Strategic Foresight seeks to discover the signals that create the patterns of emergence. Emergent behaviour patterns start with very simple acts that get multiplied on a collective scale. One person in a crowd, using his or her cell phone screen as a torch, at the latest U2 concert. And then five thousand cell phone screens, all moving in unison. This is a simple example of a causal effect based on direct feedback. Could the behaviour of the first person doing this be predicted? Could the behaviour of the crowd be predicted?
The answers are no and no or yes and yes, according to how imaginative and playful one wants to be. If we see the cell phone as just another cordless telephone, then the first answer is no. But if we recognize the cell phone as a communication device and if we understand communication as expressing ideas and feelings via multiple means of transmission, than the answer is yes. Understanding the nature of humans and the basic human needs for expression, expansion, community and exchange makes it rather easy to predict the pattern of possible interactions between the crowd at a concert in their use of cell phones as a torches.
A BIT OF HISTORY
On March 10, 1876, in Boston, Massachusetts, Alexander Graham Bell working with Thomas Watson invented the telephone. The device was a crude looking object containing a wooden stand, a funnel, a cup of acid, and some copper wire. This is what the first telephone did not have: a numeric keypad, caller id and call waiting information, full-duplex speakerphone, call waiting display, voice announced caller identification, mailboxes for general and private use with customized greetings, conference transfer 200-name and number call log, built-in hands-free speakerphone , backlit display, busy station indicators, memory keys. And one more thing: there was no system ready and capable of supporting it. Was this telephone a "weak signal"?
Telephone comes from Greek: tele, which means from afar and phone which means sound made by voice. So any device that reproduces sounds made by voice over a distance is a telephone. And what is the question for which the telephone is the answer? To answer this question we need to look at both the precursors of the device we now call a telephone, as well as at the behaviours that created them. In this investigation one will soon realize that the history of the telephone is as old as human civilization itself: human beings have always wanted to communicate from great distances. The precursors that have allowed this behaviour to become manifest were light signals, smoke signals, drums, flag signals, carrier birds and various semaphores. These were not about voice but about communication. Specifically, communicating messages about us, our status, where we are now and the quality of our existence in this place. It is important to note while retrieving the precursor and behaviour archetype of communication from afar, that the first "telephone" – the first transmission of condition over a distance - was a visual signal.
Now think of the most frequently asked question in a telephone communication over the past 75 years – "Can you hear me?" Two words are key to uncovering the deep behaviour archetype of the telephone: one is the word hear, a verb, the other is the word me, a pronoun. The verb is a reflection of the phase of technological development in which the transmission took place. For all purposes, the technology is transitory and hear was soon to be replaced with see. The verb(s) represents the technology of the moment.
The how and not the what and why. More often than not, companies dedicate a large amount of innovation effort aimed at adding value to the how. This is a tactical innovation; it protects the how against competitors.
The pronoun is more revealing: me. It refers to me. It is about me. It is about my personality and the things I wish to communicate to you, over distance at this moment and from this place. Give me more technology and I will use more verbs as I will want you to hear ME, see ME, smell ME, feel ME…I want, need, desire all the technology that will empower me, that will expand my capability and allow me to actualize all I want to express of my emotions, of myself, to you. To communicate my condition to you, where ever you may be. In other words the what and the deeper why. This is the field of Strategic Innovation, where value is created and pre competitive positions are established. So, What is the question for which the telephone was the answer? How do I express myself to you wherever you may be? And in this effort of expressing all of myself, I will use any technology that you, the telephone, the current technology, make available to me. I will use a photo camera, I will use video, I will use sounds, smells, motions, vibrations, flashing lights, ANYTHING that technology can and will invent and enable me to actualize "me" expressing myself to "you" more completely.
From this, we gain the insight that allows us to forecast the future of what we now call a cell phone: the future of the cell phone is its past enhanced and actualized by current technology. Or, in a more generic definition: The future of an artifact is a measure of its capability to create the experience most conducive to emerge our latent behaviour, and the desires that shape who we are in our best representation. Unfolding the future is not about technology signals; it is about signals in us.
