by Jack Martin Leith

Readiness work enables members of the now-to-new project team to prime themselves for the showing up of a high potential concept, by becoming immersed in the demands and dynamics of the project and having a felt sense of the new reality in which the desired results will arise.

Please note that this article is not about creating readiness for change in an organisation.

What is a now-to-new project?

A now-to-new project is one that has the purpose of bringing about a shift from the present situation (Now) to what’s needed instead (New) with the aim of generating maximum value. In an organisational setting, the project might be framed as an innovation, change or problem solving intervention, or labelled in some other way.

Read about value and value generation

Why do Readiness work?

1. It converts the brief into a well-formed design specification for the work that lies ahead.

Never take a brief at face value. Treat it as a discussion document. No matter how set in stone it may appear, the brief is always provisional — nothing more than a first stab at specifying project requirements and providing supporting information. This is equally true whether you are a member of an internal project team or you have been brought in as an external service provider.

2. The extended project team becomes immersed in the demands and dynamics of the project.

The extended project team is composed of all those whose contribution, co-operation and consent are vital to the successful completion of the project.

Contribution means active participation. Co-operation means providing occasional assistance or, at the very least, not blocking progress. Consent means giving formal or informal approval to the proposed course of action.

Without the voices of these people in the room, certain assumptions will go unchallenged, some beneficiaries’ interests and requirements will not be taken into account, vital pieces of the jigsaw will be missing, and there could be trouble ahead.

3. A shared declaration of intent emerges.

Intent is a heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way and utilise value generation potential to the full.

4. Creative imagination is activated and a potent concept appears: one that has the potential to generate maximum downstream value.

“What inspired the lyrics for Palaces of Montezuma?”

Sue, Doncaster, UK.
“I’m not really sure what inspired the lyric. It’s not the sort of question I feel I have the authority to answer. These songs, you know, just present themselves.”

Nick Cave

Nick Cave, The Red Hand files, Issue #93 | Subscribe

Truly original ideas having the potential to enrich the world come to us by means of creative imagination, and not through synthetic imagination, which produces derivative ideas and mediocrity. Brainstorming (as conceived by Alex Osborn) and its derivatives tend to produce mediocre ideas. Some will dispute this and cite academic research, but my experience supports the assertion. In contrast, when Readiness work has been completed, the answer often presents itself without the need for sterile diverge-then-converge ideation activities.

Read more about creative imagination including more quotes like the one from Nick Cave

Readiness is the start of the Creative Lifecycle

Kellogg's Rice Krispies®

Work concerned with creating the new, changing this into that and expanding or utilising value generation potential is not a mechanical process like making Rice Krispies. It’s organic and messy; a continuous stream of activities rather than the sequence of discrete stages set out below. This is one of the reasons for using the metaphor of human procreation when discussing now-to-new projects.

These are the seven stages of The Creative Lifecycle:

1 | Readiness

2 | Conception

3 | Commitment

4 | Gestation

5 | Birth

6 | Nurturing

7 | Realising potential

StageHuman procreationCreative Lifecycle
ReadinessAre you ready to have a baby? Why do you want to have a baby? Is this the right time to be having a baby? What challenges will you face? Are you aware that a baby will disrupt your life in ways you cannot imagine? How can you create the right conditions for conception to occur? When is the best time to conceive?Become immersed in the demands and dynamics of the project and create a vision of realised potential.
ConceptionOne way or another, a sperm fertilises an ovum and conception occurs.Bring about a fusion of possibility (a source of potential value) and imagination (the form a suitable value generator might take) to produce, in rudimentary form, some ‘thing’ that is capable of generating maximum value for customers or users and other beneficiaries.
Commitment“Congratulations, you are pregnant.” This news forces a decision (commit or terminate?) and marks a transition from the realm of the unknown to the realm of the known.Say “Yes” to the task of bringing the value generator into the physical world.
GestationOver a nine-month period, the zygote (fertilised ovum) becomes an embryo, which develops into a foetus.Develop the embryonic concept into a fully-formed value generator.
BirthThe baby is delivered (‘deliver’ being the correct verb for once) and takes its first breath. The umbilical cord is cut. Mother and baby are now separate entities.Midwife the introduction of the value generator.
NurturingThe parents care for the baby, providing sustenance, protection and love.Care for the value generator until it is ready to stand on its own two feet.
Realising potentialThe parents help their offspring become all that he or she can be.Help realise the value-generating potential of the value generator.
Read about value and how it is generated
Here is The Creative Lifecycle in visual form. Remember that the seven stages are not really discrete, and that they are not always sequential — it may be necessary to go back and repeat some of them.
Creative Lifecycle model
Read more about The Creative Lifecycle

