Gamestorming Workshop at Nike

pano_750wideWe had the great honor of being invited to deliver a workshop for Nike’s Transition Management community as a part of their “Meet a SME (subject matter expert)” series. On May 21, a small team of XPLANErs spent 90 minutes with over 25 members of the Nike team introducing XPLANE methods with an overarching goal of providing participants with tools they could apply immediately.

The workshop began with XPLANE sharing five core visual frameworks that we use on almost every client engagement. We then spent the majority of the time walking through hands-on exercises to teach three Gamestorming frameworks which could be applied within Nike’s own internal transition management process.

Many of the Nike participants used their various current initiatives as subjects for the learning exercises, giving them first-hand experience in the value of the frameworks as they help teams and individuals sort through complex information and reach clarity and alignment.

Thank you to Jenny Esparza of Nike’s Transition Management Center of Excellence for the invitation and coordination.

Why Visual Thinking Trumps Documents and Spreadsheets

By Cynthia Owens, Senior Consultant

“We need this.”

“This” is visual thinking and the “we” are professors from the top MBA programs around the world at the annual meeting for the Production and Operations Management Society earlier this month.

Tucked into the challenging post-lunch slot, after papers on supply chain and before presentations on sustainability, XPLANE stepped in to demonstrate the value of visual thinking.

XPLANE was asked to present because several of the professors said they are under pressure to make courses more interesting and interactive and to give students tools they can use once they go back to the business world.

Working every day with designers it’s easy to forget that some people, like the professors in front of me, were doing math problems when they were five instead of drawing pictures, so what struck me was how quickly this group of people began to draw.

And, however rudimentary, their drawings immediately connected with their colleagues demonstrating the key benefits of visual thinking.


The point isn’t great art it’s clarity
Some of the professors drew buildings, trucks, and boats and some drew boxes connected by arrows. It actually didn’t matter, because everyone could see clearly the steps in the process they had created.

One professor drew circles and arrows and then used triangles to indicate areas where the process could be improved. He represented the improvements with dollar signs if there was a cost saving, with a clock face if there was a time saving, and a lightning bolt where there were energy savings. The point he was trying to convey was immediately clear.

In nearly every session we facilitate at XPLANE, people tell us: “I can’t draw.” But in every session everyone draws. Stick figures, shapes, and arrows are some of the most valuable tools of visual thinking.

Pictures help people see where they might agree or disagree
At one table, a group of the professors were trying to visualize a concept. As they each attempted to draw it, they realized they see it and teach it slightly differently.

This commonly happens in our work with organizations.  A team will start talking about a proposal but it’s only when they draw it that they understand where their concepts differ.

We worked with one organization where the team was split and three groups said they wanted to go in very different directions. But when we had each of the team members draw their vision of the future, we discovered that they were much more closely aligned in their vision than they expected. As soon as they saw that the area where they disagreed was actually fairly small, the tension in the room evaporated and they focused on finding a solution.

Drawing teaches
At the end of the session, the teams of professors shared their best ideas for using visual thinking in academia. The idea with the broadest appeal: getting students or teams of students to draw processes and systems in class so they learn and remember more.

It’s true, we do grasp things more quickly and remember them more clearly when they are visual.  Nearly 75 percent of our brain’s sensory neurons are dedicated to visual processing which helps us retrieve pictures far more easily than written words. When we see a picture we are more likely to remember and be able to explain the idea to others.

And at the conference we had immediate proof that the principles of visual thinking were at work. At the presentation just after XPLANE’s session, a few of the professors were spied sketching alongside their notes.

25 Ideas for Visual Parenting

By Stephanie Gioia, Director of Consulting

Visual tools are amazing for communicating and collaborating with kids. Studies show that visuals help children across a range of factors, including reading comprehension, student achievement, thinking and learning skills, and retention of information. XPLANE parents also have lots of anecdotal evidence that visual thinking is very effective in solving behavioral and social challenges at home.

We wanted to explore how people who excel at visual thinking in the work environment bring that mindset to the home front. On May 1 we explored this topic with the community at our public Visual Thinking School. One of the most fun exercises of the day was learning how we each use visual thinking with our kids, and mapping those tools to different developmental stages. Here are 25 ideas we thought were pretty cool, arranged roughly by appropriateness for the youngest up to the oldest kids.


