If I were a maker of maxims, I would make it a maxim never to undertake an intervention to create a desired change unless and until you have thoroughly understood what you are seeking to intervene in. And not in the abstract but in all its glorious, rich, idiosyncratic detail.

And not from the outside by way of assigning things to predetermined kinds or categories, no matter how detailed and “multidimensional,” but from the inside, making the succession of patterns and sequences you observe fully intelligible, so that you can see why what you are observing could hardly have turned out otherwise.

James Wilk, A World of Questions & Answers—Part VIII, in Change on Substack

Projects don‘t so much go wrong as they start wrong.

Bent Flyvbjerg, Emeritus Professor, Said Business School; Senior Research Fellow, St Anne’s College | His book Megaprojects and risk: an anatomy of ambition is considered essential reading for project managers, sponsors and those involved in megaprojects | View profile | Cited by Richard Claydon on LinkedIn
By means of Readiness work, project team members prime themselves for the showing up of a potent idea by becoming immersed in the dimensions, demands and dynamics of the project and having a felt sense of the new reality in which the intended value will be experienced by the specified beneficiaries.

Why do Readiness work?

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.

The extended project team becomes immersed in the dimensions, 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.

Edward Matchett spoke of good design as “appropriate form” that corresponds to “the sum of the true needs of a particular set of circumstances”. Source: Anthony Blake, in The Octad (pdf; 14pp) on The DuVersity website. Through their Readiness work, the Newcreators become acutely aware of such needs.

A shared declaration of intent emerges.

Intent is a fervent desire to enrich the world, or a particular piece of it, with value, meaning and joy, utilising individual and collective value generation capability to the full.

Conceptualisation, Materialisation and Realisation work will proceed more swiftly and more smoothly when members of the extended project team are united by shared intent.

Creative imagination is activated, a vision of realised potential is formed and a potent idea reveals itself.

Truly original ideas with 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.

Creative imagination and synthetic imagination

Read more about creative and synthetic forms of imagination

Read about the G-field that streams from the unmanifest through the gap in time

Read about Think and Grow Rich!

Download Think and Grow Rich! for free and in its entirety (pdf; 397 pages)

Brainstorming (as conceived by Alex Osborn) and other mechanical diverge–converge ideation methods simply flush out ideas that are already present in the deep recesses of people’s minds.

Other popular methods rely on combinatorial creativity, where existing ideas are combined to form a new one (the C in the SCAMPER image below). Such ideas may eventually yield some degree of value, but they may not be truly original and their value generation potential may be limited. The same goes for ideas triggered by the other SCAMPER options.

SCAMPER, originated by Alex Osborn
However, with Readiness work complete and a vision of realised potential created, a potent idea can present itself without the need for any structured ideation activities.

During an appearance on the television show BBC Breakfast, David Arnold was asked how he goes about composing music. He replied: “You walk around with your aerials out and it gets delivered to you. It’s more about feeling it than thinking about it.”

View more quotes from people discussing how creative imagination influences their work
Read more: Why brainstorming does not form part of Newcreate work

Readiness work in more detail

Readiness is not a codified process, but a piece of nonlinear work consisting of the activities listed below.

Sequencing will vary from project to project.

Some items may not apply to your particular project.

Additional activities may be called for (please tell me about them).

Some activities will need to be repeated further along the path as new insights and understandings emerge.

The ideal scenario is one in which most, if not all, of the work is undertaken in a single session with all participants in the room (i.e. not participating via Zoom or Teams),

  1. Understand the brief
  2. Expose and challenge any assumptions present in the brief
  3. Know the backstory and explore the wider context
  4. Establish a clear line of sight
  5. Get clear about your motive
  6. Specify purpose and outcomes
  7. Specify beneficiary value
  8. Agree on evidence of successful completion
  9. Identify the non-negotiables
  10. Identify real constraints to accomplishment
  11. Expose and eliminate phantom constraints
  12. Determine the critical success factors
  13. Compile an inventory of assets

1. Understand the brief.

The first task of the extended project team, composed of all those whose contribution, co-operation and consent are vital to the successful completion of the project, is to understand the brief. If one has not been provided, the team will need to produce it themselves. Remember that the brief is nothing more than a sighting shot.

2. Expose and challenge any assumptions present in the brief.

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. Some will be immediately apparent; others will need to be ferreted out.