THE CAPABILITY TO EXPLORE POSSIBILITY
In a January 23, 2006 speech at the Ford Motor Company Business Review, Bill Ford, Chairman and CEO, Ford Motor Company, stated the needed change in the company's stale business model: "We're going to figure out what people want before they even know it – and then we're going to give it to them." Ford's statement is the opportunity and case for strategic creativity. Individuals and organizations expert at identifying latent behaviours and the shape of the technology experience that will allow them to emerge, will become indispensable to organizations in the next decade. Strategic Creativity is this new capability, bridging the gap between humanities, business, science, technology and the social sciences. Strategic foresight explores the significant possibilities at the intersection of new technology and emergent latent behaviour. The exploration of possibility requires imagination as a prerequisite for strategic change and innovation.
IMAGINATION AS A SPACE OF POSSIBILITY
On October 12, 1492, at dawn, a fleet of three ships - the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa María – had first sighting of land since leaving Spain, two months earlier. The place was close to San Salvador, in the Bahamas. The people that greeted Columbus called it Guanahan. They were the Taíno, an indigenous culture who lived peacefully as farmers and fisherman. They traveled in dugout canoes, trading with other islands and sharing a common language while sustaining sensitive and respectful relationships with their environment. They were led by the Cacique, the chief, and advised by the Bohique, the village shaman.
When Columbus and his men landed, the Taino greeted them with gifts of food and drink. They had never before seen white men, fully clothed with beards, and carrying all the fanfare of the Spanish Conquistadors. Accounts of the meeting emphasize the curiosity of both parties to learn about the other, although their agendas (especially that of the Spanish) may be questionable. However, after some time, the Taino and the Spanish found a way to communicate, and proceeded to ask questions about each culture.
One unexplained detail bothered the Taino about the Spanish...
"How did you get here?" they asked.
"Well, we got here on these three big boats that you can see over there", replied the Spanish.
"What boats? We can see no boats!"
Puzzling? Not necessarily. While the Taino were not blind, they had never encountered such enormous boats, and had no way to understand what one of that size meant. They could look at it for hours and still not be able to see it. The Bohique of that village -the trickster - looked at their puzzled faces and said,
"Close your eyes, and I will describe the boats to you". The Trickster was creating a space in their imagination for the possibility of a boat that big. The trickster was acting as a medium into the unseen possibilities, asking them to see with their mind first and with their eyes second. He knew that imagination creates meaning; one cannot see what one cannot imagine.
MEANING AND METHOD
Meaning is what humans create to construct a sense of reality- we are meaning making machines. We constantly try to make sense of our life by forming schemas about our experiences, actively constructing a context for identity that varies from person to person. These individual perceptions are what we base our values, goals, and aspirations on, and, in turn, those drive our behaviour and preferences. In short, the way we create meaning defines who we are and the choices we make.
But how does something become meaningful? How does it become attached and integrated? We can make meaning by looking at how something connects to the world around us, and by how something connects to each of us. More than anything, for something to be meaningful that connection has to be immediately relevant, what will this mean for my life and me? How does this "new thing" fit, change or enhance the ecology of my life and that of my behaviour?
THE DYNAMIC SYSTEM ECOLOGY OF BEHAVIOUR
A system is a set of imposed constraints on a set of variables. The word "constraints" can be misleading in this context and often seen as a negative. It is a summary of what we may call parameters, boundaries, rules of conduct, controls or operators. Typical system representations are the places and situations we encounter everyday at work, at leisure, at home.
The office, the workplace, the classroom and the baseball field are a few examples of such systems. Each one contains variables, and the rules that make them work in a way that is for the common good of all involved in the system. In the workplace, the variables are the space, the furniture, the equipment present and used, and the people using it. The constraints or rules of behaviour between variables are contained by both the physical relationship between furniture, technology and the space as well as the set relationships between the people inhabiting the space. Within the office environment we engage in actions that are seen as common for the time, place and objective to be satisfied. These actions set our behaviour range.
