Driving Business Change Through Idealized Design: The Stages
"It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future." —Yogi Berra
In the Introduction, we saw how the startling declaration by the head of Bell Labs that "the telephone system of the United States was destroyed last night" liberated the creative thinking of an enormous corporation and allowed it to reinvent itself. Of course, the declaration was not true. However, the idea that planning should begin with the assumption that nothing now exists clears the mind to think creatively about the best possible outcome rather than be distracted by finding reasons that "it can’t be done."
In this chapter, we look at the stages in idealized design because success requires a systematic approach to the process. We begin by briefly explaining how it evolved from organizational planning in general, and conclude by describing how it was applied in the recent past to solve problems of the OnStar system at General Motors.
The chapter, and the two that follow, are intended to give you a comprehensive understanding of how idealized design works in practice in virtually any kind of organization or institution. Later chapters describe specific applications in less detail—focusing instead on the most important elements—with the assumption that you already understand the full process from these three chapters.
The Evolution of Idealized Design
Before idealized design was developed, there were three approaches to organizational planning:
- Reactivism—Reactive planners find the solution to their organizational problems in solutions that have worked in the past. They are often nostalgic about the past state of their organizations and speak about "the good old days."
- Inactivism—Inactive, or conservative, planners are satisfied with the way things are and hope that their present problems will simply go away if they do nothing. Some observers have compared this mode of thinking to Voltaire’s character, Professor Pangloss in Candide, who believed that "this is the best of all possible worlds."
- Preactivism—Preactive planners do not look to the past or present for the solution to their problems but believe that the future can be better than the present. For them, the future is an opportunity for improvement to be exploited.
The weakness in this approach is in predicting what the future will be. Any prediction of the future ensures a poor outcome. As Yogi Berra wisely observed, "It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future."
These approaches sometimes worked, but more often they did not. They were especially ill equipped to help organizations adapt to rapid changes in their environment, whether of changes in the market, changes in technology, changes in competitors, or other factors that affect their organizations. Visionary planners began to develop a fourth approach that was to result in the process of idealized design on which this book is based:
- Interactivism—Interactive planners reject the approaches of the other three planners. They plan backward from where they want to be to where they are now. They plan not for the future but for what they want their organizations to be at the present time. In so doing, however, interactive managers prepare their organizations for success in the unknowable future.