An assumption is something we take to be true without having proof that it is so. This is not to say it’s necessarily wrong, just that it is something we take as a given. All that matters here is that we are aware when we are making assumptions. […] An assumption stack is different from a single assumption or even a collection of assumptions in the way the elements of the stack are mutually reinforcing. An assumption stack is a group of assumptions that together form a large, internally consistent structure.

Brad Carter, cited by Martin Weigel, Chief Strategy Officer, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, in Fighting The Astro-Turfing Of Culture, The Gravity Well Of Banality, And The Stifling Grip Of Pre-Packaged Thinking

3. Know the backstory and explore the wider context.

Answer questions such as these:

  • What is the story so far?
  • What is providing the impetus for this project?
  • What is the bigger picture? Determine external factors that might have a bearing (opportunities as well as threats) on the project, perhaps using a framework such as PESTLE, meaning the Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal and Environmental factors.
  • What has been tried before? Be aware of earlier projects of this nature and try to understand why success was not forthcoming.

Discontinuities will be of particular interest. A discontinuity is a confluence 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.

Zoom out

When we zoom out, we can look more widely at what’s going on in space, time and context:

Seeing a wider spatial picture helps us be aware of more stakeholders, people and groups who are involved (or at least affected) by what’s happening

Seeing a wider time span helps us assess whether or when this has happened before, is it part of a recurring pattern, what transpired in the past, and what can be learned

Seeing wider contexts helps us be aware of connections, linkages and inter-relations which may not be obvious at first but can be vital in building a way forward that makes things better, not worse.

Mark McKergow, When in doubt, zoom out

4. Establish a clear line of sight.

Ensure that everyone can see how the project contributes to the enterprise’s ultimate intent, or how it forms an essential part of a wider programme of work.

5. Get clear about your motive.

The following questions are mainly for non-professional creators of the new (the laity).

  • Why do you want to initiate this project?
  • How do you intend to benefit personally? Be brutally honest.
  • Have you and your colleagues discussed your respective motives?

6. Specify purpose and outcomes.

First, state the ultimate purpose of the Newcreate project: in a single sentence, state why the project is needed.
Then specify the specific outcomes, deliverables, results or objectives that are sought.

7. 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 the same way, such as customers, suppliers or investors.

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.

This is the V-Spec template:

Specify the value to be generated by the Newcreate project
Producing the value specification is a painstaking process and much more than a form-filling exercise. It will inform the creation of the vision of realised potential that the Newcreators produce when Readiness work is complete.

Read more:


Specifying the value your new creation will generate

What is value and how is it generated?

8. Agree on evidence of successful completion.

When the project is complete, how will you know success has 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 beneficiary group or even specific individuals within a beneficiary group such as a customer or supplier.

9. Identify the non-negotiables.

Non-negotiables are the givens, the musts and must nots. What is mandatory? What is ruled out? Budget and completion date are included here.

10. Identify real constraints to accomplishment.

What obstacles or showstoppers might retard or halt progress towards the desired end state?

11. 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)

12. 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. An alternative to identifying critical success factors is,to ask: “What needs to be true for this project to succeed?”

13. Compile an inventory of assets.

Compile an inventory of tangible and intangible assets, such as resources and skills, that can be virtuously exploited to help accomplish the project’s objectives. What assets are present? What required assets are missing? How might the missing assets be acquired?

The team is now ready to bring forth a vision of realised potential, and for a potent idea to reveal itself.

Now that each team member is fully immersed in the dimensions, demands and dynamics of the project and has a felt sense of the new reality in which the envisioned value will be experienced, the team is now open to the G-field and ready for creative imagination to bring forth a vision of realised potential, and to conceive an idea for a new creation possessing the requisite value generation potential.

The vision of realised potential is a depiction — an actual picture accompanied by a vivid and compelling synopsis — of how the world will look, sound and feel when the person, group or enterprise is fully utilising its value generation potential and manifesting its intent without constraint.

Newcreators produce ideas that are potent, inspired and fitting
The idea may appear as a mental image, rough sketch, 3D model, symbol or physical feeling, or in some other non-verbal form.

Continue reading

How does Newcreate compare with design thinking?

How Newcreators use mind, body and spirit to create the new and enrich the world

How to put Newcreate into practice

Intent: the generative impulse infusing mind, body and spirit

The two forms of imagination: creative and synthetic

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