ePortfolio: Dr. Simon Priest



LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT DIFFERENCES: Distinguishing between these two is the single most common source of confusion for most entry-level leaders and managers. The graphic below summarizes some of my key distinctions, where leadership is a layer underneath management that gets peeled back as it stengthens with time and practice.



THE CONDITIONAL LEADERSHIP THEORY: My keen masters student, Bob Chase, worked this out with me during a late night van ride across the entire state of Texas in 1988. At three o'clock in the morning, we had our eureka moment! Leadership style is not determined so much by a leader's concern for tasks or relationships, but by concern for the favorability of conditions. Hence the Conditional Theory, where we coined the word abdicratic: to abdicate power.

Leadership is a social influence process expressed through one’s choice of style as defined by who (leader or group) controls decision making power. Leadership styles range from autocratic (where leader holds the power) through democratic (where power is shared between leader and group) to abdicratic (where power is given to the group). Dictatorship or Laissez-Faire would fall outside this range. Choice of style depends on the leader's concern for the task (getting the job done), concern for relationships (keeping the group interactions healthy), and concern for the favorability of conditions. Conditional Favorability (CF) factors include: group unity, team competence, leader experience, decision consequences & environmental risk.

Group Unity is the degree to which members are cohesive. A well performing team is favorable, while a group falling apart in conflict is unfavorable. Team Competence refers to the skill of the group members. Experts are less of a concern than novices. Leader Experience denotes a base of pragmatic data a leader has to fuel sound judgments. A rookie has little and can be a worry, while a veteran has lots and is less of a concern. Decision Consequences asks what will result from a wrong choice of options. Often the outcomes are minor, but sometimes they can be major. Environmental Risk refers to the potential for loss due to the presence of dangers. Frequent or severe hazards are more of a concern than occasional or mild perils.

These five CF factors can have individual or aggregate values of low, medium, or high. As these values shift, the influence of CF can bend the expression of leadership style. Under medium CF (the center square below), the styles are relatively equal. Leaders express their style dependent upon the weighting. Concentration on tasks (urgent emergency) requires autocratic, consideration for relationships (ample time for everyone to get to know one another) suggests abdicratic, but a balanced attention to both recommends democratic. If CF changes, then style will follow accordingly. Autocratic reigns during low CF (right square) and abdicratic prevails in high CF (left).



LEADERSHIP STYLES & GROUP DEVELOPMENT: While helping Aram Attarian as a doctoral student back in 1993 (now retired professor and the other half of the PARTIs: Priest Attarian Risk Taking Inventories), we worked out this model of suggested styles to use during the five classic stages of group development. The five stages have different task and relationship dimensions. A leader's concern for each varies as the group develops and, consequently, the interactions of these leadership concerns for task and relationship determines the style that should be expressed for each stage of group development.



DECISION MAKING POWER: As noted earlier, power for making a decision can rest with the leader or the group of clients as diagrammed below. Six categories of shared power, ranging from leader to group, are:

  1. Directive: leader decides, informs group, and seeks their reaction to the decision
  2. Expert: leader decides, informs group, adjusts decision based on their reaction
  3. Consultative: leader gathers input from, entire group, then makes decision, and adjusts it by seeking group's approval
  4. Shared: group votes on the decision (or uses another method) and agrees to go with “majority rules”
  5. Consensual: almost everyone agrees with the decision, while some have reservations, but will go along anyway
  6. Unanimous: Everyone/group agrees with decision reached and executes decision without any reservation

These six categories become increasingly collaborative as one moves from autocratic to abdicratic styles of leadership. In the three categories where the leader decides, you will need to determine how much to engage clients in making decisions. Before engaging individual clients or a group of them, ask yourself whether a dozen heads are better truly than one.  You will likely come up with reasons like: a diversity of opinions and experiences brings broad options that an individual could never imagine; engaging people close to the problem brings deep insight; and those who are asked to be architects of a decision are more likely to embrace and implement the resultant action.  To be fair, people ought to be engaged in making decisions that will impact them.  However, clients may unwittingly bring bias to the decision making process when they are afraid, fatigued, hungry, uncommitted, inexperienced, or otherwise rushed.  Carefully choose when and when not to involve others.

In the three categories where the group decides, you can simply outline the situation, delegate the process to the group, and express what your level of contribution will be: ranging from a great deal to none.  Be sure to teach the process being used with rules for voting, process guidelines to reach consensus, and criteria for unanimity.  In tempering which approach to use, consider the group’s urgency and motivation to decide, their competence with decision making and communication, and the available time. If necessary, add a time limit and explain that you will step in and either choose for them after that limit expires, or begin swaying them in a particular direction, depending on the urgency of the situation.  Never use a group-based approach as a ruse to hide your already pre-determined and leader-based decision.  This deception frequently dissolves the strong bond that you have formed with clients and can lead to conflict between you and your group.



THE BRICK WALL OF HARD, SOFT & META SKILLS: This idea initially cropped up from my 1983 masters thesis on outdoor leadership. However, it has also proven useful in business leadership. The general skills or sets of competencies needed for leadership are like a brick wall with a foundation, two kinds of bricks, and mortar to glue it all together.

Leaders need a sturdy foundation to understand human behavior and so learn some social psychology. In business, leaders add knowledge of marketing, finance, and economics. In the outdoors, leaders might add biology, geology, and ecology.

Sitting atop this support are hard bricks: the skills that are tangible, simply identified, and easily measured. These are specific to the job being done. An outdoor leader might be competent at hiking (technical), first aid (safety), and camping (environmental). The business leader might be skilled in accounting (technical), fraud prevention (safety), and stock market fluctuations (environmental).

And this is where the differences end. Leaders in politics, science or technology have different backgrounds for foundation and hard bricks, but all leaders merge at the next layer. The next layer is composed of soft bricks: those skills that are intangible, tricky to identify, and difficult to measure. All leaders need to be capable at organizing resources, teaching others the skills above, and facilitating learning and change. With respect to the latter, I have always been a fan of facilitative leadership and several facilitation techniques follow: funneling, frontloading, and fortifying.

Holding everything together is the mortar or meta skills of communication, ethics, leader style, problem solving, decision making, and sound judgment. The leadership wall is only as secure as its foundation, only as solid as its component bricks, and only as strong as the mortar that binds these pieces together.



FUNNELING AS A FORM OF FACILITATION: Mindee Naismith, teaching assistant and one of my two CATI Directors (Community & Corporate), was trying to get a handle on sequenced questioning in order to debrief learning experiences. As we talked, and creatively argued, the funnel was born in 1990. In my work training corporate executives to be facilitative leaders, the funnel has proven itself to be effective in "debriefing" past projects and learning from them. In my work enhancing faculty, the funnel is excellent for reflecting and refracting best teaching practices

The funnel is a sequence of six specific questions that filter out extraneous content in an effort to distill the broad and deep learning experience (full of rich and diverse elements) into a single change effort. Here are examples of each question type:

  1. REPLAY: can you recall the order of events for that last experience? -OR- can you review the elements needed for _(name the learning outcome here)_?
  2. REMEMBER: do you remember a critical incident (or example) regarding this element (or event)?
  3. AFFECT/EFFECT: what was the impact of that incident (or example) on the task (or you, your group, etc.)?
  4. SUMMATION: what did you learn from this impact?
  5. APPLICATION: how does this learning relate to changes in your life (or work, school, family, etc.)?
  6. COMMITMENT: what will you do differently to ensure this change in your daily life (or next experience)?