Readiness work in 12 parts

The following overview of Readiness work is arranged in 12 parts. Some may not apply to your particular project. Some additional parts may be called for (please tell me about them). Some may need to be done in a different sequence. And some may need to be repeated because new insights have emerged.

+ Expose and challenge any assumptions present in the brief
The extended project team, composed of all those whose contribution, co-operation and consent are vital to the successful completion of the project, gets ready for the work that lies ahead.

The team’s first task is to understand the creative brief. If this not been provided, the project team will need to produce it themselves.

The main elements of the creative brief

Intent What is the intended purpose of this now-to-new project? Why is the new value generator or state of affairs required? How does this contribute to the enterprise’s overarching intent?

Context What is providing the impetus for this project? What is the background story?

Requirements What specific results or outcomes are required? What value must be created for each beneficiary? What existing value must be preserved? What anti-value generation must be arrested?

Constraints These are the non-negotiables, the ‘musts’ and ‘must-nots’. Completion date and budget are included here.

The brief is nothing more than a sighting shot. The Readiness work converts the brief into a complete and robust design specification. Once the team has understood the contents of the brief, its next task is to expose and challenge any assumptions its authors may have made.

Assumption defined

Some assumptions will be obvious; others may be hidden or disguised.

Here are a few examples:

  • “This is a design thinking project.”
  • “………….. is the cause.”
  • “The planned change will be fiercely resisted.”
  • “Agile is the way forward.”
  • “Culture is the key issue.”
+ Secure common intent
Intent is a heartfelt desire to enrich the world in a particular way.

Common intent ensures that everyone is working in unison, pursuing the same ends for the same reason. It is not synonymous with alignment, which lives solely in the mind. Intent inhabits not just the mind but also the heart. In the Japanese and Chinese languages, heart and mind are the same word: kokoro and xin respectively. You can read more about kokoro here.

Specify beneficiary value: In order to create the vision of realised potential you will need to determine the value requirements of each beneficiary group as it relates to your project. A beneficiary group is a group of entities that gain value from the enterprise in a particular way, such as customers, suppliers, or investors.

Specify the value to be generated by the now-to-new project
The value specification process enables you to examine each member of the beneficiary set and determine:

  • What existing value must be preserved.
  • What new value might be created.
  • What anti-value generation must be eliminated.
  • What value must be sacrificed for the good of the whole. When value is sacrificed in this way, the consequent generation of anti-value must be foreseen and mitigated, and those experiencing the anti-value may need some form of compensation.

The reasoning here is that if the project meets the value requirements of all members of the beneficiary set, they will support the project, or—at the very least—will not hinder its progress.

Note that creating the value specification is a painstaking process and much more than a form-filling exercise.

Vision of realised potential: The team envisions a new reality in which the required value is being generated. The vision is outward-facing: its focus is the world, not the enterprise. It takes the form of an actual picture accompanied by a vivid and compelling synopsis. It depicts a desired present, not a desired future. And it reflects an ethos of world enrichment and unconditional service.

The more members there are in the extended project team, the harder it may be to secure common intent. But time and effort spent here will reap rewards later.

