hard to acquire?" You may ask.
The difficulty is not because there’s a lack of awareness or diagnosis (who could ever argue against the vital role of adaptability in surviving and thriving?), but because there’s an inability to translate such strong convictions into effective day-to-day practices and actions.
Reframing it, despite a universal consensus around organizational adaptability, modern companies seem to fall behind and disappear at a violent speed. In fact, what we have reflected as part of the collaborative CIPD-MIX hackathon project is that companies change (if ever) in front of abrupt and severe crises (and when they do it it’s generally too late).
Truth be told, most of our traditional organizations have been built on pillars that don’t cope (in some cases, even collude) with current challenges. We are referring to pervasive barriers (such as fear, decision bias, old habits, inflexible business practices, rigid structures, short-term thinking, and insufficient experimentation) that prevent organizations and the people who are part of them from rapidly and systematically adapting to the levels of variability we are all experiencing.
As Gary Hamel argues: “The only thing that can be safely predicted is that sometime soon your organization will be challenged to change in ways for which it has no precedent.” Moreover, we have envisioned that those challenges are going to be of an enormous magnitude to the point it will be virtually impossible for companies to predict them, prevent them, stop them, or even revert their consequences.
Hence, how do we make it possible for a (not-so) modern company to survive and thrive in the inevitability of the occurrence of doomsday-like scenarios? That’s precisely the problem this hack is focused to solve.
INTRO: From Scenario Planning to Scenario Playing
This experiment is all about crafting and anticipating your future by bringing today your unthinkable nightmares (and dreams) of tomorrow.
How? By designing and running corporate-wide simulation/ideation projects (or hackathons) focused on extreme, unusual, apocalyptical, and why-not, funny challenges or situations.
In this line of thought, the next stretch imagination exercise for finding innovative solutions for your company could (and should) go beyond the shortsighted denial-reinforcing goal of “how to strengthen our EBIDTA”. It should point out things like:
· After a successful meeting with your top supplier, you have discovered that ALL of your customers have replaced you for a nine-months-old startup and they swore they will NEVER come back. So, now you need to address a whole new audience.
· Community Chest: your company has given you $10 million for projects. What could you do with it and why?
In this sense, one of the values of this hack relies in asking your organization to consider how you are coping with seismic changes (being positive or negative). This may imply a shift on how your company “foresees” the occurrence of future challenges and opportunities, which can be illustrated as follows:
All in all, it is a time for questioning this general tendency of denying the occurrence of a crisis or underestimating its magnitude. That rusty practice could only leave your organization with not so pleasant situations like this one:
Now, let's move ahead and focus on how to set this experiment in your own organization with a practical example. For didactical reasons, the latter will involve a negative scenario. However, in the case of positive situations the following procedure equally applies.
How to Apply this Hack in Five Steps
1. Start with the Biggest Shared Fear (1-2 weeks)
Selecting a corporate earthquake to build upon might be a daunting task. Our suggestion? Go for the biggest shared fear of your organization. Why? It will give you plenty of space to invite as many people as possible to participate in the challenge. Also, this will provide you with the diversity you need to come up with novel solutions or approaches that could emerge from the simulation activities.
If you are not so sure what chills down your company's spine, you can find out some clues by interviewing some key stakeholders, setting up a one-question survey ("What's our biggest fear as an organization?") by using a free service such as Survey Monkey or Google Drive, or facilitating a brainstorming session (and even a tweetstorming session).
Once you feel confident about the corporate earthquake challenge (a.k.a your biggest fear or worst case scenario), you can go to step two.
Practical example: there's a consultancy firm we know about, whose greatest fear would be the shutdown of a financial program carried out by the government that subsidizes its large-scale projects. Without this program, its clients wouldn't be able to finance their projects.
2. Set up your Corporate Earthquake Hackathon (3-6 weeks)
A hackathon is usually referred to as a short and intense effort to collaboratively solve real problems with creative solutions. These types of projects are quite common among program developers, as well as in the MIX.
Now, let's get down to business. In order to set your hackathon, you will need to establish who will guide it. Are you going to lead the project on your own or will you tell others to help you? Then, you have to decide who you are going to invite to participate. Also, you will have to figure out if you prefer to work online or offline. We suggest to start with few people and offline as we believe there's no need to invest too much on this. Remember this is a prototype, so the simpler the better. You may have to constantly communicate tasks and other relative information to your participants. Therefore, you may use online tools such as Mail Chimp (email campaigns). Note that you may also work online in case you already have a collaboration platform that's easy to use (if you don't have a platform, but still want to run the experiment online, here are some tools that might help you out: Icon, Yammer, Mural.ly and Ning) .