The last 3 questions echo the critical 3 queries from Gestalt Therapy (what?, so what?, now what?) and the first 3 questions are about readying the learner for and directing the learner toward the last 3. Note that the latter are also the 3 parts of the 4 part Experiential Learning Cycle. Without these, learning fails to be truly experiential and is only experience-based activity.



FRONTLOADING AS A FORM OF FUNNELING: Mike Gass and I experimented with frontloading as part of the work we did at the Corporate Adventure Training Institute (a research center) and identified these 6 types of questions (used after explaining the experience) by 1991.

  1. REVISITING: what did we say we were going to do differently in this upcoming experience?
  2. MOTIVATION: how might learning in this next experience be useful in your life (work/school)?
  3. OBJECTIVES: what learning do you think this experience is designed to teach us?
  4. FUNCTION: what positive actions will we need to succeed and how can we do more of these?
  5. DYSFUNCTION: what negative actions might bring failure and how do we avoid these?
  6. PREDICTION: what do you think is going to happen next (or during this experience)?

Frontloading is simply asking a single prebriefing question (one of the above) immediately before a learning experience. Doing so focuses learners on change in/during the experience, so that less funneling is needed after the experience. Notice that the 6 questions are variations of the funnel sequence turned upside down. Therefore, the metaphor of a bullhorn is used for frontloading, but clearly one is not yelling at the learners!



FORTIFYING FOR RESISTANCE TO CHANGE: I credit Mike Gass with most of the good ideas for this, I just gave the six techniques a sense of stepwise sequence in 1999 and called them Fortifying as in strengthening one's ability to appropriately address resistance to change. Here is an explanation of the six techniques that make up Fortifying.

  1. CLARIFICATION: Rather than risk potential conflict at the outset by engaging in argument with resistant individuals, ask a coworker (admired by the resistant individuals) to explain the changes to them.
  2. NEGOTIATION: Bargain with resistant individuals and settle on what is reasonable and/or necessary for them to make the requested changes.
  3. CONFUSION: In an effort to have resistant individuals re-examine their positions on change from many different perspectives, simply act genuinely puzzled and mystified by their responses to "help me understand...."
  4. PARADOXICAL: Do the unexpected in a kind of reverse psychology. For example, for people who worry about change, talk with them about the benefits of worrying and encourage them to take a specific time each day to list what could possibly go wrong.
  5. DOUBLE BIND: Describe two possible courses of behavior and the consequential outcomes from your past experience with others, then explain that to resistant individuals that they are free to choose their own paths: change or something else.
  6. ROLE SHIFT: If all else fails and after more than three strikes for resistant individuals, find them new jobs that are either doing different work in another part of the same organization or in a completely new organization!

Warning! Fortifying should be used in a stepwise manner, ethically for the benefit of resistant individuals, and with their best interests at heart and in mind. These techniques should not be used to manipulate, control, or power play a person or group.



CONFLICT RESOLUTION, NEGOTIATION & MEDIATION: From my perspective, the key steps to successful conflict resolution are the same for negotiation (unfacilitated between two parties) and for mediation (facilitated resolution). The first two steps involve doing homework in order to understand the conflict/disagreements and the main viewpoints surrounding them. Before positions are exchanged or perspectives are shared, consent is gained to work in good faith and under certain ground rules. During the bargaining and compromising steps, both parties ideally work within the limits of worst to best alternatives (trying to find middle ground), focus on common goals and mutual interests, collaborate to seek a win-win outcome for both, and are willing to give in a little to get more in return, so that an agreement can be reached that everyone is comfortable with. After the agreement, they seal the deal in documented writing or recorded audio/video and implement appropriate action.



SOLUTION-FOCUSED LEADERSHIP: As most of us do, I started out as a “problem-focused” leader. I was interested in what needed to be fixed in organizations. I concentrated on repairing what was broken or going in the wrong direction. I was oriented toward resources that weren’t working and centered on “out of order” operations. I learned as much as I could about the problem in an effort to help my clients make corrections. This organizational development (OD) approach worked effectively with functional organizations and teams. They rapidly learned, changed, and grew with predictable regularity.

However, dysfunctional bodies and groups seemed adept at avoiding transformation and my OD efforts with them were always painful, opposed, and protractedly slow. Frequently, I felt like we were going backwards as they consciously and unconsciously resisted any movement.  I was sometimes at a loss.

In talking with psychology colleagues, Mike Gass and Lee Gillis in the early 1990’s, I became aware of a very different “solution-focused” approach.  As I discussed clients with them both, I came to realize that this approach had great potential for some of my tougher challenges.  I began to study a solution-focused approach.

The table above summarizes some of the principle differences. As I became more solution-focused in my OD consulting work, I paid increasing attention to what was working well for clients. By asking them to highlight their functional behaviors, they recognized these as models for change and took on more of those positive behaviors with relative ease. I became intensely curious about exceptions to their problem. I didn’t ignore the problem; I simply didn’t give it power to hold clients back. When we worked together to identify what was going on when the problem didn’t materialize, my clients and I gained a more thorough understanding of the problem, but also generated several successful solutions. The simplest solution was often to do more of that thing they were doing when the problem didn’t arise. By building on their existing strengths, they occasionally constricted or extinguished the problem.

Here are three examples to demonstrate the difference that Mike Gass and I wrote about in our latest book. The before, during, and after labels refer to the placement of a group discussion relative to the learning experience.

  1. BEFORE = As a problem-focused leader, you might frontload clients’ attention on issues that have been somewhat problematic in the past. These type of “problem saturated” frontloading questions may include how problems will hinder success, how the group will deal with these problems if they arise, and how the group will work together to overcome the problems. In this approach, clients center their attention on resolving these issues during the experience. As a solution-focused leader, you might frontload the activity by asking the group to identify behaviors that might help success, how it can optimize these successful behaviors, and when it feels successful behaviors are most likely to happen during the experience. You could also challenge each client to do something different in order to make other group members feel better about the group’s ability to work together toward its objectives.
  2. DURING = As a problem-focused leader, you might focus clients’ attention on identifying, analyzing, and fixing the problematic elements that caused the group to have poor [performance]. The intent of this discussion would be to help clients improve [their future performance] through better understanding how and why the dysfunction occurred. As a solution-focused leader, you might ask the group to identify, analyze, and discuss times during the experience when [performance] was good. If the group responds that no such times occurred, then you should ask clients to consider what good [performance] might look like—as a hypothetical exception. To turn clients toward such solutions, you should also ask them to highlight and concentrate on what they would do if they were [performing] better, what they would do differently if they were [performing] at their best, or how they would know if they were [performing] well.
  3. AFTER = As a problem-focused leader, you should center clients’ attention on identifying, investigating, and eliminating those negative elements that prevented them from [performing poorly]. Then have the group focus on completing its next experience by reducing these negative elements. As a solution-focused leader, you should ask the group to consider the positive elements [of their performance that “saved” them] from being really bad. This encourages the group to focus on building these positive elements in order to increase [performance]. You could also ask the group about the small things it will be doing differently, when it [performs better] in the future.