On the baseball field, the behaviour range is a different one and it is determined by the constraints of the rules of the game, inclusive of both the type of equipment used by the players as well as the manner in which the game is played. The variables are the players, the time of day, the temperature and the general conditions including field conditions. In the sport of high jumping, some of the variables are the jumper, the height of the bar, the landing pit contents, the time of day, the lighting conditions, the style the jumper chooses to perform in order to clear the bar, and the gallery. The constraints are the maximum distance; the jumper can run before the jump; the distance between the bar and the landing pit; and the minimum distance he must clear for a successful jump.
In cognitive behaviour, any of the systems described above are referred to as the "Task Environment": the environment that dictates and controls the task we are engaged in while in it. The combination of variables and constraints in this task environment defines our behaviour range in that specific environment. Everything within the range is seen as common. Everything outside the range of what we have defined as "normal" according to social norms in the Task Environment is considered as deviant.
The dynamic system ecology of behaviour is a system of continual change and adaptation in which each new variable entering the system – each new technology, each new individual- appends its own constraints, which in turn modify and expand the existing constraints of the variables already present in the system.
This dynamic enhances the common behaviour mode characteristics – what we have taken as the norm up to the point of the entry of a new variable - through new sets of dispositions and expectations, which become new constraints to be satisfied. By satisfying the combination of new and old constraints, we are engaged in movement leading to growth and the manifestation of new human potential.
THE COMMON MANIFEST BEHAVIOUR MODE
The actions and tasks we perform and we can observe everyday in a given task environment are referred to as the common manifest behaviour mode. In this mode the manifest variables satisfy the constraints defined by the given system as common. Common in this context refers to the manner of conducting yourself towards other people and other variables present in the given environment within the normative constraints defined as "common" or "for the common good". (Belonging to or participated in by a community as a whole; public; for the common good; common to or shared by two or more parties)
In the common manifest behaviour mode, any NEW variable introduced into the system - such as a new technology, or a new piece of furniture, or a new employee – is subjected to the same constraints (same rules, benchmarks, questions) as all the OLD variables present in the system. The new variable should provide the answer to the question "what is the problem for which the new variable is a solution?" How does this change, help or impede what I have always done.
FRAMES OF INQUIRY
In the common behaviour mode we pursue inquiry to uncover meaning by looking at the capability of a new variable - a new innovation, a new piece of equipment, etc - to be a solution to a defined or yet undefined problem. The capacity of a solution to be relevant to perceived problems in the common behaviour mode is the measure by which the variable is assigned value and meaning.
Rubber foam was the new variable introduced in the high jump drop pit box to replace sand, wood shavings and air filled bladders. Thousands of high jumpers and their coaches treated foam as if it was sand or any of the old materials used in the pit to absorb the impact of the fall. They applied to foam the same constraints as they applied to everything else; in effect, foam was seen as being the same solution to the problem of landing softly in the pit. In this Problem / Solution space we do not assign new meaning and new constraints to new variables but we make them work better. For years after the introduction of foam rubber in the landing pit the standard high jumping technique called the straddle remained virtually unchallenged. Until Dick Fosbury. For Fosbury the foam was a trigger towards the mastery of a new way to jump: the Fosbury Flop.
Fosbury perfected a style that has the jumper approach the bar with his back to it, doing a modified scissor-kick and going over the bar backwards and horizontal to the ground. A soft landing on the jumpers back requires plenty of cushioning. And the foam provides just that. Fosbury took creative advantage of the characteristics of foam rubber by exploiting the knowledge that the new variable brought about a new set of constraints. Constraint is seen here as a property of allowable use: as such, it is in fact an opportunity.
