Author Archives: XPLANE

Convergence – It’s About Who You Are and the Experience You Create

by Sara Mesing, Business Development Manager

If you read that headline out of context, you might guess that it was in reference to a carpe diem-type affirmation. Or perhaps you’d assume it was fodder for the optimist’s half-full glass? Either way, you’d be forgiven.

XPLANE recently sponsored the conference for the Association of Change Management Professionals (ACMP) in Orlando, Florida. Our team of designers and strategists was thrilled to notice that self-reflection, co-creation, and visualization were a few central themes of the event!


Much of the dialogue around Change Management has historically focused on people, process, and technology, and while those cornerstones were still present at ACMP 2014, there was a much broader emphasis on ‘emergent’ change management, meaning blurring the boundaries between different disciplines to enable authentic conversation in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity.

This was the core of discussion during the General Session Panel entitled, Change Management As a Profession – Where it Started, Where it is, and Where it’s going, with Daryl Conner, Luc Galoppin, and Dean Anderson, moderated by Donna Brighton.

One of the most evocative quotes from the panel was from Dean Anderson who, in response to Luc Galoppin’s call for change managers to be grounded and centered in themselves, Anderson pointed out the importance of being vulnerable. He said, “…if, at some point, you’re not lying on the floor of your office crying, you’re not doing you’re job”.

Memorable? Yes. Literal? Maybe.

Nonetheless, point taken, and counted as a victory for the ‘human’ element in the human-centered design approach that we champion at XPLANE. It was heartening for our team to witness the development of this dialogue because while an approach steeped in human behavior is emergent for Change Management, it is, and always has been, fundamental to Design.

While we don’t advocate for experiencing every frustration with tears, we do believe in the power of empathy. Co-creation and the act of visualizing or ‘seeing’ new possibilities through ambiguity cannot happen without empathy, without trust.

We evangelize empathy, co-creation, and visualization throughout the business world, and particularly in the change management profession. Welcome to the new world of convergence, folks. It’s about who you are and the experience you create.

Oh, and yes, one of the speakers did indeed mention being grounded and centered. Thought you only heard that in yoga class? Think again.

Leading by Teaching and Learning

by Roel Uleners, Creative Director

Teaching and learning are both an integral part of our culture and vision at XPLANE. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that as a design consultancy, we’re automatically comprised of people with a natural curiosity wanting to know the big picture as well as the details, and always looking for the human story in things. As such, XPLANErs seem born with an insatiable hunger for learning, no matter if it is a brand-new methodology or the latest customer insights.


But just taking in new information feels like a selfish act and as long as XPLANE has been around, we have been keen on sharing our knowledge as well. Over the years, thousands of people have attended our Visual Thinking School: once a month, we open up our doors to anyone interested in spending two hours with us to tackle challenges with design principles and visual thinking tools in a fun and collaborative workshop atmosphere. These well-attended events are a great casual way of teaching.

Beyond this informal sharing platform, several of us formally teach what we do at different colleges and universities. One of our consultants from the Amsterdam office teaches guest classes at several universities throughout Europe. Our CEO, our Director of Consulting, and myself teach at the Pacific Northwest College of the Arts (PNCA) in Portland, OR. As instructors and mentors at the MFA in Collaborative Design, we share our knowledge and experience in creative workshop facilitation, research methods, design entrepreneurship and knowledge visualization. Recently, I led a semester-long data visualization workshop where students collaborated with a non-profit organization, Hack Oregon, to redesign the way the public understands and interacts with political campaign funding data in our state. These engagements are great opportunities to pass on the knowledge and insights that we as XPLANErs have gathered over the years.

As a member of the Board of Regents at the Da Vinci Schools in Los Angeles, I’ve witnessed the amazing results of top engineers from Northrop Grumman and designers from Mattel sharing and collaborating with eager high-school kids. It was honestly hard to distinguish who was teaching and who was learning.

That blurred boundary is exactly where the value lies. Teaching others presents the enormous opportunity for us to learn: sharing what you know with a group of developing problem-solvers that bring a fresh pair of eyes, and a natural inclination to question and challenge, is a scary and worthwhile reality check. The reward of teaching to a new generation at the same time becomes the gift of learning from them. It keeps us connected and keeps us on our toes, and is thus worth the challenge sometimes combining this with our full-time business engagements. The rewards are invaluable.

I would encourage every business leader to look for an opportunity to get involved in their local community to share/teach (and learn!), and encourage their teams to do the same.

