March 12, 2012

We welcome comments from anyone on any blog post; we want to generate active, meaningful dialogue about issues related to the future of work, the workforce, and the workplace. However, we will not approve blatantly commercial comments, and we reserve the right to edit submitted comments to ensure mutual respect and remove commercial promotions.

I’m very pleased that Diane Coles Levine, MCR, a member of the board of directors at IFMA, has just published an interview (really an extended conversation) with me about my most recent book, Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age.

The interview appeared in FMLink, where Diane is a regular columnist. Here’s the link to the article/interview:

Driving Impactful Workplace Strategy Conversations

Thanks Diane!

Are you ready to make all your meetings both productive and popular? Need to design a powerful conversation with your executive team? Call me today at +1 510.558.1434 to schedule a free 20-minute conversation about your meeting leadership challenges. Upgrading your organization’s meeting design and leadership practices is a simple process that can pay huge dividends in productivity, employee engagement, and organizational effectiveness. 



I ended last week immersed in an intensive two-day extended conversation with about 65 really smart workplace designers, real estate executives, facility management professionals, architects, consultants, and HR/leadership experts.

I was a participant, a presenter, and a co-designer of the first innovation workshop that brought together the Workplace Evolutionaries (WE) and the Real Estate and Advisory Leadership (REAL) communities within IFMA (the International Facilities Management Association). The workshop was hosted by Nike at its Tiger Woods Conference Center in Beaverton, Oregon.

There is no simple way to summarize the many presentations, conversations, and working sessions that engaged and excited all of us. [click to continue…]



(image from

The recent passing of Alvin Toffler has led me to reflect more than usual on the challenge we still face of overcoming – or at least surviving – “Future Shock.”

Toffler defined Future Shock (way back in 1970) as the “dizzying disorientation brought on by the premature arrival of the future.” As Farhad Manjoo commented in the New York Times on July 6:

…‘unless intelligent steps are taken to combat it,’ [Toffler] warned, “millions of human beings will find themselves increasingly disoriented, progressively incompetent to deal rationally with their environments.”

How’s that for an accurate forecast? Considering that Toffler issued that warning close to 50 years ago, it was uncannily prescient.

Manjoo goes on to comment in his excellent thought piece (“Why We Need to Pick Up Alvin Toffler’s Torch”) that it is both ironic and tragic that “futurism” has gone out of style. Now, when the pace of change is accelerating faster than ever, and the potential sources of disruption are ever more numerous, is exactly when we need to think constructively about where we’re headed. [click to continue…]


Telescope_to_RightHow many times have you completed a strategic planning exercise, or a visioning effort, with high energy, high hopes, and exuberant optimism that the effort will finally – finally! – produce meaningful change, only to see everything evaporate in the face of organizational resistance and/or apathy?

Achieving lasting and meaningful change in large organizations often feels impossible. It’s like Sisyphus rolling that boulder up the mountain, only to see it cascading back down to the valley, and having to start pushing it uphill all over again – and again, and again.

If that’s your experience, considering organizing a Future Search Conference. It’s one of the best ways I know for getting that boulder to stay at the top of the mountain.

The approach was invented/developed by Marvin Weisbord and several colleagues in the early 1990’s. It is documented, with plenty of tips and techniques along with several very compelling case examples, in Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment, and Action, by Weisbord and Sandra Janoff. [click to continue…]


toffler-smI was deeply saddened to learn of Alvin Toffler’s passing earlier this week. He was not only a brilliant futurist, but a decent and caring human being. He and his wife and business partner Heidi Toffler essentially invented futurism, and they had a major impact on my own life and career.

I won’t attempt to write a full history of Toffler’s contributions to our world; that has already been done, and done far more eloquently than anything I could say. See this from the New York Times:

Alvin Toffler, author of Future Shock, dies at 87

And this online note from his colleagues at Toffler Associates is also worth reading:

The Toffler Legacy

I still remember the first time I saw Future Shock in a bookstore (it was in 1971, though I have no idea where). If I recall correctly, it was the first mass market paperback ever published with multiple alternative covers (green, blue, and red) – a perfect demonstration of the “mass customization” of products that the Tofflers wrote about in that seminal book about global cultural change. [click to continue…]



“Creating a positive future begins in human conversation. The simplest and most powerful investment any member of a community or an organization may make in renewal is to begin talking with other people as though the answers mattered.” – William Greider

For the past six years I have hosted a monthly “open mike” conversation focused on the forces that are driving the future of work. It’s called Talking About Tomorrow.

Over the past twelve months, 25 talented individuals have engaged in a one-hour group “mind meld” on the second Thursday of each month, sharing their insights about how the nature of work is changing and what the future might look like. It’s a powerful way to expand your “peripheral vision” and prepare for the future.

For the next two weeks I am opening the program to new members.

Please consider joining. For a small annual fee, you can become an integral part of a diverse group of very smart people and engage with your peers in a far-reaching, extended conversation about the future of work. [click to continue…]


As someone who thinks a lot about the future (and in particular about the future of work), I often remind my clients that in fact the future doesn’t actually exist. We all imagine what the future will be like, or what we want it to be like. But of course we can live only in the present – in the moment. That’s the very nature of existence.