  1. Sign language for pre-linguistic children
  2. Photo array of friends and relatives frequently mentioned but not frequently seen
  3. Visual routine guides for morning and nighttime
  4. Visual cues to show instead of tell. For example, if “bribing” a child with a reward like playing with their soccer ball, show them the ball instead of verbally referencing it
  5. Visual labels on bins and drawers
  6. Card deck of common and special activities to collaboratively puzzle together an agenda for the day or week
  7. Visual chore chart or, especially for younger children, physical blocks that can be moved when the task is complete
  8. Neighborhood map that shows home, daycare, restaurant, supermarket, etc.
  9. Drawing fears and emotions. If angry, draw how it feels. If afraid of the monster under the bed, draw what it looks like.
  10. Visual packing list, showing how many of each item is needed
  11. Visual diary of a family holiday, drawn each evening as an opportunity for all to reflect on the day’s adventures
  12. Whiteboard in the bedroom to encourage kids to explain ideas visually
  13. When gathered for a holiday, make a holiday hat containing cards on which each kid may draw an activity they would like to do. Draw cards one at a time as needed to keep the holidays flowing.
  14. Idea boards, such as each family member drawing an idea for vacation destination
  15. Play visual games like Memory, Battleship, Pictionary, Cranium, etc.
  16. Family calendar with icons and sketches for activities
  17. Family vision map to instill a sense of common purpose
  18. Keep plenty of supplies around to encourage creative expression
  19. Draw vacation routes or destinations right on a map
  20. Clear containers dividing money to teach savings habits and visually see progress toward goals
  21. Post-ups for challenging family discussions to make sure all voices are heard
  22. After a sports game or other activity, encourage constructive feedback through a Plus/Delta poster
  23. Visual proposals, such as a diagram of desired bedroom changes, help teach older children to negotiate successfully for their ideas
  24. Future state drawing for a high school student overwhelmed by college decision. Encourage her to worked backward from where she would like to be in 10 years.
  25. Break down college selection by attributes and criteria

What parenting techniques do you use that harness the power of visuals?

Portland, Where Young People Go To … Work?
Building a Hipster Friendly Work Environment

By Katie Augsburger, Senior Manager – Employee Experience 

It has been said that Portland is where America’s youth goes to retire.  Our coffee, beer, and bike culture has made Portland the destination of choice for the highly educated and unemployed. Though some may malign their ironic glasses, these hipsters are mobile, collaborative and very creative, making them excellent potential employees.


Many companies see the value of recruiting from this pool of available, talented and plaid wearing workers, but are leery of how these new employees will change their culture.

Here are 10 ways your company can get on board with the hipster movement and make your work environment better for everyone.

  1. Embrace the “strange.”  All too often businesses write dress codes, email etiquette, and performance expectations that are antiquated.  Asking employees to cover their “Muppets for Life” tattoos, not only stifles creativity, but also forces an “us vs. them” mindset.
  2. Allow for “zoning out time.”  Brains can’t handle more than a few hours of information before they start to sputter out.  Allowing individuals time to play pool, grab coffee, or discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones, shows employees that you respect their need to re-charge.
  3. Beer, its what’s for lunch.  Deciding to allow alcohol is not for every work environment.  However, if your business can, think of the message it sends: We trust you and believe that you can have fun and work hard…and we want you to.  Pass the PBR.
  4. Express yourself.  Many businesses have moved from cubicles to open concepts to allow for more collaboration.  The downside of this model is that individuals are often less expressive in their workspace.  Make sure individuals feel free to jazz up their desk…within reason.
  5. Smartphones for everyone!  People love gadgets, so loosen up your tech rules. Allowing personal use of technology (that doesn’t violate any ethical or legal rules of course), says to employees, “We want you to utilize the latest technology to work hard for us…and to watch Keyboard Cat and take selfies.”
  6. Encourage activity.  Getting your employees active has tons of benefits like reduced absenteeism, reduction of benefit costs, and better productivity. Encourage bike to work programs, reimburse gym costs, and let employees flex their time to take a Bikram Yoga class.  These small accommodations reap huge rewards.
  7. Flex time is the right time.  People don’t only do their best work from 9am to 5pm. Allow flexibility in when and how people work. For some jobs, adherence to a schedule is critical, but even for those, try to find ways to allow for flexibility.
  8. Look cool.  Make your work environment somewhere people want to be.  Are there cozy spots in which to sit and gather?  Is the lighting good?  Do people cringe when they see your Thomas Kincade paintings? Take design seriously, because even if your employees don’t have an eye for color, they know what they hate.
  9. Allow for interactions, and force it if needed.  The Millennial generation has been working in teams ever since they left the peewee soccer field, so working collaboratively comes natural to many.  If people are not naturally mixing, find ways to make it happen.  It may feel forced at first, but eventually they will naturally gather… if only to complain about you forcing them.
  10. Encourage mistakes.  It’s been a tough economic road for workers; and because of that, many people may have limited or non-existent work experience.  That lack of experience coupled with the desire to make an impression can lead to missteps. Be okay with mistakes, allow for them and celebrate them.  A company that doesn’t allow people to take risks or make mistakes becomes stagnant.