The Evolution of OMSI

by Aric Wood, CEO

The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry (OMSI) is at a turning point in the evolution of its organization. Having operated successfully as a regional museum for nearly 70 years, it is now embarking on an expansion of its programs, its geographic footprint, and its greater role in the community. Already one of the country’s leading science museums, OMSI’s vision for the future elevates it’s impact to include regional redevelopment in support of innovation and science education, as well as a significant expansion of its programs for all ages.


Specific near and mid-term changes include the development of the Coastal Discovery Center in Newport, the renovation of the current facility including the Turbine Hall and Theater, and the redevelopment of the Central Eastside District property under OMSI’s control as well as the assertion of OMSI’s influence in the district at large. In the longer term, OMSI’s impact in the broader arena of science education and a redefinition of the museum of the future loom as priorities, with resulting shifts in programs and engagement strategies. Collectively, these have presented OMSI with the prospect of an expanded role and influence in the region in the coming decades, requiring a refined vision and strategic planning process in order to achieve the organization’s full potential.

XPLANE, through our Social Good partnership program (which provides pro-bono support for transformational organizations in our community) has been engaged by OMSI to support the development of a clear twenty year vision and mission statement, which have been recently completed. As a next step, XPLANE will support OMSI in the development of a long-term and annual strategic planning process to deliver the twenty year vision, as well as a communications program to create shared vision, align the organization and its stakeholders, and drive change.

Our partnership with OMSI will result in an end-to-end implementation of XPLANE’s change process and principles – from visioning and strategic planning to execution and employee alignment. Moreover, the specific planning process we’re developing with OMSI is intended to equip the organization with a repeatable process and toolkit that the organization can continue to use well beyond the term of our engagement, building increased capacity for OMSI for the long term. We’re thrilled to be able to work with an organization making such important impacts in our community, and look forward to reporting on future results as the continuing engagement unfolds.

Partnering for Social Good

by Parker Lee, President

As part of its culture and commitment to “giving back,” XPLANE identifies an organization to support each year. We use design filters to select programs that have missions and values consistent with those of XPLANE and goals that we can directly impact.

This year’s recipient is Social Venture Partners (SVP) Portland, the local branch of a global network that cultivates effective philanthropists, strengthens nonprofits, and invests in collaborative solutions – building powerful relationships to tackle each local community’s social challenges.  SVP Portland’s focus program is root-cause investments in, “Ready for Kindergarten.”

SVP Portland and XPLANE have set a partnership to support the non-profit’s work to help build growth and sustainability and the Portland community’s ability to solve one of its most intractable problems, a kindergarten readiness crisis that affects the futures of 30,000+ children, our school systems, and our community at large.

XPLANE Amsterdam Holds Open House and Designer Training

by Maia Garau, Senior Consultant

On Thursday March 13th we held an open house to welcome friends of XPLANE to our new Amsterdam office, located at Herengracht 124-128. We will hold Visual Thinking School here on a quarterly basis.

The following day, consultant and associate creative director, Matt Morasky led a full-day designer training in Amsterdam. Longtime XPLANErs from our design, consulting, business development, and program management teams attended, as well as designers who recently joined our team of contractors in Amsterdam.


We worked playfully and collaboratively, combining a series of individual and group exercises with critiques and presentations.  Under Matt’s guidance we covered a rich range of topics including drawing best practices, live sketching, working as a designer-consultant duo, visualizing complex projects, approaches to visual storytelling and more.

Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive

This short video from XPLANE is the latest in the well received Did You Know? Series. Did You Know? 6.0: Change To Thrive takes a new tack from earlier versions by offering inspiration and introducing a set of forward-looking, 21st-century “success skills”—skills that organizations can draw on to prosper in today’s hyper-kinetic environment and become Business 3.0-ready. These tools for growth and adaptability are explored in detail in the companion Did You Know? 6.0 White Paper.


The second in the five-part Did You Know? Series.
Four success skills point the way to tackling the challenge of change.

By Parker Lee
President, XPLANE

In our first Did You Know? Series post, we introduced how companies need to embrace a new way of connecting with employees and customers. Its what we call “Business 3.0.”  Here we present four management practice Success Skills that are key to surviving and prospering as a Business 3.0 entity—and explore the first in detail. The Did You Know? Series supports the release of our video, “Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive.”

Major areas of opportunity.
Business 3.0 organizations require new ways of working, where all employees thrive and are engaged in an integrated, designed, well-coordinated environment. And, customers are welcomed to help shape and organization’s future. In a 10-year Harvard Business Review study of companies and their total shareholder returns, those that outperformed their industry peers excelled in four main management practices:

  1. Strategy
  2. Execution
  3. Culture
  4. Organization

Clearly, making the move to a more nimble and adaptive culture is essential. Implementing four new success skills can help your organization gain an edge in the Business 3.0 environment. Let’s explore the first.