For further details on how to develop hackathons, check the following links:
How to Run a Hackathon (Socrata)
Open Data Hackathon - How to Guide
Also, if you want to get a sense of what it feels like to be part of a hackathon, click here.
3. Rite of passage (2 weeks)
It is said that a rite of passage helps people undergo transitional stages when something has been altered in their lives. In this step, we will propose exactly that, but first, let's explain why. If you ask your co-workers to imagine that the company has gone into bankruptcy, and therefore, that they need to come up with ideas to reinvent it from scratch, the challenge will turn too complicated and even unbearable. However, if you allow them to immersed themselves into the situation and go through a rite of passage, they will internalize the problem and come through.
Taking this into consideration, we propose as a first activity to simulate your main competitor's funeral. Prepare a room for the event (you may use some DIY props to recreate a coffin and the corresponding ambience). Allow your participants to assist and gather around. Discuss empathically about the situation. The idea is that you all come to the conclusion that crises can happen to anyone at any time. They can be closer than you may think.
After a week or so, you may announce the fatal news. The company you belong to has deceased. Cause of death? (Enter your biggest shared fear here). Now, it's your turn to experience your own funeral. Just as in the previous activity, recreate the scenario and allow everyone to say their last words. It's time to mourn.
4. Move on (2-4 weeks)
It's time for the hacking phase. You need to leave the past in the past. Now, you have to reinvent the company together with the rest of the participants. To do so, you are going to develop what we call mini hacks (borrowed term from the MIX). These are ideas to solve your problem written in a very short summary. It contains an engaging title and the description of your idea in just a few lines. They can range from new procedures, new products and services and new business models to new ways to manage the organization. In this phase, you need to go for quantity over quality. The more the ideas, the better.
Once the mini hacks are ready, it would be a great opportunity for a checkpoint. Could these ideas come from without considering the whole earthquake process so far? Are they really innovative? Allow participants to give comments and feedback among each other. Then, choose the mini hacks with greatest potential for further development. You may do this by allowing them to vote for their favorites or you may choose them on your own.
The chosen ideas will become full hacks (radical, yet practical solutions). Now, participants will gather together in groups to collaborate in their favorite mini hacks. Full hacks need to describe more the given solution to the problem and how it could be implemented. For such, teams will have to create prototypes. The latter will be exposed to feedback for further adjustments.
Practical example: Remember the case of the consultancy firm? The government program has been shut down. Now, they need to come up with a solution to keep running the business. Large-scale projects are no longer viable. Therefore, they should work with smaller ones, which implies having to sell more projects at once. Possible solutions? By thinking about this simulated corporate earthquake, they figured out that in order to work with more small projects, they have to reduce the duration of their strategic meetings with clients (generally 3 sessions) from 3 hours to 30 minutes each. That might be a novel and potentially powerful approach.
5. Insights, Hindsights, and Implementation (1-2 weeks)
Now that the full hacks have been developed and the prototypes tested, it's time for reflection. Think about what you have learned along the way and find ways to implement the proposed solutions. You may want to organize an event to celebrate the hackathon outcomes.
In order to grasp the true power of the corporate earthquakes hack, we would like to share with you some practical guidelines. Please take these into consideration while planning the execution of your own experiment.
The unexpected outcomes -new ideas, new points of view, new thinking, rethinking your entire industry, legacies, and dogmas- that could emerge from such absurd challenges we are inviting you to run can be vast, illuminating, and paradigm-breaking.
In addition, the hack activity (the corporate earthquake) should also encourage participants to reflect on what signs there might have been that the unexpected was about to hit, what were the warning signs, what early warning system could be put in place to alert the organization to future pending catastrophes. Similarly an after - what can we do to implement changes in processes, mindsets, approaches that will help us get the most benefit form this earthquake?
In this sense, the team running the corporate earthquake could divide up participants into: those managing the disaster - crisis management, those looking at developing early warning systems, and those thinking about what needs to be changed as a result of the earthquake. Types of questions could include - what does this tell us about our relationships with customers, staff, our product range, our logistics, etc.?