Creating an environment that allows for creativity, recognizes individuality, and allows for flexibility doesn’t just benefit the young and hip, it makes the work environment better for everyone. Even the tragically uncool.

How is your organization changing the workspace to accommodate these new employees?

Three Little Meetings That Just Might Change Your Game

By Shawn Wright, Senior Program Manager

Simple in form, profound in results, XPLANE’s “non-negotiable” Trifecta aligns us in the present, informs us of the past and just plain makes us better at what we do. The Trifecta is our name for three “must have” meetings on every project; the internal kickoff, the post session debrief, and the project retrospective.

Why are they non-negotiable? Because they are invaluable. Throughout the project, they keep the team informed, united and on track. Upon completion of the project, they’re placed in the project archive folder, accessible to future teams to revisit the last project, and to evaluate and improve upon the new experience where possible.

So what are they exactly?

image5The internal kickoff:
The IKO is owned and led by the Account Director or Salesperson. It is his or her opportunity to give the team a download, e.g., explain the client history and how this project came about. What conversations were had that led to writing the SOW? What is/are the deliverable(s). What is the timeline and are there any driving deadlines?

In this meeting we also share budget, milestone details, confirm the team, its roles and responsibilities, and validate the allocation of hours per team member. The IKO is critical to the success of the project. It’s the first step in unification, clarification and team alignment around project scope.

The post session debrief:
The post session debrief is the meeting directly following the discovery session, which is an all day (or longer) meeting with client stakeholders to “discover” all the necessary elements and ingredients needed to make the project a success. First we take a pulse-check: how did the session go? What were the plus/deltas ––delta meaning what might we have done better or differently? Is the scope of work the same, or do we need to adjust or make additional recommendations based on discovery? Are the roles and responsibilities the same and have we included all necessary skill-sets to complete the project successfully? This is when adjustments, addendums, or call-outs to clients are first brought up, helping us avoid the ever so stealth and insipid enemy of all projects; scope creep.

The project retrospective:
When naming this final meeting, we intentionally refrained from calling it a “post mortem” debrief. Post-mortem sounds final, and sad and we are usually very excited when a project has come to completion! The goal of this meeting is to take advantage of the gift of hindsight and ask ourselves what went well with this project. Was the client happy? Did we meet their definition of success? Did we “wow” them? Did we come in on budget? Could or should we have done anything differently? What did we learn, and how can we improve the next time we work with this client or do a similar project?

These simple meetings have become pillars to our success. What are your pillars to project success and how have you incorporated them into your projects?

Helping to visualize the future of Internet Governance!

By Patrick Dodson, SVP of Business Development

We’re excited to share our work helping to visualize and articulate a future model for Internet governance for the 21st century!

Working with ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, we helped to support a special panel of prominent industry and government stakeholders focused on how to evolve the Internet governance (IG) ecosystem to accommodate global needs for collaboration, interconnectivity, and Internet growth.