+ Establish a clear line of sight
Ensure that everyone can see how the project contributes to the enterprise’s intent, or how it forms an essential part of a wider programme of work.
+ Specify end-state requirements
What specific deliverables (a term I rarely use), results, objectives or outcomes are being pursued?
+ Agree evidence of successful completion
How will you know the desired results have been accomplished? What will you see, hear, feel and say? What will others see, hear, feel and say? Answer this second question from the perspective of each beneficary group, and, if necessary, each significant member of certain beneficiary groups: customers and suppliers, for example.
+ Identify the non-negotiables
Non-negotiables are the givens, the musts and must-nots. What is ruled in and what is ruled out? Budget and completion date are included here.
+ Identify genuine constraints to accomplishment
What is preventing the desired result from occurring naturally, without the need for any kind of intervention?
+ Expose and eliminate phantom constraints
Phantom constraints are limiting factors that seem to be real but vanish the moment you turn the light on.

For example, a graphic designer receives a brief to design a new logo. The client’s non-negotiables include: “Do not use orange.” Instead of taking the constraint at face value, the designer challenges it by showing the client a dozen samples of colours that might be described as orange, and asks “Which of these are ruled out?” The client sorts the samples into three batches, which she labels orange, dark yellow and light brown. The phantom constraint has been revealed and new possibilities have arisen.

A common type of phantom constraint is what Gary Hamel (see here), and Rowan Gibson in his book The Four Lenses of Innovation, call orthodoxies. These are the norms, conventions, false assumptions, cherished beliefs, unwritten rules and sacred cows that impose limits on thinking and constrain action in an enterprise, sector or industry.

Every industry is built around long-standing, often implicit, beliefs about how to make money. In retail, for example, it’s believed that purchasing power and format determine the bottom line. In telecommunications, customer retention and average revenue per user are seen as fundamental. Success in pharmaceuticals is believed to depend on the time needed to obtain approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. Assets and regulations define returns in oil and gas. In the media industry, hits drive profitability. And so on.

These governing beliefs reflect widely shared notions about customer preferences, the role of technology, regulation, cost drivers, and the basis of competition and differentiation. They are often considered inviolable—until someone comes along to violate them. Almost always, it’s an attacker from outside the industry. But while new entrants capture the headlines, industry insiders, who often have a clear sense of what drives profitability, are well positioned to play this game, too.

How can incumbents do so? In a nutshell, the process begins with identifying an industry’s foremost belief about value creation and then articulating the notions that support this belief. By turning one of these underlying notions on its head—reframing it—incumbents can look for new forms and mechanisms to create value. When this approach works, it’s like toppling a stool by pulling one of the legs.

Source: Disrupting beliefs: A new approach to business-model innovation, by Marc de Jong and Menno van Dijk, in McKinsey Quarterly, July 2015
Rowan Gibson discusses The Four Lenses of Innovation (runtime 4:15)

+ Determine the critical success factors
Critical success factors are the five or six things that are likely to make the difference between success and failure. There are several ways of determining these factors. One way is to ask “How could we ensure that the project fails spectacularly?” and then flip the answers.
+ Explore the wider context
Questions to be answered here include: What is providing the impetus for this project? What is the story so far? What is the bigger picture?

The team explores the external factors that might have a bearing on the project, perhaps using a framework such as STEEP (Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political factors).

Discontinuities will be of particular interest. A discontinuity is a convergence of events or trends that substantially changes the structure of an industry or the rules of the game, thereby opening up new possibilities for value generation. Greg Satell writes about this phenomenon in How Inflection Points Define The Future.

+ Know what has been tried before
When seeking to solve a problem, surmount a challenge, bring about a change, conceive and introduce a new product or service, expand value generation capability or use it to the full, it’s vital that you are aware of previous attempts, and try to understand why success was not forthcoming.
+ Compile an inventory of assets
The team makes an inventory of tangible and intangible assets, including key resources and core competencies, that might be leveraged in order to accomplish the project’s objectives.

The team is now primed for the moment of conception

Now that each now-to-new team member is fully immersed in the demands and dynamics of the project, and has a felt sense of the new reality in which the desired results will arise, the team is primed for the moment of conception—when imagination produces a concept with the potential to generate abundant value and enrich the world. The concept may reveal itself as a mental image, a rough sketch, a physical feeling, an inner dialogue, a few words, a metaphor, a symbol, or in some other form.

Read  about The Creative Lifecycle in its entirety