But that reality is what makes life so exciting. We, all of us together, create the future every moment of every day. The actions we take, and the choices we make, add up to what tomorrow will be.

Yet in a world where so many things seem so uncertain, it often seems futile to make any effort at all to predict the future. The future is not only hazy and difficult to anticipate, it can feel chaotic, uncertain, and downright mysterious. How often have you just thrown up your hands in frustration and refused to spend any time at all thinking about tomorrow?

That’s probably why most of us don’t spend anywhere near enough time thinking about tomorrow, even if we can’t do anything about it in the short term. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad pointed out many years ago (in Competing for the Future) that the typical executive team spends less than 3% of its time thinking and talking collaboratively about the future and how it might affect their organization.

For me that is truly frightening. Too many of us rush headlong into tomorrow without a clue of how – or if – it’s going to be different from today.

Peter Drucker once observed that planning for the future isn’t about what is going to happen at some distant time beyond tomorrow; no, it is about what you do today to prepare yourself and your organization for the future you think is going to happen.

But that means that the first step in strategic planning is to spend some quality time developing an understanding, no matter how crude, about what could happen, or might happen, in the future. Having an informed sense of what is possible, let alone what is probable, must be at the very beginning of strategic thinking.

But how can you expect to make any sense at all of the blooming, buzzing confusion that comes at us these days with the force of a high-pressure fire hose?

I recently rediscovered a powerful book that offers an insightful way of thinking about how to move from confusion to problem-solving to certainty about what the future will be like.

DesignofBusinessThe book is titled The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. The author is Roger Martin, who was Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto from 1998 to 2013 (he currently heads the Martin Prosperity Institute and writes a regular column for Business Week’s Innovation and Design channel).

It’s a great read. Here I just want to highlight Martin’s concept of a “knowledge funnel” that describes a three-phase process through which we move from being overwhelmed by a mystery to developing heuristics for coping with that chaos, to building algorithms that produce completely reliable solutions to the problems we are facing.

Martin describes several examples of how that knowledge funnel works. For example, in the 1950’s two brothers named McDonald had opened a couple of restaurants in southern California but were struggling to make them profitable. One of their suppliers was a milk-shake machine salesman named Ray Kroc who consulted with the McDonald brothers to help them make sense out of how the automobile was creating a whole new mobile culture and changing the rules of the game for the restaurant business.

Over several years Kroc and the McDonalds tinkered with their business model, trying a variety of different ways to become more efficient and more popular with their customers.

One of their first heuristic solutions was to eliminate the car hops (servers) who delivered burgers and fries directly to cars in the parking lot. They also standardized on the size and cooking time for the burgers, invented deep-fat fryers for cooking french fries quickly, and identified the precise skillsets they needed to look for in the servers they were hiring. It took many years, but they gradually moved from guesswork to proven methods that enabled them to teach almost anyone how to operate a successful fast-food restaurant.

Before long, they had moved from a chaotic, unprofitable, small-scale business to an incredibly successful franchise operation that has by now served close to 1 trillion hamburgers, from over 13,000 locations arou
nd the world.

That’s the power of design thinking. It starts with discovering patterns in the midst of chaos, inventing rough “rules of thumb” that begin creating value, and moving from there to highly precise algorithms that generate predictable, reliable outcomes:

I believe every senior executive needs to understand how Roger Martin’s knowledge funnel works; while each knowledge-creating venture is unique, the process unfolds in a consistent fashion. The essence of taking charge of tomorrow is the process of converting chaos into certainty. That’s the journey we are all engaged in, every day of our lives.

If you want to demystify your organization’s future, and understand the choices you have to make today in order to thrive tomorrow, give me a call at +1 510.558.1434. I welcome the opportunity to help you explore the mysteries of the future and build an effective knowledge funnel for your own organization.

Contact me today for a free 20-minute conversation about how you can make your strategic planning meetings both productive and popular.


{ 1 comment }

covermeetingRecently I’ve been offering tips and techniques for making meetings more productive – and more popular. A few weeks ago I listed 10 tips for meeting leaders (“10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter”), and then on May 30 I shared a reaction to that first article that was largely inspired by Bob Leek of Multnomah County, Oregon (“Making Meetings Matter: Distributed Leadership”).

Those ideas, in turn, sparked a comment and a question from Steven Beary, Principal and CFO of The Beary Group. Steven observed that Bob’s suggestion to “call for adjournment” if a meeting isn’t going well relies on Roberts Rules of Order, which is a common source of principles for leading public-sector meetings. As Steven pointed out, in most private-sector organizations that kind of pushing back or “taking over” a meeting could well be seen as insubordination, and in any case could easily become a “career-limiting move.”

Steven then asked the following question: [click to continue…]


business meetingLast week I offered ten tips for making a meeting flow smoothly (“10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter”). They were clearly directed at meeting leaders who have responsibilities for designing, convening, and directing meetings.


Bob Leek, Deputy Chief Information Officer for Multnomah County, Oregon, responded to that article by observing that, while meeting leaders are nominally “in charge” of their meetings, individual participants also contribute directly to the quality of the meeting conversations.

Bob’s suggestions for participant leadership are so compelling that I want to share them more broadly. Here, with only minor editing to clarify his perspectives, is Bob’s advice for meeting participants: [click to continue…]