In the Common Manifest Behaviour Mode – such as the behaviour that characterizes the straddle style high jump - we use creativity to improve our condition. In this mode, creativity results in tactical innovation But we must first recognize the different nature of a new variable. The Fosbury Flop is a proven tactical innovation: it exposes a minimum of the body to the bar at any one time. It takes advantage of the body's symmetry because both arms and both legs are doing the same thing, at the same time in a straight line. In this technique the jumper can run harder towards the bar, decelerating less and achieve more power from the ground.
THE FULL BEHAVIOUR MODE
The full behaviour mode is the mode that includes the variables of both manifest as well as latent behaviour subjected to a new set of constraints specific to a moment in time. The principle here is that a new artifact - idea, environment, object or technology - reveals the latent behaviour of its users. The artifact reveals the master. The foam – as the new variable in the landing pit- revealed the full mastery of Dick Fosbury's technique. By combining the constraints of the old variables with the constraints of the new variable, Fosbury entered into a full behaviour mode, the mode in which he allowed himself to be revealed and enhanced by a new technology, a mode in which he could attempt self-actualization. He understood that the landing on foam WAS PART of the high jump. In this mode Fosbury's creativity resulted in a strategic innovation.
Technology artifacts are not only an extension of our human capability, but also a means by which we discover the new limits of our capacity. What we are capable of and the manner in which we are capable. This is consistent with Carl Roger's "self concept" and the humanistic view of psychology. According to Rogers (1951, 1959) the most basic striving of an individual is toward the maintenance, enhancement, and actualization of the self. For thousands of high jumpers active at the competitive level in Fosbury's time, the foam was seen only as a means to maintain something they were already doing. To Fosbury, the foam represented the possibility of enhancing his performance toward self-actualization: the best he could become.
"The problem with something revolutionary like that was that most of the elite athletes had invested so much time in their technique and movements that they didn't want to give it up, so they stuck with what they knew," Fosbury said. It took a full decade before the flop began to dominate the sport.
Ideas, events and many other new variables in our environment can also be triggers that allow our latent behaviours to emerge. We engage in a full behaviour mode every time we see a movie or we read a fiction story. Both movies and stories are expert at constructing triggers for emerging latent behaviour – be that fear, love, hate, desire for revenge, etc. Both serve as operating platforms that connect common manifest behaviour with latent behaviour.
SIGNALS AND THE BEHAVIOUR MODES
The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.
The "weak signal" methodology was developed by Igor Ansoff in order to improve strategic planning management practices and make organizations attentive to "weak-signals". Weak signals discovery, monitoring and interpretation are vital capabilities to business strategy, futures research, communication research, research on international security and international politics and more. According to Ansoff, "weak signals" are often inexact and difficult to observe or understand. "When a threat/opportunity first appears on the horizon, we must be prepared for very vague information, which will progressively develop and improve with time".
Ansoff defined five stages of a "weak signal":
1) the sense of threat/opportunity,
2) the source of threat/opportunity is known,
3) the shape of threat/opportunity is concrete,
4) the response strategies are understood and
5) the outcome of response is forecast-able.
The five stages assume that the signal is more often than not a change in technology, a disruption, and an event outside ourselves. Current weak signal definitions see the individual as a receiver, as a spectator to the change that is about to take place. The earlier the interaction between the receiver and the signal takes place, the more involved individuals and organizations are in shaping their own future. This view does not recognize that the signal could manifest itself in the behaviour of the people themselves and that the emergence of a latent behaviour is in effect a signal.
Others have suggested that weak signals usually come from the periphery, as half-hidden ideas or trends. In other words the burden is on the signal: it is the signal that is weak and not the organization unable to detect it. This view discounts the fact that the foam rubber pads were introduced in the high jump pit in front of everybody. The foam was in plain sight. And so was the flop. The weakness was that of individuals and not of the signal itself.