While I am not solely a solution-focused leader today (like some of my peers), I do engage this approach for difficult situations and move seamlessly between both approaches for most other circumstances. I have found that resistance is lessened, avoidance is difficult, and dysfunctional groups greatly improve, because the approach is simple and easy for clients. Download the following article to read more about our research on this.

Mike ordered this flowchart, and I refined and drew it, to explain the questioning process that a solution-focused leader can follow to find valuable answers and solutions in exceptions to the presenting issues. This flowchart traces the four major questions and one minor one to ask (inside the blue diamonds). If clients are unable to answer with affirmative examples, the questioning continues through the sequence (following the “no” arrows). When a confirmatory response is received (following the “yes” arrows), a sequence of actions lead to “DO MORE of what is already working” and then to “co-constructing goals.”



THE POSITIVE TRANSFORMATIONAL CURVE: I based this 2015 model on my earlier research with enzyme kinetics. In chemistry, reacting materials require some energy input to get their reaction started and then they either produce energy from the reaction (positive) or continue to consume energy in order to maintain the reaction (negative). Transformation is very similar. In a positive curve, the typical situation (status quo) is transformed into the intended outcome (steady results). This positive curve represents the shift in energy saved by making the transformation. Some energy is needed to get over the resistance hump, but after that, transformation becomes self-sustaining and provides a return on invested energy.

Most of the fourteen steps (described below) use energy to counter resistance: a sometimes painful experience. Once that is achieved (tipping point), transformation gathers momentum rolling downhill and return on investment begins to appear (benefit point): an often gainful experience. After that, transformation tends to coast down to the new state of affairs. If one anticipates considerable resistance, fortifying techniques (described above) can be employed to reduce the amount of energy is necessary to quickly get past and over the resistance hump. Obviously, if you have to put more energy into a change than you get out of it, then you have a negative curve and that change might not need to be made or may not be worth making.



FOURTEEN STEPS TO TRANSFORMATION: Here I've used the framework of the Eternal Staircase, as designed from the Penroses' mathematics and adopted by Escher's artwork. To me, it represents a never ending cycle of change management. These are the steps (also shown on the Transformation Curve above) that one needs to consciously enact to bring change to an individual or organization (2014).



STRATEGIC PLANNING PROCESS: When I was very young, I used to draw treasure maps and imagined I would be a pirate when I grew up. Strategic Planning is a lot like pirates hunting for buried treasure. You know your location (current state of affairs) where the pirate ship is anchored, your destination (vision of desired future) where the treasure chest is buried, and you have a map and directions (general strategic plan) that will get you from start to finish. During the journey, you have to make route choices and take actions (execute specific tactics) to find your way and then use checkpoints and landmarks to gauge your progress along the way (balanced scorecard and success metrics) to know you are still on the right track and have not gotten lost. To facilitate finding the treasure, you pick up newly required tools as needed, such as a key to the chest, and recommended training as necessary, like digging 101. Utimately, "X" always marks the spot.

From this metaphor, I evolved a customized strategic planning process for some of the companies I worked with (like every business consultant at the turn of that century). The process shown employed a modified SWOT analysis to determine the current state of affairs and modified appreciative inquiry to envision the desired future.

SWOT was modified into TOWNS, where Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths remained the same, but undecided factors with Neutral influence (at the time) were listed in the central cell. This "N" addition was important, since many of these factors (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legislative or Environmental) could easily change on short notice to become helpful (opportunities) or harmful (threats) and would require a complete plan adjustment. Therefore, these factors could not be ignored during the TOWNS analysis.

Appreciative Inquiry was accelerated by removing some non-critical steps. The next section shares these details.



ACCELERATED APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY: Normally, I don't like to shorten successful processes, because each step makes necessary contributions to the final results. However, after discussions with David Cooperrider, during one of his early workshops in Tennessee and shortly after completing his dissertation (which initially imagined the Appreciative Inquiry process), I decided to omit a few steps at the cost of losing an estimated 10-30% of the outcome value. Depending on the group size and their comfort with an accelerated process, the time commitment can be reduced from two days to one or even to half a day. Here is a comparison of both sequences.

First, a lot of time can be saved by eliminating the need to reach guiding inspiration by predefining organizational issues and concerns from the SWOT/TOWNS analysis. Second, all the preparatory work for conducting community or organizational interviews (creating prefaces, crafting questions, choosing methods, and developing a guide with protocols) can be by-passed if, and only if, key members of the community or organization are included in the AI process. By having them present, the time and energy needed to prepare for and locate them can be applied toward thematic interviews with only two robust and predetermined questions.

Third, I switch the order of the middle two tasks and results in the Dream Phase. I have found that imagining ideal images works better after sub-group discussion on personal dreams and reactions to common images rather than before. Fourth, I don't enter into the deisgn and Destiny Phases directly. Instead, I incorporate much of this into drafting the strategic plan and mapping out tactics. I differentiate between these two terms as follows. Strategies are thoughful directions for the entire organization organizing resources for the long run. Tactics are active methods conducted by parts of the organization using those resources to achieve each strategic directive in the short term.

Last, by making these changes, I have managed to save at least one day in duration and believe I am only losing a small number of the contributions toward generating compelling stories by not considering every single person in the community or organization. Consider this Vision, Mission, Values, and Motivation Statement as generated for a learning and teaching center by engaging everyone in a one day accelerated AI event.



SEVEN STEPS TO FORGIVENESS: Since I typically work with distressed teams and organizations, I've seen the destructive impact that comes from harboring grudges and wanting to get even via revenge. To counteract the deep seated conflict, I worked up this 10-page (7-step FORGIVE) program for one of the more challenging dysfunctional groups. My appreciation goes out to Monica Kay, Director of Conflict Management at the University of British Columbia, for her guiding advice.

  1. F eel the pain (discuss with friends or write down your feelings about conflict, hurt and revenge).
  2. O wn your part (discuss/write your contribution in the conflict and be willing to forgive yourself).
  3. R eflect on others (reconsider their meanings to you, good attributes, and roles in the conflict).
  4. G ive benefit of doubt (what life experience caused them to do this? – can I carry their burden?).
  5. I magine the future (what have I learned? – what can I do? – would I do it differently next time?).
  6. V oid all debts (destroy writings or revisit discussions and consciously forgive offenders out loud).
  7. E stablish new relations (find reasons to work with prior offenders in new and functional ways).



FIFTY SIX MANAGERIAL COMPETENCIES: During my days of researching executive leadership and corporate team-building, I had the great fortune to spend a decade working with one of the best companies in the world, Canadian Tire, and its inspirational and charismatic leader, Jos Wintermans. He trusted me to develop their initial university: a collection of courses for management training. In preparation for this, I surveyed all company employees and conducted a delphi consensus to identify 56 competencies (in blue) that were necessary for a manager in their culture. This formed the basis of our early competency-based university courses (1996), where employees stamped their passports as they achieved each of the expanded 100 competencies (in red). Obviously, lengthier descriptions exist for each competency and only the shortened titles are shown here for clarity. My gratitude to Tom Young, VP of HR & IT at Canadian Tire, who was kind enough to support me and champion my efforts, while I worked there during my delayed sabbatical year.