The visual frameworks, sketches, and prototypes created through their process were valuable instruments in helping the panel explore, clarify, and align its thinking about what a model for 21st century governance of the Internet should look like and how it would work.

The Collaborative, Decentralized Internet Governance Ecosystem

The Collaborative, Decentralized Internet Governance Ecosystem

You can view the infographic of the model above, and for more information including the full interactive PDF report, please click here.


The fifth in the five-part Did You Know? Series.
Goodbye hierarchy. Hello organic organization.

By Parker Lee
President, XPLANE

In our last post, we explored how to adapt to the Business 3.0 era with Success Skill #3: “Execution and Process: Innovate and Respond.” Here we examine the final one, Success Skill # 4, in detail.   The Did You Know? Series supports the release of our video, “Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive.”


Success Skill #4: Balanced & fair organizational structure.

Trust is key to results.
Trust in organization leaders cannot be assumed. In fact, surveys reveal that 4 in 5 Americans do not trust corporate executives. Equally unsettling, half of all managers don’t trust their own leaders! Further, a lack of management commitment, passion, and involvement are the greatest barriers to change, which in turn can lead to organizational failure.

One might think, how about a reorg? Fewer than 1 in 3 major reorganizations produced any meaningful improvement in performance and some actually decreased company value. That’s because most attempts center on success stories for the company, not the culture—such as beating the competition, industry leadership, share-price targets and so on. This creates significant energy for change in only about 20% of the workforce. Buy-in by a majority fails.

Empowered employees excel.
What’s shown to work? Invite everyone to act as if they own the business—quite literally giving them a “business within the business.” In other words, empower people. When you reorganize the structure of a business to be more organic than hierarchical, you align employee incentives with the ambitions of owners and management. Rewards are real and tangible. Short-term and long-term benefits are in balance. Staff are rewarded when they are good stewards of the business.

Morning Star: all for one, one for all.
On example is Morning Star, the world’s largest tomato processor with annual revenues of $700 million. It’s succeeding due to an egalitarian and balanced organizational structure. Crew manage themselves, and report only to each other. Morning Star employees write personal mission statements that describe how they will contribute to the company’s goal, and there is a strong sense of mutual accountability.

Nokia: mis-dial.
Conversely, one of the factors that contributed to Nokia’s well-publicized disarray was its homogenous structure and culture. Nokia’s top executives were of similar age, ethnic origin and background, and this hampered their ability to develop a multifaceted analysis of a changing international environment. The company simply lacked the capacity to adapt in a decisive and committed way. Combined with too-frequent, poorly implemented, organizational structure changes, Nokia went from a king in the mobile world to a technology history footnote.

Series Summary:
>> To survive and prosper in today’s hyper-changing environment, organizations need a new operating model. At XPLANE, we call this new way of working Business 3.0—where an organization recognizes itself as a complex, dynamic, growing, organic system that strives to be nimble and learns to adapt over time. Business 3.0 organizations cultivate both strategic performance and a healthy work environment, where all employees excel in strategy, execution, and organization. With aspirational core values intrinsic to their strategy and workplace culture, organizations can excel in the Business 3.0 era.

The New Brainstorming: Six Principles to Redeem Group Ideation

by Stephanie Gioia, Director of Consulting

“Brainstorming” is a dirty word these days. It conjures up images of people shouting out ideas, getting hit by unreliable bolts of “a-ha” lightning, and touchy-feely groupthink. We know that the original tenants of brainstorming, developed by Alex Osborn in the 1940s, were somewhat flawed.


Social scientists and researchers can point to concepts like free riding, groupthink, framing and anchoring as detrimental to the creative process. Susan Cain sums it up in her article Rise of the New Groupthink: “People in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.” It’s true. But the great thing about all this research is it’s taught us how to do brainstorming right – how to design group interaction for maximum creativity and results.

When it comes to generating new ideas, here are six principles, supported by what we know from research.

1)    Don’t let your firestarter be an anchor

Consider the difference between asking a group, “What should we buy for Greg’s birthday?” versus, “How might we make Greg’s birthday amazing?” We call these framing questions firestarters. How a firestarter is worded (“might” vs. “should”, open vs. limiting) makes a huge difference in how your participants view the challenge before them.