THE BEAL THEORY OF SIGNALS
We believe that signals are not at the periphery of present day reality. Signals are in our midst. The weakness of individuals and organizations in recognizing the meaning and the potential of signals – be they in emerging technologies or emergent behaviour - comes from the limits of their rational boundaries as dictated by the Task Environments in which individuals and organizations operate. The Task Environment defines the set of perceptual and cognitive constructs that dynamically frame our experience and expectation, changing and shifting with the integration of new or newly perceived signals. The weakness comes from treating signals as novelties with potentially little impact on the present. These signals surround us, and until we assign meaning, value and intensity to them, they are neutral. As if they do not exist. However, in the Task Environment we only able to infer meaning to these signals through the analysis of content, context, and history, and the versatility to synthesize this information.
Thus the Problem Space is created – the space in which every variable must be a solution to an identified or yet unidentified problem, but a solution it must be. If a new variable does not present a solution, then it has no meaning in that particular Task Environment. The first Taino setting his eyes on the Pinta would have had a hard time finding the problem for which such a large boat was a solution. In the Taino space, and in the Taino common manifest behaviour mode, such a large vessel was not only a practical impossibility for them, but did not present a solution to any of the problems the Taino could define. Therefore the boat became invisible. And without meaning.
Because we are traditionally taught to make signals make sense with efficiency and reason, we seek out and identify recognizable or familiar signals at the expense of unknown or strange signals. We may dismiss these strange signals because of our reticence or inability to redefine the process of expectation, to imagine their possibility. This inability to see beyond the boundaries of rationality is the Imagination Gap – a gap between current intellectual and technical capability and current possibility for an individual or a group.
The Beal Theory of Signals proposes the creation of a new space, the Temporary Play Space, enabling individuals to amplify the scope of their vision by creating a platform where possibility can exist and can be explored. And since the eye cannot see what the mind does not understand; a new space must be created in the mind, a space that allows for the possibility of a gigantic boat. That space is in one's imagination.
This is the creation of a new platform allowing for a full behaviour mode, a platform in which common manifest behaviour can be connected with released latent behaviour.
This is the creation of the capability to see the boat.
In Temporary Play Space every disruption, innovation or emerging behaviour – every signal - is revealed to contain from its inception four folds: Precise, Undeniable, Intuitive and Sensed.
FOUR FOLDED SIGNALS
In "Scenarios, Strategies and the Strategy Process" Kees van der Heijden recounts a passage from the movie "Lawrence of Arabia". It is a scene in which Lawrence and his guide are taking a rest at a well during a trip through the desert. They are thirsty, tired and very hot when they barely see a small, almost imperceptible speck on the horizon. As they sit around, the speck grows, moving toward them, coming closer and closer. This is a story about a sensed signal about to become precise. One can intuitively distinguish a form – it is a rider on a camel – and in time, both Lawrence and his companion can undeniably declare that this is a man, with a gun, on a camel. As van der Heijden puts it "They wait. They watch. They wait. Two guys standing there, not knowing what to do about an approaching unknown." It is not long before the "signal" becomes precise for Lawrence's companion; while attempting to retrieve his revolver, he is shot dead by the approaching rider.
According to van der Heijden this story "illustrates some of the weaknesses of the 'predict and control' approach to decision making and suggests why scenario thinking may help. Having identified an approaching speck on the horizon the decision maker tries to work out what it might be. In the film the two people work hard at it. Various hypotheses are explored. On the other hand nothing much is done in terms of response while they are trying to find the right answer. They assume they need to know what the future will bring before they can work out what needs to be done. "
Would an animal have done nothing? Unlikely. An animal would have been in motion, in action, from the first sighting of the speck on the horizon. And what if the travelers were not Lawrence of Arabia and his guide resting at a well in the desert, but Sony and Vivendi International? And what if the speck was the iPod? Or Nokia and Motorola were at the water well and Skype was the blurry speck on the horizon?
Van der Heijden's example points to the imperative of having the "capability to see the boat". To see, make meaning and understand the implication. And most important: to be provoked to action from the first trace of a signal. As used in strategic foresight, action research is a flexible process that allows the knowledge it discovers to change the parameters of the inquiry itself, and to pursue that which it discovers. This is a process of change and of understanding the nature of the change; informed change in turn informs change. Action informs understanding. And understanding unfolds the signal.