NINE-STEP MARKETING SEQUENCE: This sequence does not apply to impulsive or emotional consumers; they buy relationships, sensations, and sentiments rather than products or services.  They remain particularly susceptible to feeling-based touch points, marketing campaigns and advertising displays.

These nine steps describe a three part decision-making process for less spontaneous and more rational consumers who plan purchases and respond to cognitive-based marketing touch points.  I follow this sequence when planning my own choices, like where to go on vacation, and profitably apply it when marketing programs related to my businesses and higher education institutions.  The model is a little like the traditional marketing funnels that are out-of-date due to the abundance of Internet data available and the inability of push marketing to sway in-control consumers, who prefer to pull their information.

The marketing emphasis changes for the three parts of the process.  In the first part (A), consumers generate a “long” list of all the possible products or services (P/S) that have the potential to solve their problems or meet their needs.  Marketing ought to showcase the diverse breadth of those P/S.  In the second part (B), consumers narrow this to a “short” list of all the prospective P/S that will probably solve the problems or meet the needs.  For this, marketing should accent the depth of P/S and how these can be combined into packaged and novel P/S.  In the last part (C), consumers purchase a single P/S.  Here, marketing must highlight and convince consumers of the quality, value, and cost of the P/S.  Knowing where consumers are within the three parts and nine-steps dictates how to market to their interests.

Consumers have expectations that this P/S will be the one to solve problems or meet needs and so they conduct a thorough review to gauge whether it did or not.  If it does, then satisfied consumers will give that P/S a preferred position on their short list the next time they use the nine step sequence.  However, if disappointed by the P/S, it is unlikely to even make their long list next time.  Repeated and consistent satisfaction determines brand loyalty and this leads to word-of-mouth and social media referrals.  However, a disappointment can lead to brand avoidance, especially if customer service fails to resolve any resulting frustrations.  As we know, a poor reputation can be devastatingly boosted by social media.

At the outset, consumers have already recognized the existence of issues or desires and are motivated to solve their problems or meet their needs.  They feel like something is sadly missing or disrupted in their lives.  They are driven to address these concerns and want to get back to feeling good again.

  • A – BREADTH: To generate a long list of possible P/S, consumers conduct a broad information search and then evaluate what they find for general worthiness and further consideration.  In conducting the broad information search to discover what is out there, consumers draw on many sources.  These range from previous brand experience, through online search engines, to social media reviews, presentations, and recommendations.  From these varied sources, consumers develop an initial list, but if the list is sparse, they may repeat the search and widen their sources.  In evaluating for general worthiness and deciding what should get further consideration, consumers weed out some ideas for impracticality or inferiority.  They will be asking questions like “is this product or service appropriate to address problems or needs?” This is the time that marketing is often warmly received by consumers seeking to discover information.  This is where having a presence that showcases a breadth of very diverse P/S proves highly effective. Remember that false advertizing can kill your reputation at this point.  Consumers react favorably to truthful and useful sources like a thorough, accurate, and updated website with all the necessary data in a one-click location.  Due to its convenience, consumers will return to this one-stop shop/website often. Potential is thus identified.
  • B – MIX & DEPTH: The result of the first part is the long list of what seems possible.  To narrow this list to the most probable, consumers perform a deep dive into the pros and cons of each P/S and then compare these positive and negatives as a way to eliminate weak or identify strong ones.  A deep dive into the pros and cons requires obtaining as much information as possible about a particular P/S.  Consumers may turn to social media and websites to gather that information.   Once pros and cons have been listed for each P/S, these can be compared to remove the weaker contenders and identify the stronger options. This is the time when marketing can be extremely useful for consumers.  Employ marketing that contains a depth of P/S details, differentiates these from the competition, and suggests ways in which these P/S can be mixed into new combinations.  The suggestions of mixing components into package deals or combining other P/S and accessories can create attractive additional options.  Again the highly informative, truthful, and up-to-date website, blog, or social media page will grab and hold consumers’ attention for repeat sourcing.  Be certain it contains the ability for consumers to make comparisons.  For important information and comparisons, consumers may also source social media.  They will flock to social media to get loyalty discounts, learn about new P/S video, share opinions with people who are like them, obtain exclusive offers, and belong to a brand community.   While they are there, make sure that their messaging and information are consistent across social media and within the principle websites. Prospect is thuse identified.
  • C – QUALITY, VALUE & COST: The result of the second part is the short list of what is probable.  To select and purchase the best P/S, consumers identify the key factors that are important to them in their final decision and then make a judgment call about which P/S is best.  Identifying the key factors involves consumers taking a long hard and honest look at what motivates them, like price, time, quality and value.   Once these critical elements have been identified, the final decision can be reached by weighting these.  For most of the key factors (price and time) the information will be readily available.  However, for a few factors (quality and value) critical data may be absent or uncertain.  This will require consumers to make a judgment call.  Sound judgment substitutes for missing, vague, or unknown information with consumers best estimates based on their past experiences.  Once these gaps are filled in, the final decision can be made leading to a purchase. Marketing does very little to sway the perceptions of consumers here, since they are making their final decision.  However, at this point, movement toward a purchase can be incentivized with quality ratings or reviews from past customers, testimonials of value from experts, and pricing discounts via banner ads and tweets.  Again, social media is the way to reach loyal consumers and engage new ones.  Confirm that feedback is affirmative and civil.  Create P/S communities on your websites and social media pages. The result of the final part is the single choice of the best P/S to purchase and sometimes where to buy it.  A secondary outcome is whether to purchase a whole package or several of its component parts.  This decision-making process can proceed quickly, in a matter of a few minutes, or slowly, over the course of years.  The duration depends mostly on the importance of the decision and risks of a mistake.

After purchase, consumers conduct a review of the P/S performance to solve problems and meet needs.   The consumers are mostly concerned with whether or not the P/S exceeded or fell short of their earlier expectations.  Secondarily, they are attentive to whether or not the P/S delivered on its promises as per the marketing campaign or advertising displays.  Finally, they will consider whether or not the P/S lived up to the recommendations they obtained from social media.  Again, if satisfied by the P/S, they will develop a brand loyalty and return for further purchases.  If that loyalty continues to satisfy them, then they may become a brand ambassador and convince others to make similar purchases.  On the other hand, if disappointed by the P/S, they will avoid the brand in favor of a competitor’s P/S.  If frustrated by the inability of customer service to resolve their disappointment, they may turn to reversing the tide of recommendations on social media and complaining on public websites.  A happy consumer tells ten people when they ask, but an unhappy consumer tells a hundred people without any of them asking!