2) Individuals, first; groups, second

Never start a brainstorm by opening the floor to shout out ideas. As social creatures, participants have a cognitive bias to anchor their thoughts relative to the first idea they hear. Start by asking participants to take a few moments by themselves to generate as many ideas as they can.

3) Make prolific specific

When brainstorming individually, everyone slows down at a certain point – the real magic happens when participants search beyond the initial set of ideas and dig for more. When participants begin to slow down, ask them to count up their ideas, divide by two, and then stretch to come up with that many more.

4) Use proper post-up form

Our tried-and-true method for sharing the ideas participants have generated individually is called a post-up. Participants take turns sharing their ideas, each written on a separate post-it, card or piece of paper. Say each idea out loud before posting it on a wall, limiting commentary just to clarifying questions. All ideas must be posted – no weeding out!. As you post up, affinity map the ideas, placing them close to similar ones. Even if your idea is the same as someone else’s, post it up – it helps the group detect patterns and trends. You may hear things like “I took a different approach” or “this doesn’t really fit with anything up here, but…” This is a good sign! These are ideas that wouldn’t have been vocalized if you had started with group discussion.

5) Encourage perspective-taking

The tendency at this stage is for participants to become possessive of their ideas – they’re so excited about the brilliant things they came up with, they can’t help themselves! Head that off with an activity that requires them to build on the ideas of others. We like to ask participants to pick a favorite idea that wasn’t theirs and build three new ideas that relate to it. The result is magical; participants lose their ego about their own ideas and start to get excited about someone else’s.

6) Use structure to evaluate ideas

Brainstorming is not just about divergent and emergent idea generation. There are many methods for closing a brainstorm, from dot voting to an impact/effort matrix to the NUF Test (Gamestorming outlines these and other closing exercises). A structured activity reduces the influence of emotion and personal judgment, keeping participants focused on objective evaluation criteria rather than arguing.

By applying these six principles to brainstorming in your organization, you’ll find you avoid the groupthink, free-riding, and lack of critical thinking that can plague so many ideation efforts. Give it a try and let us know your results!


Reposted from August 16, 2012

The fourth in the five-part Did You Know? Series.
Good culture is good business.

By Parker Lee
President, XPLANE

In our last post, we explored how to adapt to the Business 3.0 era with Success Skill #2: “Execution and Process: Innovate and Respond.” Here we examine Success Skill #3 in detail.   The Series supports the release of our video, “Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive.”


Success Skill #3: Open Culture, Engaged Employees

Culture drives the bottom line.
A positive culture is at the heart of healthy organizations. In a 2013 Booz & Company global study, 86% of C-level executives and 84% of all managers and employees said workplace culture is key to their organization’s success. 6 in 10 saw culture as a more important ingredient than either strategy or operating models.

Cultural health drives financial success. According to the 2013 Gallup Report, “State of the American Workplace,” 70% of employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged. Gallup estimates that this costs the U.S. $450-$550 billion each year in lost productivity! The study further found that organizations with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee experience 147% higher earnings per share versus their competition.

Engaged = better performance.
Employees who are engaged, and enjoy a culture with good working relationships, perform more effectively. They:

  • Incur six fewer sick days per year
  • Cut labor turnover costs in the US by $2.3 billion
  • Yield a 300% increase in business innovation

Culture doesn’t just happen. It’s intentionally created. A recent study by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) found three interdependent components necessary for effective engagement. This “trifecta of engagement” represents the shared responsibility among the organization, the manager, and the individual employee:

  • Senior organization leaders set the vision and tone, and their actions represent the entity as a whole
  • Managers lead by example, and are a primary influence on the day-to-day work environment
  • Employees must be open to engagement efforts by the organization, and must be willing to emotionally invest themselves in their work

Further, HCI’s research indicated that these critical workplace characteristics drive employee engagement:

  • Challenging and exciting work
  • An environment of mutual respect
  • Openness to new ideas and collaborative processes
  • Clear communication about how every organizational role contributes to its success