In the case of the Taino, this capability would have revealed that behind the precise signal of the boat - its physical presence – one will find it undeniable that the boat contains people; it would have been easy then to intuitively understand that there are, somewhere beyond the horizon, more boats like this one and more people and finally, one could sense that both the people and their boats must come from someplace, a place where they make boats this big and a place that has even more people, probably lots of houses and definitely more boats.
The apparition of the Pinta was a trigger event. It signaled the boat and everything that came with it. In the precise fold the signal is exact, accurate and detailed; it gives the receiver all the data that becomes the needed information to reveal another signal fold: that which is undeniable. That which is real, cannot be ignored or refused, and is of potentially high impact. Experience and context transforms the information into knowledge, and unfolds the intuitive: something is there, it is likely to change, and I have witnessed this before. I need to make a decision. Drawing on knowledge and experience, insight and common sense, I use wisdom, to sense the possibility that the signal brings about. Insights allow for the awareness of that possibility; I can now draw a full picture of the events about to become history.
The capability to map these signal folds in the earliest stages of the apparition of a signal accelerates the understanding of the possibilities resident in the signal, and allows for the appropriate course of action to be chosen. An appropriate course of action will maximize the opportunity – or minimize the threat - for both individuals and society. The ecology of behaviour creates or inhibits the opportunity for latent behaviour. The Ecology of the Temporary Play Space creates opportunity; the Ecology of Common Manifest Behaviour suppresses it.
The Temporary Play Space is a construct that allows for the emergence of latent behaviour faster because new technology is generally encountered in Play Space – in toys, in story telling, in newsprint and books. Our first exposure with technology is by means of the toys we played with as children. In the recent past the electric train, the electric car, the flying discus, the electric boat; today all forms of play on digital consoles. This "wow" moment of the encounter with a new variable is a moment removed from everyday life and from common manifest behaviour. We believe that Emergent Technology and Emergent Behaviour are best understood when explored in the Temporary Play Space.
THE TEMPORARY PLAY SPACE AS PLATFORM FOR POSSIBILITY
The Temporary Play Space is the operating platform where, in the form of Future Scenarios, we can simulate new environments in which common manifest behaviour is connected with latent behaviour.
The Future Scenario suspends the rules of the common behaviour mode creating instead a new set of variables from both manifest and latent behaviour. By combining objects and environments we are familiar with – and to whom we have assigned value and meaning – with objects, technologies, ideas and environments we have never encountered before – the future scenario creates a full behaviour mode with its own individual constraints.
The Future Scenario becomes the fuel of the Temporary Play Space, where imagination can accelerate an ecology of possible meaning without the hindrances and limitations of rational behaviour found in the Problem Space. The Space provides a venue to learn imagination and incorporate its meaning and implication into cognitive behaviour. The premise of the narrative – the future scenario's point of departure – establishes a new set of dispositions and expectations that allow for the emergence of latent behaviour. Future scenarios are not about what technology will do in the future; they are about what we want to do and will be able to do in the future. They are people centered.
By dissolving the rational boundaries of the Problem Space and conventional education, the Temporary Play Space is a platform limited instead only by imagination. A future scenario is a story about people and how they interact with daily life, chores, and objects. It describes interactions with technologies, products and services that do not yet exist. A future scenario describes possibility.
CHARACTERISTICS OF TEMPORARY PLAY SPACE
The Temporary Play Space is a construct that combines the attributes of a compelling experience with the characteristics of play behaviour. The innovation strategy firm Doblin, under the leadership of Larry Keeley, has described (1997) Compelling experience dimensions as having three stages, two transitions and six attributes. The stages are Attraction, Engagement and Extension with Entry and Exit as transitions. The attributes of these stages are Defined, Fresh, Immersive, Accessible, Significant and Transformative.