FIFTEEN HALLMARKS OF EXCEPTIONAL ORGANIZATIONS: Thanks to Mike Gass for starting me on this road and for providing his initial thoughts about what it takes to be an exceptional organization.  At the core of this list is my belief that an inspired workforce makes everything possible.  Inspiration aligns stakeholder interests, needs, and beliefs with those of the organization and encourages them to work for the greater good rather than labor in their own self-interests.  Exceptional organizations…

  1. …know what they do, why they do it, and how successful they are
  2. …differentiate themselves from the competition with a unique value proposition
  3. …value and inspire staff and vice versa
  4. …stay current in best practices and learn from their mistakes
  5. …invest in, are informed by, and appropriately consume research
  6. …empower their clients and customers toward independence
  7. …invest in the "whole" beyond their organization
  8. …focus on solutions (rather than problems)
  9. …have “courage” and mastery over fear
  10. …take intelligent (and well calculated) risks
  11. …are resilient and transform to maintain their sustainability
  12. …maintain high standards
  13. …are viable because of their ethics
  14. …provide stellar customer service and exceed client/customer expectations
  15. …are managed by extraordinary leaders



TOP TEN EMPLOYMENT SKILLS: Over the decades, I’ve hired thousands of employees as faculty, staff, or administrators.  The successful ones showcased ten generic competency areas and so we began looking for these as default settings in all of our candidates.  Beyond these ten predictors, each opportunity we hired for had to have some position-specific skills: instructional ones for faculty, productivity skills for staff, and facilitation ability for administrators as a few examples.  However, we wanted all employees to have these generic top ten.

  1. Communication/Feedback: speaking, writing and getting the message across effectively online and in-person;
  2. Effective Teamwork: working together with people in harmony, showing sensitivity and respect for everyone;
  3. Decision Making: diverging a variety of options, converging better ones by criteria, and choosing the best one;
  4. Problem Solving: applying analytical and creative methods to known information and judgment for unknowns;
  5. Learning Propensity: continuously willing to learn new skills and to seek out fresh perspectives or new ideas;
  6. Professional Ethics: having honesty/integrity, trustworthiness/loyalty, and commitment/passion for the work;
  7. Technical Competence: conscientiously knowing how to do the job, use key technology, and serve customers;
  8. Positive Character: showing flexibility, confidence, tenacity, awareness, independence, stability under distress;
  9. Influential Leadership: motivating, persuading, and supervising others engaged in the above eight roles; and
  10. Resource Management: planning projects, executing actions, prioritizing tasks, and organizing time, self, budget, etc.



NURTURING EMPLOYEE DEVELOPMENT: We have a responsibility to cultivate and facilitate growth for newly hired and existing staff.  Cultivate means to create external conditions that combine into a climate conducive to balancing happy and productive work.  Facilitate means to enable internal experiences that foster learning and inner fortitude in workers.  Here are several interlocked workplace factors to consider.

External conditions that balance happy and productive work

  • Establish clear rules, boundaries, and ethical behaviors.  Include everyone in determining what is acceptable and what is not.  Provide plenty of illustrations.  Have people share examples from their life experiences.  Publicly discuss those examples and decide on suitability and standards.
  • Encourage risk-taking propensity.  People must be willingness to take risks without penalty from management, as long as the potential for loss is well thought out, ethical, and within established boundaries.  Allow choices and action to provide consequences and avoid punishing from above.
  • Strengthen support structures and services.  Promote cheer leading among the masses.  Offer professional therapy when needed.  Emphasize empathy for risk takers.  Make yourself available for advice and counsel.  Implement (Jaques’) access to a “Manager Once Removed” opportunity.
  • Advance empowerment.  Give everyone input to major decisions, either directly (as a task force member) or indirectly (through elected representation on committees).  Allow people to make decisions that are going to impact them one way or another.  Make them a valued stakeholder.
  • Lay base of trust and communication.  Trust and communication are the bedrock of teams and community.  The two are reciprocal: cannot improve one without the other.  Spend ample time discussing and practicing help, conflict resolution, forgiveness, speaking, listening, and feedback.
  • Construct a community that CARES.  Each citizen must be able to demonstrate Compassion, Appreciation, Respect, Empathy, and Safety toward, within, and among others.  Ask people how they want to be treated, treat them that way, and then ask them to treat others that same way.
  • Build teams and leaders.  Use a flexible facilitation style to enable teams to succeed without you and to emerge their own team leaders.  Highlight the importance of using healthy relationships to accomplish bold tasks.  Avoid temptation to tell and sell, so stop being their directive leader.

Internal experiences that foster learning and inner fortitude

  • Develop individuals.  Send them for training.  Persuade them to learn.  Avoid spoon-feeding, but make learning a struggle, so that they understand its utility.  Sign off on a development plan for each person and find inviting and smart non-schooling methods to achieve learning objectives.
  • After training, assign a project that utilizes their new learning.  For the group that finished a teamwork program, give them a team problem.  For the individuals who have learned new skills, ask them to teach or share these with others.  Transfer more responsibility and reward success.
  • Find the strengths in people and query what gives them joy in life.  Combine these into a new responsibility to place in their management portfolio and/or a new task to complete for their workload.  Be sure the assumed responsibility or task is both achievable and welcomed by all.
  • Inoculate against fear of failure.  Assist people to understand that failure is merely a temporary setback, where we learn from our mistakes.  Enlighten them that anxiety must be surmounted by first accepting it as normal, and then desensitizing, imitating, or flooding to prevail over fears.
  • Augment personal skills.  Since healthy relationships are paramount in the office, employees must know themselves (self-concept) and how to interact with and effectively relate to others.  Aside from the already mentioned, focus on diplomacy, humility, reflection, and critical thinking.
  • Enhance resilience to stress.  Add and fortify coping mechanisms for addressing distressful times, especially during transformation.  People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. Be sure to include them in the early stages of transformation and frequently seek their input.
  • Challenge people often.  Give them daring new experiments that require them to apply their competence so as to counter the dangers.  Occasionally, make the challenge difficult, but lend assistance when needed to overcome uncertainty, deal with adversity, and test resilience.



SEXUALIZED MISCONDUCT (HARASSMENT): Sexual harassment is a purely legal term and should be used exclusively in jurisprudence matters to determine whether civil rights have been violated.  For sexual harassment to be found, the sexual misconduct must be frequent or severe and result in either a hostile or offensive work environment or an adverse employment action (demotion, termination, or resignation).  The word harassment has been heavily misused in academe and sometimes applied erroneously to benign actions that include first-time contact of well intended and friendly or romantic advances with no intent to manipulate, dishonor, or threaten.  For these reasons, the term has been avoided in this explanation. 

However, do not mistake an absence of this expression as tolerance toward sexualized misconduct.  This should not be endured in any form.  In the workplace, establishing clear boundaries among co-workers is definitely needed, with organizational support and common knowledge that dualistic interpersonal relationships can be highly problematic on the job.  A dualistic relationship is any social situation where a second connection exists beyond the first work affiliation, such as sexual or romantic associations, but also financial (money owed), duty-bound (or owed), and sometimes family or friends outside of work.

As an academic administrator, I sat on several committees and led many investigations into complaints regarding various forms of sexualized misconduct.  While these behaviors constituted a wide range of inappropriate actions, the most egregious were: intended to control through abuse of power, resulted in a violation of the victim’s dignity, and/or created an uncomfortable workplace.  From 2008, I used this progression to measure appropriate responses to all perpetrators of sexualized misconduct.  Responses ranged from warn and inform, through education, remediation and probation, to termination and detention.  The key to correctly addressing all items, but especially the initial five, lies in a victim’s prior communication that a behavior is unwelcomed or unwanted, followed by a perpetrator’s disrespectful choice to continue the offense despite the victim's request.

