Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Museums of the future, future memories, retrospectives and change

In his book The Living Company Arie de Geus suggests the role of planning, particularly scenario planning, is to create memories of the future. By under taking the planning exercise we conceive of how the world may look different, we prepare our brains for a future that is not simply a repeat of tomorrow. The actual plan isn’t so important, the important thing is we’ve imagined and visited a world that is different.

This last weekend’s FT has an interesting piece on the increasing world urbanisation, particularly in India and China - here is the link. What caught my eye was mention of China’s museums of the future. This is the second time I’ve heard of these museums which display the designs and plans for the cities China is building and extending.

Future museums strike me as a great way to create future memories. The idea that I can go and see how things may, or should, be in the future is brilliant. Perhaps they even have people on hand so I can ask questions of. Of course I don’t now if the Chinese planners are explicitly trying to create future memories or if they have read Arie de Geus but that’s not really the point.

When people are faced with change, whether is be new buildings, a new environment, or a changed work environment, maybe new processes they are naturally inquisitive. If their questions can’t be answered they start to hypothesis and make things up - they create their own future memories. Since they don’t know their hypothesises are right they have doubt. Doubt about the future, and some possibly negative hypothesis creates fear.

Now your change efforts are facing an up hill battle, fear and doubt have entered the scene and different people have different ideas about what the future should look like, so, when the future does arrive they respond to it differently rather than consistently.

Creating future memories is one way to overcome these problems. Future memories can help remove the doubt, uncertainty, fear and help build a shared understanding of what the future will look like and how we should act when it arrives.

So far I know of several ways of creating future memories:

  • Shared planning, specifically scenario planning - hence why I don’t like planners being a separate cadre
  • Future museums, like in China
  • Process miniatures, like the XP Game, these allow people to rehearse a future process in a small way.

A think the right sort of training can also help if it is interactive and allows people to rehearse future events. I’ll leave this hanging as I don’t know the magic ingredients for such training.

At the risk of sounding paradoxical I think one area were future memories might be able to help is with project retrospectives. I’m a big fan of these, I think they make sense and can really help your project teams learn and improve.

However, one of the problems I hear about with retrospectives is that teams undertaken them but then don’t follow through on their results. For example, during the retrospective the team identifies a problem and suggest a solution, everyone in the room agrees to do it. But outside the room, the next day, nothing actually changes. The team carries on as before.

I wonder if, after the retrospective, after identifying problems and solutions the team can somehow create a future memory of itself doing this. Maybe the team could build a model of the change, or maybe role-play the change. The idea would be to have team members understand and practice the change to remove doubt, uncertainty and misunderstandings.

Perhaps we need to pair retrospectives with future-spectives.