The space has a distinguishable entry point – a point of departure. The point of departure is attractive and engages the imagination. Take the question "Would you like to be invisible for a certain period of time every day? If the answer is yes, then you have entered the space. A follow-up question might be "How would you use your invisibility?" – this insures that you are now engaged. The attributes of the story – future scenario - need to be definable. One should be able to explain the intent of the narrative with minimum effort to others. This implies a level of emotional and intellectual accessibility. Once emotionally involved in the story, one is immersed and will continue to be so for as long as the experience is significant and presents a continual challenge, but a challenge that can be mastered. Mastery is the reward. (There are clues around, and the mystery can be solved.)
As a compelling experience, the temporary play space uses these dimensions while adding the characteristics of play behaviour.
A Free Engagement: by which the entry in the story space is not obligatory;
Separate: by which the story space is circumscribed within limits of space and time, defined and fixed in advance;
Uncertain: by which no course can be entirely predictable, leaving room for surprise, wonder and discovery;
Unproductive: by which the aim is not to create with that space any goods or any formal elements of wealth;
Governed by rules: by which the space suspends ordinary laws and establishes new legislation, which alone counts; and
Never a Task: by which there are no tasks to be accomplished and benchmarks to be measured against.
FRAMES OF INQUIRY AND BEHAVIOUR MODES
In the full behaviour mode we pursue inquiry to uncover meaning through the capability of a new variable to define the question for which the variable represents the answer. The hypothesis here is that answers have generating – even if sometimes undefined - questions. The ability of a disruption – a new variable - to define a generating question is the measure by which the variable has value and meaning within the Full Behaviour Mode of Inquiry.
Imagine you have just witnessed the landing of a UFO and a huge flying saucer is sitting right in front of your eyes, heat still rising from the hidden engines. What do you see? What is the meaning of this object? You cannot measure it according to old benchmarks – it is not just another form of transportation, it does not present a solution to any of your practical everyday problems. In our task environment the landing of the UFO brings a new variable with, potentially, many new sets of constraints. You are now in a full behaviour mode and the frame of inquiry that will reveal meaning by unfolding the precise signal is "What is the question for which the variable is the answer?
So, What is the question for which the UFO is the answer?
While in the problem/solution frame of inquiry we can find a number of solutions suitable to solving a given problem, in the question/ answer frame there is only one question for which the UFO is the answer. "Is there life on other planets?"
ONLY ONE RIGHT QUESTION
A quick exercise in the Question/Answer frame: take a coin and place it on a table. Show the coin to a friend and then cover it with a book. Ask your friend the following "what is the question for which the coin is the answer? "What's behind this book?
This frame of inquiry results not only in the unfolding of a signal, but also in revealing the meaning and archetypal purpose of an existing human artifact – seen here as any construct of purpose to human behaviour represented by an idea, a space or an object.
Imagine you have to design a new task light. You want to make a statement; you want to define a new classic. In any methodology you chose you would have to start with a question –providing you are not interested in redesigning something that already exists. You will chose a question that will help you get a deeper understanding of what a light is, and hopefully, a new insight that will make your light not only "different" but also meaningful to users. You want them to have a "wow" moment when they see it, but also the "aha" moment when they experience it.
The frame of inquiry you choose will be critical to the end result as well as to the process you choose to get there. In the common behaviour mode we pursue inquiry to uncover the deeper meaning of things through the capacity of the variable to be a solution to a defined problem. In this example the task light we are presently trying to design. This frame of inquiry leads you to ask a question very much like this one:
"What is the problem for which the task light (a lamp) is the solution?"
In the full behaviour mode described earlier, we pursue inquiry to uncover meaning through the capacity of a new variable (the flying saucer) to define the question for which it represents the answer. The hypothesis here is that answers have generating yet undefined questions. And so, "What is the question for which the task light is the answer? Let us look now at where the two frames of inquiry will lead when it comes to the example of developing a new task light.