  1. Joke: meant to be funny, but actually can be hurtful,  these are often structured at the expense of a demographic subset that could be identified by sexual orientation, gender, hair color, height, weight, race, age, religion, or other forms of appearance, lifestyle, or belief.
  2. Display: the private or public sharing of images or words that could be considered pornographic or offensive to one of the demographic subsets listed above.
  3. Comment: inappropriate compliments on appearance (about a physical or sexual feature) and sometimes veiled as non-aggressive, but can be accentuated by vocal intonation and/or facial features such as certain smiles, winks, and/or raised eyebrows.
  4. Stare: when the perpetrator gazes persistently toward specific body features or non-verbally exhibits the imagined “undressing” of a victim.
  5. Touch: physical contact without permission being requested or received (such as a shoulder massage); can be amplified by the placement of the touch ranging from tolerable (elbow), through uncomfortable (face), to objectionable (buttocks) locations, and where the initial placement can appear benevolent, but lead to later “accidental” contact with taboo regions.
  6. Suggest: the insistent verbal proposition that both parties engage in a romantic or sexual relationship, when that invitation has already been rejected at least once by the victim.
  7. Coerce: the contribution of adding influential power to a suggestion, where a “quid pro quo” (this for that) agreement is proposed by the perpetrator with the understanding that the victim will be rewarded for compliance (bribed) or punished for resistance (bullied).
  8. Assault: physical violence, verbal threat, or visual exhibition for the purpose of intimidation, imposition, or injury (up to and including rape and demonstrated masturbation); this harmful abuse is clearly a criminal act and demands response by the police or other authorities.



S.E.E. RETURN ON INVESTMENT: An increasing number of companies are being asked to quantify and justify their social and environmental contributions to their shareholders who are interested in more than economic gains these days.  Many training and development programs are unable to justify their impact and so are quickly placed on the chopping block when financial cuts are announced.

Social-Environmental-Economic Return On Investment (SEEROI) is a means to calculate the non-monetary value, as well as the monetary ones, and weigh these against the costs of operating a program, unit, or division.  From the financial world, ROI is a simple calculation of the percentage ratio between money earned or saved and money spent.  The calculation of SEEROI, evolved from this, requires that the non-monetary items be assigned a monetary proxy value and probability.  Any calculation requires a common denominator and, in the business world, the bottom line will always be money. 

Before the calculation can be performed, the elements of the formula must be selected and quantified.  Doing so can be extremely difficult.  What is the value of pristine wilderness versus the amount of lumber that can be harvested from it or the income generated by tourists coming to experience the protected old growth forest?  How do you measure environmental impact, when a pulp and paper company changes (for better or worse) the bleaching chemicals used to whiten their products?

Einstein is quoted as saying “everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted!”  Most of the time, quantification and monetization of these values will be possible.  In those few cases where it is not possible, we must instead report a qualitative narrative of the benefits and consequences that went unmeasured.  Since 1992, I’ve had some success using these seven steps as a flexible way to build a SEEROI measurement formula for training and development programs.

  1. IDENTIFY immediate savings, positive benefits, and negative consequences: Gather all stakeholders (including some past program participants) and collectively co-create a list of potential changes: good outcomes that may result from program participation and bad outcomes that could come from non-participation.  For example, after a teamwork program, one participant created solutions to an ongoing problem that saved the company enough money to pay for the entire program.  Other members agreed unanimously that their team would have continued to lose money without the program and the team saved enough money in the first month of each year to pay for an annual refresher program.  The other eleven months of savings were profitably recovered by the company.  Easy to comprehend, construct, calculate, and compare to program costs, these immediate savings are the economic part of SEE.  However, social and environmental (S&E) benefits and consequences are a bit more difficult to analyze.  Let’s continue with some social examples.  Environmental ones would be handled in a similar manner.
  2. ORDER these benefits and consequences into common factors: Ask an expert panel to examine how these benefits and consequences relate to one another and have the panel sequence these (in primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary order) under named factors or common groupings.  For example, employees often participate in harassment awareness programs.  What are the benefits of participation and what are the consequences of not participating?  Certain participants are beneficially expected to misbehave less (primary), complaints should be reduced (secondary), and the workplace climate would likely improve (tertiary), leading to increased productivity (quaternary).  These and other reasons are why the company conducts the training in the first place.  Non-participants are expected to continue with consequential levels of harassment (primary), meaning increased complaints (secondary), and leading to a hostile workplace (tertiary) resulting in litigation or sanctions (quaternary).  In addition, benefits and consequences could reasonably be expected to flow over outside the company.  Participants might also behave better at home (primary) and this might improve the livability of the community (secondary).  In turn, more people might want to move to the community and apply for work with the company (tertiary), thus providing an enhanced workforce (quaternary).  All of these changes might grouped into two factors and given the paired headings of “internal” and “external” respectively.  Expect to find dozens of such factors after a thorough search.
  3. IMAGINE the possible cost items for every part of each factor: Continuing the previous example for the “internal” factor, the consequences of increased harassment episodes, employee complaints, workplace hostility, and litigation/sanctions would have cost items associated with each.  Similarly, the opposite benefits of decreased episodes, complaints, and related positive influences, including community-based ones would also have cost items attached.  These would need to be imagined and the company might have to bear extra costs such as legal defenses, additional administrative time to handle complaints or deal with the accused, change in employee morale, and so on.  Alternatively, the company might enjoy reductions of the above and enhanced productivity of their workforce with happier employees.  However, the community benefits (“external” factor) would be more difficult to imagine than these obvious internal company ones.  Scower the literature on livable communities to investigate the costs associated with their benefits and consequences, such as improved mental and physical health leading to fewer expensive and time consuming hospital visits.  Interview family experts and learn about the costs they associate with improved marital relationships, like reduced verbal or physical abuse indicating less time and money spent on prolonged hospital stays.
  4. Conservatively VALUATE each cost item: Place a monetary value on each possible cost item based on research.  Consult sources of information in the geographical sequence of local, regional, national, and global.  Clearly, local data will be most representative, such as the value of local administrative time, the regional price of legal defenses in your area or hospital costs.  However, when that information is not available, use adjacent sources, but be prepared to adjust these figures based on apparent geographical differences.  If you don’t know how much productivity could increase, then you need to examine and conservatively adjust values from those already measured by similar companies in the country or world and adjust these for your location, products or services.  Be certain to use a common denominator for all of these values.  When faced with daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, be sure to translate everything into the same time period.  In these situations, going with annual values may make the most sense.
  5. Accurately ESTIMATE the probability of each occurrence: When possible, decide on the likelihood that a program participant and/or non-participant will realize each benefit and/or consequence.  Not everyone will stop harassing immediately and some may entirely fail to change.  What fraction will succeed?  Again, choose local or regional data over national or global information.  If uncertain, find and accurately fine-tune the closest approximation from a geographically distant source, then explain your rationale and thinking.  If you only have global information, be certain to clarify how and why this was adjusted to your locality or company.  Recognize that fractions and percentages of likelihood will decrease along each factor from primary to quaternary.  Initially, a third (33%) of the participants will change their behaviors at home, but only half of these (33% x 50% = 16.5% overall) will impact their community in a good way: meaning a sixth will persist through the whole factor.
  6. CALCULATE: For now, keep the positive benefit factors separate from the negative consequence factors during calculations.  For each cost item, multiple the probability of occurrence by its corresponding value.   For the negative consequences, add up all of these multiplication products to get the sum total of avoided consequences (because non-program participation would likely result in these happening).  For the positive benefits, sum these products to get the total achieved benefits (because programs encourage participants to accomplish these). Don't forget any immediate savings discovered in the first step.
  7. REPORT as ratios from side by side comparisons or percentages from standard ROI formula: Side by side simply compares the cost of the program against immediate savings first, avoided consequences second, achieved benefits third, and various combinations of these last.  Alternatively, the standard ROI formula involves adding up all of the gains (immediate savings, avoided consequences, and/or achieved benefits) into one subtotal gain, subtracting the program costs from this subtotal gain to get the overall total gain, and then dividing this total gain by program costs again to end up with a final return.  Multiplying this return by 100% gives the percentage gain above and beyond the program costs.