Success Skill #1: Deliver a straightforward strategy.

HP: not so inventive?
Many have struggled to find their way in a competitive landscape. For example, Hewlett-Packard, despite being a long-time industry competitor, has been plagued by near-constant market and strategy struggles. This includes purchasing aging, out-of-date companies—and what appears to be an inability to gauge consumer’s needs and respond. Companies need to streamline strategy and make deliberate plans in order to become more agile.

“But [HP] will never come close to reclaiming its former glory unless [leadership] can answer the real question: “ ‘What is HP?’ ” For a decade now the company has sometimes seemed more like a tawdry reality show than one of the world’s great enterprises… Simply put, Hewlett-Packard has lost its way… profits in 2011 were 19% lower than in the previous year.”

—James Bandler,

Southwest: flying forward.
Conversely, Southwest Airlines has a clear vision and a differentiated strategy. Foremost: the airline has a strong grasp on market needs. Its strategy, goals for business success and good management practices engender a relatively happy workforce (staff noted fro their dedication; pilots who are compensated more highly any other airline’s) and a simple operation format: one type of plane. In 2009, 86 million passengers flew Southwest, more than any other airline in the U.S. 113 million flew in 2013. Southwest retains more that 15% of the domestic airline market and is consistently rated highest in customer service.

A good strategy increases odds of success.
The opportunity amid the chaos is huge. Strategy execution can clearly be a competitive advantage, and figures bear this out. For example:

  • A recent Balanced Scorecard report at Harvard University revealed that only 10% of employees understand their company’s strategy. Further, even at the companies that made the attempt to implement, 6 in 10 staff didn’t think that important strategic and operational decisions were quickly translated into action.
  • In a recent McKinsey Quarterly survey of 2,207 executives, only 28% said the quality of strategic decisions in their companies was generally good. 60% thought that bad decisions were about as frequent as good ones.
  • A study of over 400 companies found that 49% of the leaders reported a gap between their organization’s ability to formulate strategy and its ability to deliver results.

The opportunity: with few companies meeting their outlined goals, a good strategy can increase the odds of success by helping managers make the right choices internally and in the marketplace. One of the most effective elements is clear communications, which helps assure that all involved have a tangible idea of the decisions and actions they’re responsible for.

In upcoming third post of the Did You Know? Series, we explore the next Success Skill: “Execution and Process: Innovate and Respond.”

Use Journals to Introduce Culture and Accelerate Onboarding

culture posterMaintaining our healthy company culture is a deeply held commitment for us at XPLANE, and we see onboarding as a critical part of that effort.  Onboarding is more than ensuring people have the physical tools they need to do their work.  They also need the social and emotional tools to feel empowered, supported and excited for their new chapter.

In support of this commitment, we are trying a new-to-us tool for welcoming new team members – an onboarding journal.  The journal is effectively a diary, kept by new team member’s for their first 60 days, that uses a simple but effective Plus / Delta framework.

  • Pluses are positive things which should be kept or continued in the future
  • Deltas are things that should be reconsidered or done differently in the future

“Things” here can be anything new team members observe or experience: behaviors, tools, practices, processes, and so on.  Here are some examples from a recent hire’s journal (shared with his permission).


  • Warm welcome, everyone willing to be helpful
  • The “Designer Confessionals” video was good to watch for perspective on the designer / consultant relationship
  • Description of company service offering history (1.0 to 2.0)
  • General background on how xTeams work on projects together and the overall process
  • Designer overview with tips/tricks for live drawing in client workshop sessions

  • Need a glossary of company jargon & acronyms
  • Wish I could do more self-onboarding by reading or watching videos while I’m still not busy
  • I get why we use Skype but recommend Hipchat
  • Wish there was a shared collection of brushes/core assets that other designers use
  • More client-work shadowing opportunities
  • Better roadmap of when/which client projects I will work on and a way to ramp up on them

You can see the list ranges from small to bigger things; some are well known, others are eye-opening.  But the point is information is flowing and engagement is happening.  Based on results so far our hope is the onboarding journals will bring short- and long-term benefits for both the company and new team members.