We have conducted experiments with this question with over two hundred designers, product developers and "think outside the box" practitioners. With very little variation, the process unfolded as follows:
Q. "What is the problem for which the task light is the solution?"
So where does one go from here? How do we improve the task light in a meaningful way, if all we know is that it is a solution to "darkness"? We need to ask another question – actually, a series of questions.
Q. "Why is darkness a problem?"
A. "Because I want to be productive after it gets dark."
Q. "Why do you need to be productive after dark?"
A. "Because I need to finish this project by the end of the week."
We are now three questions into this process and by all appearances, no closer to the insight that may provoke a moment of inspiration leading to the "classic task light" we are seeking.
It is important to note that the sequence in which the questions are asked will greatly influence the direction of the inquiry and the end result. So it is likely that different individuals in different circumstances will arrive at different questions and answers. Some may consider this variability as a sign of individuality and some will see it as a sign of creativity, a capability that we should encourage.
But are any of these answers bringing us closer to the meaning we are seeking? Are we now ready to design this new classic?
So what are the opportunities offered by the inquiry
"What is the question for which the task light is the answer?
ANOTHER ARCHETYPE RETRIEVAL
This is no different that the question asked earlier about the UFO. There is a question that reveals the meaning of the task light; as it was the case with the boat and the telephone, the task light comes from 'somewhere' and it leads "somewhere". We propose that this frame of inquiry results in the discovery of the archetypal purpose of the artifact, its deeper meaning.
So where does the task light come from? As we have done in the example of the telephone, we need to look at the predecessors of the task light, at the archetypes that have helped us achieve our purpose – what ever that purpose might have been - in the absence of daylight. We need to engage in a retrieval journey that will unfold in a very predictable, bias free, research based fashion: What is the predecessor of the task light?
You would have ascertained correctly that it was the lantern. What was the predecessor of the lantern? The candle. And that of the candle? In a very short time you will come up – intuitively or through a quick search- with the torch. So now we have something relevant to ask, something that contains at the core of the query the archetype, the model and the most meaningful representation for all that followed. And so:
"What is the question for which the torch is the answer?
THE MAMMOTH OUTSIDE THE CAVE
We jump back in time 180,000 years. You are, by now, a "Homo Sapiens", part of a group, taking shelter in a cave. You have barricaded the entrance to the cave, terrified by the mammoth parked outside. Soon, you will run out of food. And going out is not an option. Something needs to be done; you need to find something to eat "inside" this cave. But it is a dark and frightening place that you have never ventured into. And you may ask yourself "how can I explore this cave and find something we can eat?" You poke a stick into the firebox, your group's most precious holding. The stick caches on fire, throwing enormous shadows on the walls of the cave. You can "see" the walls. You can see beyond the darkness in front of you just a few moments before. And you have just invented the torch. And the task light.
How can I explore? Did you ever wonder why the Statue of Liberty holds a torch in her hand? And what is the meaning of that torch? And did you know that most university insignias have a torch as one of their central elements? The torch is the symbol for enlightenment and knowledge. The pursuit of a wondrous journey.
"What is the question for which the task light is the answer?" How can I explore, how can I enlighten myself? How can I journey from being to becoming? You are now ready for strategic innovation and ready to develop a new classic.
THE KEY OPPORTUNITY
The opportunity for strategic foresight is in recognizing the different nature of the inquiry that we undertake in different modes of behaviour, and the inherent capacity of one frame of inquiry to generate strategic outcomes.
1. In the common manifest behaviour mode we use creativity to improve our condition. This is the Problem/Solution space. In this space any new variable must be a solution to an identified problem – and creatively, we use the variable to improve the efficiency of our daily tasks with the result creating a Tactical Innovation.
2. In the full behaviour mode we use imagination to transform our world by actualizing our capabilities. This is the Question/Answer space; in this space new variables allow us to imagine and discover new capabilities that reveal latent behaviours and new needs. In the full behaviour mode Imagination results in Strategic Innovation.
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