CREATIVE DECISION MAKING: The creative decision making process involves diverging, or building a range of several options, and then converging, or narrowing that range to select the best option. Decision making is necessary at four places in the next problem solving process. The 1989 diagram below summarizes the divergence and convergence of options by a total of ten creative techniques: five to diverge and five to converge.

  1. Brainstorming is openly expressing any idea that comes to mind without fear of criticism by other group members. By creating a receptive atmosphere, people are free to share suggestions, no matter how unusual or weird, without anyone else putting them down. The uninhibited sharing of ideas can spark creative new ideas in others. During brainstorming, the generation of ideas usually starts slow, reaches peak production, and then tapers off.  Extended effort refers to encouraging group members not to give up too quickly. By waiting through any pauses or dry spells, groups usually find that ideas generated later in the process prove to be the most creative and, occasionally, the most useful.  Deferred prejudice requires that people remain open to generating new ideas instead of settling on the first one that sounds good to them. By providing ample time and freedom from bias, you provide opportunities to enlarge the pool of generated ideas. You can make better choices from a larger number of ideas.
  2. Improvising means generating improved ideas by combining useful attributes from existing ideas.  First you list the attributes of your ideas by inventorying the characteristics of any idea or piece of the problem. Listing attributes, such as abilities, limitations, strengths, weaknesses, or required resources, helps to draw connections and formulate relationships among the ideas generated. Next you force combinations among comparing and contrasting ideas with an eye for creating new ideas by altering old ones. Often it is a forced substitution, mixing, adaptation, modification, or rearrangement that leads to these new ideas.  For example, how many activities can you name that use variations on a surfboard?
  3. Reversing means taking some of those listed attributes and considering their opposites.  For example, the sail in sail-boarding was reversed to a kite for kite-boarding.
  4. Busting assumptions refers to breaking away from the unconscious and conscious predetermined beliefs we have about things we already know.  The more we can see things from fresh perspectives, the more likely we are to innovate something novel.  For example, the assumption that a surfboard is made for liquid water was busted to create snow-boarding.
  5. Sizing refers to generating new options by increasing or decreasing key dimensions of an existing idea. For example, the surfboard shrank for skate-boarding and grew for paddle-boarding.
  6. Gathering involves collecting all pertinent information supporting or refuting the merit of a particular option and categorizing that information under three headings: facts, or what you know as true; assumptions, or what you judge to be true; and constraints, or possible barriers to success.
  7. Weeding out involves removing those options that are clearly inappropriate. Often a field of seven or more options is too much for most people to truly consider. Reducing this number to 3 or 4 options becomes more manageable. Reduce the options you are considering using the plausibility of the information you have gathered. For example, evaluate the cost of exercising the option, the consequences of putting that option into action, and so on.
  8. Ranking involves prioritizing the 3 or 4 remaining options and arranging them into a decision tree (quantiative) or comparative table (qualitative). The decision tree is a simple drawing that details your possible choices and the probable chance events that might occur in the course of a solution. You can draw each decision and chance event as branching forks on the tree that divide into separate paths on the basis of choices made. The advantage of a decision tree is that it pairs all options to create choices between two options at a time rather than all options at once. The fewer options to choose from, the easier and more efficient choosing becomes. Ordering enables you to examine any situation from its component decisions, making the overall situation more manageable. The comparative table is a simple non-numerical way to compare and contrast the pros and cons of the available options by listing the qualities worth considering in order of importance and then measuring the values for each option. A comparison of options' strengths and weaknesses often leads to the best choice.
  9. Weighting involves considering the positive, neutral, and negative aspects of each option at each decision point in the decision tree or within and among options in the comparative table.
  10. Choosing involves selecting a path through the decision tree by picking the preferred option at each decision point or by identifying equal entries, removing extremes, and allowing the best option to stand out in the comparative table.



MULTIPHASIC PROBLEM SOLVING: In 1998, I developed this flowchart to help leaders integrate critical and creative thinking skills into problem solving and to differentiate among the often conflated trinity of problem solving, decision making, and sound judgment. The model has three phases: assessment, analytic, and creative. In the assessment phase, one is looking for the existence of problems and evaluating the solution of problems. In the analytic phase, the crux of is defined, the desired outcome is anticipated (this can be used to later measure success of a solution), several solutions are identified and the best one is selected and enacted.

At any point in this linear process, if the answer is unknown, one can cross over to the creative phase and cycle through divergence and convergence techniques to generate a single answer to return back to the analytical phase. These creative techniques are used to diverge many options: brainstorming, improvising, reversing, busting (of assumptions), sizing, and more. These creative techniques are used to converge the many options down to the singular: gathering information, weeding out, ranker ordering, weighting, and choosing.

Problem solving requires several decisions. Decision making (DM) is necessary at the end of each creative cycle and when picking the best solution. Sound judgment is only necessary whenever key information is missing, unknown or vague. Judgment is used to substitute for this uncertainty by supplying predictions based on the induction, deduction, and evaluation of past experiences (see Sound Judgment based on Experience).



PROBLEM CONTENT VERSUS CONTEXT: In the diagram above, short and long forms of the model are possible. The short form simply goes step by step and makes one decision about which solution appears best (SELECTION). The long form takes time to pause at each step and cycle through a diverging and converging decision making process (light blue diamond). In order to decide which form to use (long or short), the solver needs to understand the balance of problem content versus problem context.

Content refers to the structure and composition of the problem. Depending on the answers to these five questions, the content can be defined as clear or vague. Is the crux well or ill-defined? Are the parameters of the problem exact or ambiguous? Is a solution obvious or obscure? Is information sujective or objective? Are data mostly known or unknown? Answers to the last two questions also determine if the use of simple decision making will be enough (short form) or whether sound judgment is necessary to substitute for missing data (long form).

Context refers to the nature and setting of the problem. Depending on the answers to these five questions, the context can be defined as simple or complex. Can you solve the problem yourself or do you need help from others? Is the problem a single stand alone situation or does it interact with other things? If and when you solve the problem, will the situation apply locally to this one situation or more universally to many situations? Are the conditions static and stable or are they changing and dynamic? Are the solution consquences minor or major?

The graph below maps content (clear or vague) against context (simple or complex) to provide four corresponding quadrants. When a problem is clear and simple, its solution is easy. My 80+ year old mother loves to solve sudoku and crossword puzzles that are the very definition of clear and simple. Even though they are extremely challenging, these puzzles are straightforward and can repeatedly be solved in a linear manner. This quadrant is where the short form of multiphasic problem solving works best.