Moreover, this experiment could be a splendid excuse to expand the walls of your organization and co-create with some stakeholders. For example, you can create learning alliances between organisations. So, how about if the team organising the earthquake were from another organisation altogether? Maybe a competitor would be too far a stretch for most organisations, but we all have strong links with other organisations. They run your hack, you run theirs? It has the benefit of really bringing a different perspective into your company.
Big challenge #1: How to encourage participation?
Cluttered email inboxes, calendars full of appointments, and quarterly targets to meet may refrain people to participate in your experiment. Here are some ideas to cope with this issue:
Send an open invitation: chances are that at least a small group in your organization will have both the desire to participate and a reasonable amount of time to do it.
Share your lead role: generously invite those interested in the idea not only to participate, but also to help you define the challenge and lead the entire process. You shouldn’t carry neither all the weight in your shoulders nor all the glory.
Work really hard to make it extremely easy for others to participate. For example, a given phase can take you a week or more in order to complete it, but for participants, it may imply just a 30-60 minutes exercise.
Announce up front the rules of engagement and possible outcomes. Let participants now what they should expect from the experience.
Aim for intrinsic motivations. If you are planning to give some kind of rewards, make sure to keep this as an unexpected surprise.
Big Challenge #2: What happens next?
To formulate a truly novel solution that could reinvent your industry is just the tip of the iceberg. Deploying that wonderful idea will represent a bigger task. There goes the vital importance of rapid prototyping and peer validation in the ideation phase. That will save you precious time and energy. Additionally, based on the reflections and learning from the earthquake, you can encourage the development of more formal projects intended to internalize and strengthen the recent acquired adaptability competencies. Moreover, you can create an action plan to improve the performance of the company regarding training, procedures, etc., or fish around for cool outcomes like new ideas, new ways of thinking, and more.
Alberto Blanco, Kandy Woodfield, Guido Rubio Amestoy, Diana Felibert, Verena Müller, Matt Frost, Stephen Remedios, and Conor Moss.
Enemies of adaptability
One second in the internet
Individual and Group Learning in Crisis Simulations
Hi Alberto and team!
Thanks so much for such a provocative hack! I'm sending you some minor text edits to consider via email, but thought I'd put some of my key thoughts and suggestions up here in the comments where everyone can see them.
First off, I really dig the idea of provoking simulated "corporate earthquakes" as a way of teaching the organization to stay on its toes. It is a great idea for a technique that could address Gary Hamel's observation that most organizations ONLY change when faced with these sort of situations, and usually by the time they do it is already too late.
The sheer act of hosting these simulated exercises may really help the organization keep their eyes open for earthquake-like situations. One thing I wondered is if, in addition to predicting the exact earthquakes that might happen, there could be a way to use this exercise to train people of how to recognize an earthquake when it is happening? What are the signs? How will people know what to look for? If they come out of the simulation with not just the specific examples of likely and unlikely (aka aliens) earthquakes, but also with a complete set of skills for recognizing and coping with these earthquakes, I think it might be even more valuable. Perhaps you and the team could even quantify this piece further in the hack?
Just to point out a couple of nuggets that I especially loved:
1. HR stands for Hacking Resources--love this, especially the idea of setting up HR in a new role, as "the provocateur, guide and conspirator of change"
2. Rule #4, Defy Time is brilliant--challenging sacred beliefs by holding a corporate earthquake challenge to defy it... this is so cool, that I'd consider making it an even more important part of the hack. you might also consider renaming it to "Challenging the Sacred" or something like that-- I read "defy time" as defying the clock vs. "it is time to defy" so it might just be a wording thing...
While I love the alien example, I think you should consider whether it is so out there that it would cause someone to stop reading the hack. I love the spirit of it, e.g. you are trying to ensure the exercise is fun, but maybe you could be a bit more explicit that we aren't actually planning for alien abductions, but more using it as a fun way to address a real potential problem (e.g. all of your customers suddenly take on a totally new mindset about your company based on some massive change in the world or competitive landscape). While I got that this is what you were trying to do, on a casual read it might not be clear to everyone.
Hope this is helpful, and look for my email shortly with a few minor text edits.
Really great work--this is a first class hack!
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Sort of a scenario planning exercise -- forces people to test assumptions and fix things they don't otherwise think need fixing. Could be a good way to foresee where to the organization will need to adapt and what, specifically needs to change. Not clear whether the hack stops there or whether new solutions are identified and implemented.
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