Benefits to the Company

  • Fresh perspective on our company with each new hire
  • An ongoing record and helps us identify trends and outliers in people’s experiences
  • Surfacing best practices from previous employers for us to consider
  • Rapid insights into new team members; how they think and how they are doing in their first 60 days

Benefits to the new team member

  • A general mindfulness during their onboarding experience
  • An opportunity to contribute to the company from day one and see and feel that their opinions are valued
  • An outlet for the negative or confusing experiences that can be common in joining a new company
  • Orientation to our plus / delta culture, which is solutions- vs. complaint-oriented – and sets an expectation and practice of positive contribution to company culture

Have you tried or experienced anything like it?  What onboarding practices have you found effective?

The first in the five-part Did You Know? Series.
Thrive in the 21st century: introducing Business 3.0.

By Parker Lee
President, XPLANE

This first post of our blog Series introduces how companies need to embrace a new way of connecting with employees and customers. Its what we call “Business 3.0.”  The Did You Know? Series supports the release of our video, “Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive.”

Change is the norm. Are you adapting?
Technology and behavior megatrends are reshaping business globally. XPLANE lives this reality with clients every day. To advance and grow, organizations need new ways to connect to both employees and customers, because old paradigms are costly. For example, Kodak was #43 on the Fortune 500 list in 1975. It went bankrupt in 2012. Borders was #485 in 2000, yet bankrupt in 2011. But those applying four new success skills in something XPLANE calls the “Business 3.0 era” can avoid similar fates.


Two centuries of acceleration.
First, a quick look back. The Industrial Revolution was the largest disruptive transformation in commerce since the Renaissance. Simply, the nature of production was re-invented. Machines replaced hand-tools. Steam and other energy sources replaced human or animal power. Unskilled workers replaced skilled workers. Work performed in the home by the family was now performed in factories with the help of machines.

Digital reshapes human experience.
Enter silicon. It emerged to further upend norms. As a result, the late 20th-century technology and information revolution—hailed as Business 2.0—drove a socio-economic shift from manufacturing and agriculture to service industries. And it’s continuing. The web, mobile devices, big data and cloud computing are evolving core human experiences, such as how families spend their time, how people work and how societies interact around the globe.

Business 3.0: the landscape in detail.
The accelerated pace of change has caused extraordinary economic, cultural and competitive pressures. From robotics to nanotechnology to renewable energy, hyper-competition is now the standard. In particular, comprehending the rate of change and applying the rules of the game have become so challenging, only the most adaptive and fleet organizations will survive. Fixed, top-down plans are dead. Organic, flexible and inclusive methods are now the path to prosperity.

Examples of forces.
It’s easy to understand why it’s hard to get a footing. Massive external forces affect today’s business environment. For example:

  • The time to start a new business in the last decade has almost halved, from 51 days in the private sector in 2003 to less than 30 in 2012, creating denser categories.
  • The percentage of companies falling from top-three rankings in their industry increased from 2% in 1960 to 14% in 2008. Where success was once assumed, the basics of economics are not always a given now, leading to disparities between industry and profit.
  • Urbanization will be a massive demographic trend over the next decade. World population growth is slowing, but will still peak at approximately nine billion by 2050. Cities will double in size as a three billion people move from rural areas. This will result in economic opportunity, but put pressure on environmental, commercial and social systems.
  • The connected world is growing exponentially:
    • Websites grew from three billion in 2008 to 635 million in 2013.
    • Mobile use is the single biggest driver of Web development and change, with 6.7 billion mobile subscribers currently generating 13% of all Internet traffic. There are already twice as many “connected devices” (including vending machines, electricity meters and refrigerators as well as phones and computers) as human beings.

Learn, adapt, grow.
In this complex, changing and even hostile environment, an organization can be viewed as a living organism. To evolve, it must operate as a complex, dynamic, growing system that can learn and adapt over time. This requires cultivating both a performance strategy and a healthy work environment. Adaptation and evolution to Business 3.0 is key to success in the decades ahead.

The next posts in the Did You Know? Series will focus on each of the four essential, 21st-century “success skills” for staying in step with change.

RBC’s Visual Thinking Workshop in London

By Parker Lee, president, executive vice president business development
Last fall, XPLANE was a sponsor of the ACMP (Association of Change Management Professionals) London conference. As part of the event’s program, we held a drawing for a complimentary Visual Thinking Workshop. RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) was the lucky winner, and XPLANErs Mark Hardaway and Parker Lee, headed over to the firm’s Luxembourg offices to give a 2-hour learning session.


What happened was a rapid-fire interactive learning experience detailing the power of the visual thinking approach. The group eagerly learned how visual thinking is embedded into our culture and hard-wired into our DNA. Participants then discussed visual frameworks and worked in teams, using XPLANE’s “current state” discovery card deck to envision and tell stories about their own organization.

The result? As one participant put it, “I couldn’t believe how much information you got from us in such a short time!”