The other three quadrants call for the long form, because they tend to be solved in non-linear fashion, where traditional stepwise analyses are insufficient to derive a tenable soution. When the complexity increases, an easy problem becomes more difficult to solve. Imagine an emergency, where outside assistance is required, but while waiting for help, the consequences for loss of life are major, conditions are constantly changing, the impact of the crisis threatens to spill over into neighbouring areas, and all of these elements interact to add complexity.

When a problem is simple and vague, the solution is perplexing. Once in a rare occasion, my mother can't seem to finish her puzzle, because something about it is unusual, confusing, or deceptive. At least in this instance, the final solution is still understood and can be measured for success. However, comprehension and quantification are not always possible. When a problem is complex and vague, the solution is chaotic. Imagine that emergency, where the cause of the problem isn't clear or is misunderstood and where your solution runs the risk of creating additional problems or unintended consequences. In these often confounding and sometimes contradictory circumstances, several disparate explanations may all seem reasonable. These factors conspire to make the solution awkward to understand or impractical to measure. Chaos ensues.



DESIGN THINKING SEQUENCE: If we always think like we always thought, we’ll usually get what we already got (and we might never find new solutions to the bigger problems we face).  Sometimes, scientists need to think differently than just following their time-tested standard of the scientific method.  Design thinking is one alternative that works as a standalone under some circumstances and can be a valuable add-on to balance with the cyclic scientific inquiry process and/or multiphasic problem solving methods in other situations.

Design thinking is unique in its consideration of the user experience and famous for making solutions user-friendly It is a sequence of eight stages (five original, plus three I like to add for educational emphasis).  However, the eight stages are not necessarily a linear sequence.  One can reorder the sequence, repeat steps, skips steps, and jump around as desired.  In fact, this iterative process and its creative freedom help to make the thinking outcomes uniquely effective.  Here is a guide to the eight stages (those capitalized are the most common five, the other three are my add-ons).

  1. Query: I like designers to show up with curiosity and wonder.  I prefer them to discover opportunities rather than have a problem forced upon them.  To this end, I favour that they come questioning “what if?” and thinking “why not!”
  2. Explore: Once they discover an opportunity, they must investigate it deeply (by observing, interviewing, and interacting with users and others) until they fully understand everything in the world relevant to what is going on in this case.  Designers are especially interested in the needs of the user in relation to possible solutions to the problematic portions of the opportunity, but may also consult experts for advice on formulating and defining those problems.  They should look, listen, and learn, but only after asking lots of questions.
  3. EMPATHIZE: More than sympathizing with the user, they must know “what life is like in the user’s shoes,” what a user thinks in the mind, what a user feels in the heart, and what desires motivate and sustain user behaviours.  In doing so, they learn to set aside their own assumptions and preferences in favour of the user’s wants and needs.  Designers must work collaboratively from here onwards.
  4. DEFINE: Designers next describe the opportunity and use human-centred language to express it in a clear statement.  They take care to characterize the problematic portion in terms of what will result should the solution to that problem be successful.  This can often provide criteria for later evaluating the solution and redirection for generating new ideas. 
  5. IDEATE: With a clear understanding of the opportunity, problems and user needs, they then begin generating ideas to solve the problem using creativity techniques, imagination, diverging and converging, and/or “thinking outside the box.”  When stalled during ideation, a return to the previous stages for an alternative view of the problem, or a re-interpretation of user’s feelings, thoughts, and actions, can prove useful for getting unstuck and back on track.
  6. PROTOTYPE: Eventually, some hypothetical solutions arise and these are developed into inexpensive and/or scaled down prototypes.  As prototypes are constructed, new engineering hiccups tend to arise and these require fixing before a prototype is ready to test or designers may even need to revisit prior stages.  Prototypes are constructed and tested under the criteria for a successful solution as identified in the define stage.
  7. TEST & Refine: The prototype is subjected to rigorous examination by the designers, experts, and/or focus groups of users.  Their feedback helps refine the prototype for retesting as “bugs” are eliminated from the solution.  The prototype may move toward a full-sized and more expensive version during this stage.
  8. Implement: Once a solution appears to be working as a prototype, it is launched into practice, while user feedback is continually collected, because the test and refine stage never really ends, even after the solution has been launched.  The process will repeat (with more iterations) when the upgraded version is warranted.

Alternate Iterative Pathways: Since later stages depend on earlier ones, iterations that repeat back one or more recent stages are very common in this process and frequently result in better solutions.  Going back to the drawing board, square one, or even further, are acceptable and desirable parts of design thinking.  The iterative nature of design thinking makes this approach particularly valuable to solve perplexing, chaotic, and difficult problems that might otherwise not be solved by more traditional multiphasic methods.



SOUND JUDGMENT BASED ON EXPERIENCE: In 1989, many in my related fields of experiential learning seemed confused over the differences and similarities among problem solving, decision making, and judgment. I clarified these as "trinity" and separated the interwoven three. Since some simply saw judgment as making good decisions and others saw it as competently solving problems. I created teaching models to show how each interacts and how judgment was processed in the mind.

The judgment cycle begins with specific experiences (could be first-hand, vicarious or observed). These are input to the brain and reflected upon inductively (from specific to general) looking for some learning that is then stored in memory as general concepts. When information (vital to problem solving or decision making) is unknown, missing or vague, then general concepts are retrieved from memory and reflected on deductively (from general to specific) seeking application to the uncertainty. A specific prediction is output and substituted for unknown, missing or vague information. Whether this works or not is refined in the final step of evaluative reflection, where the solution or choice is considered for its efficacy and becomes a new specific experience to add in the next cycle.



HEURISTICS VERSUS INTUITION: A couple of decades after the above model of judgment, I delved deeply into a comparison of judgment driven by heuristics and judgment driven by intuition. Heuristics are mental short cuts that we use to extract the most relevant memories and refract or reshape these to fit our unknown situtation. Heuristics save a lot of time and energy by easing and reducing our enormous cognitive load for using judgment during problem solving and decision making. Intuition is a spontaneous response to an uncertain situation without conscious awareness or cognitive reasoning, but with convinced confidence and yet very little effort. Intuition is that gut feeling that can identify intricate patterns in the data at a subconscious level and lead to rapid sound judgments without comprehending how this was accomplished. Beware that both heuristics and intution are not foolproof: they can be wrong from time to time!



ENTREPRENEURSHIP CURRICULUM: In one region, where I lived for a few years, the local economy was bust by 2005 (Billy Joel wrote a song about this place). Industries had closed their factories and large numbers of people were unemployed. In response, I formed an Entrepreneurial Center composed of three parts: a resource clearinghouse (information found on a website and at school), an education program (from local induction, through instruction by integrated curricula, to incubation with nearby groups), and a mentoring process (with ongoing support from alumni, facilitators, guest faculty, and outside experts).

The central component, a 17-course educational program leading to a BSc degree in Entrepreneurship, consisted of several phases. Four foundation courses, already common to our other degrees, came first. Four courses in creativity were next. Four planning and management courses followed on from there. Four project funding courses rounded out the last phase. A final capstone project completed the sequence as the seventeenth course.

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