"The impossible has a kind of integrity to it which the merely improbable lacks."
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
One of my favorite MG Taylor axioms is "You can't get THERE from HERE but you can get here from there." Backcasting has become popular over the years but when we first used it with our clients in 1980, it seemed very strange - and powerful - to them. Work walls to work big on? Collaboration across all boundaries, both vertical and horizontal? Unleashing Group Genius? These were things our clients had never thought about, let alone experienced. There was no proof in our beginning, no benchmarking. We simply had to put our concept to work.
RUN-WALK-RUN is a process we used on ourselves when we founded MG Taylor Corporation and put into place methods and tools that were not available in the market place. R-W-R is the process of leaping out into the future and envisioning a world that could be - well beyond what you know to be possible from the vantage point of here or today. Between THERE and HERE there are many possibilities. What is known that could help us realize our vision? One example of this was our need for large write on walls as we were sure that working big was a critical tool in enabling deep collaboration. No walls could be found. Possible vendors stared at us like we were crazy. So we made the walls ourselves by finding a manufacturer of refrigerators and getting access to the surface materials on refrigerators. One weekend with a rented truck, colleagues, and Matt's artistic imagination and engineering skills, we created our first Working Big environment of at least 20 4 by6 foot panels.
We invited friends into the space and asked what to do with the space. Draw, create, share ideas, work together were the responses. Our walls were covered with ideas and plans. Because we had created a tiny part of our vision and been willing to share it, others were able to engage with us. In a single afternoon of working together, one office supply store owner wanted to put his furniture in the space as a showcase. Others had ideas for how to make the environment work better. We were off and running, learning as we went.
WALK signifies what isn't to be found and needs to be made up from scratch -- something that can fill in while waiting for someone to invent it. An example of the WALK process was with cameras. One of our first modules was Take-A-Panel where individual participants would create a story by doing backcasting. Their story would tell how they solved problems, combined ideas, organized for success. This was a powerful exercise. Participants told us they had never been asked to think this way and that it was wonderfully liberating and useful to them. We tried photographing each panel but in 1981 we just could not get clear images and the flash created a large white blob making it impossible to read the story. We knew two things: 1) This was documentation that meant a lot to each participant; therefore, we could not just say sorry. 2) Each story was hand written using various colors. Images were often used. It did not work to keyword each panel. When we handed typed stories to the participants, they could not find themselves. The stories were not theirs and they could not relate to them. There seemed to be no memory hooks inherent in this recreated version of their story.
We created WALK by having KreW members redraw each panel using the same colors and when possible, the same hand styles. It was an extraordinary and tedious task. We often had 30 to 80 participants and we needed to get all the walls redrawn (each with craft and care) within a 20 to 30 minute time frame. Five to ten KreW members would step up to this task! There were benefits though. Some KreW went on to becoming graphic facilitators. Walls were their practice ground. And always, the drawing of the stories brought insights forward, things that would be missed if they had not been read word for word, concept by concept. This understanding strenghtened our design process.
Polaroid offered to help in the early 90's but their cameras still left that ugly white spot and it was difficult to get a whole panel with one shot. Software came out that helped remove the white spots and bring out the colors. This proved to be our Walk for several years. I am sure there are many memories of these WALKs phase by KreW members.
Then in the mid-90's WALK turned to RUN with electronic cameras. The editing could be completed right in the camera and it was all electronic! Wow! I can still remember the celebration when photographing walls became a simple reality!
People often asked why we went to all the trouble. Wasn't it terribly inefficient? From HERE, yes. From THERE, no. There was tremendous learning going on through all the WALK years so that when it came time to RUN, we knew what we were looking for and exactly how to use the state of the art. We were much closer to our original vision. If we had foregone this part of our method, we probably never would have picked it back up, even when it was possible.
If you have a vision and an intention, begin doing it. A RUN-WALK-RUN attitude will build strength and resilience into your design. Fast and slow can work together. In terms of the MG Taylor method, there is still plenty of WALKing to do. Our vision was way ahead of our time. Now, however, because of technology and an expanding network of practitioners, such as The Value Web, WALK is becoming RUN faster and faster! The sytem has kept its integrity throughout all of the WALKS and the understanding by the network has deepened because along the way, they have all been way-finders of different parts of the system.
As humanity enters a new paradigm there will be plenty of R-W-R times. Our network is practiced, however. We are ready to design our way forward.