Zappos: steps ahead in change.
Zappos is consistently known as one the best places to work in America, has over $1 billion in revenue, and possesses a world-renowned workplace culture. Zappos utilizes a culture book, an open environment for questions, a life coach, and offers employees payment to leave the company if they wish to pursue opportunity they can’t find at Zappos. The firm encourages managers to socialize with teams outside the office, building communication and trust. The company’s founder says the operation depends on it:

“Our number one priority is company culture. Our whole belief is that if you get the culture right, most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.”
                                                                   Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos

RadioShack & Zynga: patterns of mis-steps.
As with strategy and execution, getting to a vibrant culture isn’t easy. There are plenty of examples where poor company culture has hindered corporate success. For example:

  • RadioShack, a once-revered brand, is representative of chronic mismanagement and a confusion about its role in the marketplace. Internally, employee confidence was also undermined by the firing of hundreds of employees by email, for example.
  • App maker Zynga’s focus only on “a culture of growth” rather than “the company’s unique ideas, set of passions, and purpose” has failed so far as a long-term strategy for success. To build cultures that generate strategic value, organizations need to incorporate values, principles, behaviors and trust, which in turn will help employees want to address what matters, such as (in Zynga’s case) a recent “apocalyptic” drop in monthly average users.

It’s essential to have a good plan in place if the goal is to create a culture of employee engagement. The most significant challenges to implementation are, paradoxically, people-oriented. But changing mindsets and re-shaping corporate culture can be achieved through carefully managed processes, vision-based goals and transparency.

In upcoming the final post of the five-part Did You Know? Series, we explore the final Success Skill: “Balanced & Fair Organizational Structure.”

The third in the five-part Did You Know? Series.
Innovation. Once optional, now the rule.

By Parker Lee
President, XPLANE

In our last post, we explored how to adapt to the Business 3.0 era with Success Skill #1: “Deliver A Straightforward Strategy.” Here we examine Success Skill #2 in detail.  The Series supports the release of our video, “Did You Know? 6.0: Change to Thrive.”


Success Skill #2: Execution and Process: Innovate and Respond.

Executing well is everything.
Execution is a notorious and perennial challenge. Despite good intentions, nearly 7 in 10 change initiatives fail. 29% of change initiatives are launched without any formal structure, dooming them to failure from the outset.

Surprisingly, the simple awareness of the need to be prepared and proactive about change is not the issue: 80% of CEOs anticipate substantial or very substantial change within the next three years. But they rated their ability to manage change 22% lower than their expected need for it. The importance of executing well cannot be overstated, given the fragile state of the majority of change management undertakings.

P&G: will to innovate pays off.
Procter & Gamble (P&G) has long recognized innovation as the backbone of the company’s growth and has built it into the fabric of its operations.

  • P&G spends close to $2 billion annually on R&D, approximately 50% more than its closest competitor. Each year it invests another $400 million in foundational consumer research towards innovation, carrying out some 20,000 studies involving more than 5 million consumers in nearly 100 countries.
  • Though a 177-year-old company, it maintains its rank as one of the most innovative global companies (#24). In the face of global economic volatility and dwindling consumer confidence, P&G maintains a commitment to the new, driving enduring business growth.

Kodak: failure to develop.

In stark contrast, Kodak’s decline and fall demonstrates the failure to establish the appropriate buffers to keep competition from imitating and replicating one’s strategy, and a failure to deploy corporate resources and capabilities to emerging market opportunities. Kodak’s core film business was threatened, and it had a 15-year head start to figure out its response but couldn’t capitalize.

Kodak faced the “technological discontinuities challenge.” When new technologies emerge, competition is fierce, threatening core business models and profit margins. Kodak did not take decisive action to combat these transformative challenges.

Understanding the value of innovation and the proper execution of strategy is essential. Two tips:

  • Much more than an occasional creative eruption, innovation is the engine of long-term business growth. To generate consistent returns and sustain performance, companies must continually refresh their portfolio of offerings and the business models that drive them.
  • Clear understanding of organizational change—and defining how change is executed—

makes companies more than twice as likely to be successful in sustaining positive change within their business.

In upcoming fourth post of the five-part Did You Know? Series, we explore the next Success Skill: “Open Culture, Engaged Employees.”