To make magic happen, get out into the world and see it for yourself

A leadership practice for getting inspired

Senior leadership teams often struggle to find the time for open-ended exploration and getting inspired. It’s easy to get stuck in the same routines, feel consumed by the work that needs doing today, and therefore push off exploring the possibilities that tomorrow holds. But by operating this way, leaders often end up reacting to disruption rather than preempting it themselves.

How might leaders spark more creativity in their day-to-day work? Design the offerings that have yet to be discovered? Serve markets that no one knows are out there?

At SYPartners, we believe these kinds of breakthroughs and transformative change are possible through the process of See-Believe-Think-Act. By seeing something new, leaders are able to build belief in new possibilities. This allows teams to then think more creatively and act in more unified, sustained ways.

But to get any of this started, the first, and perhaps most critical, step is seeing. One of the best ways to see is to call a timeout and embark on a seeing tour—to give brains the chance to reset and flashes of insight the chance to strike.

A recent example: An executive team explores San Francisco.

As part of a long-term consulting engagement, we recently sent six groups of leaders from a global food and beverage company out into San Francisco with a map, a list of destinations, and instructions to come back with the most inspiring stories and ideas that they could apply to the strategic plan they had just aligned around. The purpose for all of the groups was to explore innovative retail experiences, premium customer experiences, and the role of technology in human connection, but each of the six tours had its own unique flavor so when the groups came back together, they all had something special to share.

We designed one tour to start at the Walt Disney Museum to discover how delight and magic are infused into every touchpoint of the guest experience. We sent another team to the robotics research lab at Autodesk and CafeX, a robot coffee bar, to explore what human connection means without humans (short answer, it’s lacking). Other teams explored art galleries in alleys, book stores, pop-ups, and science museums so they could consider retail from unconventional vantage points they hadn’t considered before.

When everyone returned, we asked each team to share their most poignant insights and observations that could be used to drive forward the company’s strategic plan. Through sharing their stories and ideas, the team was able to bond in new ways, which made the next steps of turning those ideas into action even more powerful.

Key ingredients for designing a successful seeing tour:

  1. Plan for 3–4 hours out exploring. Shorter timeframes are possible, but may feel rushed, and longer ones are possible, but you’ll want to build in plenty of downtime so people still feel energized, rather than exhausted, by the end.
  2. Define a strategic intent for the seeing tour. What do you need inspiration around? In this case, leaders were seeking inspiration around human connection through premium, innovative retail experiences.
  3. Pick your destinations. This is the most important part of the planning process. Consider your brief broadly and come up with unexpected locations by flipping the customer segment or the industry. For example, if you’re in the consumer tech business, what might you learn about customer experience from a hospitality company? If you’re in fashion, what might you learn about building a lifestyle brand from a cult fitness center? Be sure to choose some edge cases and extremes — like the robot cafe—so boundaries are explored.
  4. Prepare the participants. Create a workbook for leaders with a map and questions to engage them and encourage them to take photos, sketch, pick up souvenirs, and start conversations. Ask them to talk to someone in line about why they are waiting to try that particular brand of ice cream. Invite leaders to close their eyes for a minute and take note of everything they hear and smell in a cafe. Give them tips on the questions to ask or nuances to explore so they get the most out of their limited time.
  5. Embark. The fun begins when everyone actually leaves the office and starts exploring. Brief everyone on the purpose of the tour, give them instructions about when and where to meet at the end, and send them on their way.
  6. Come together, share, ideate. Set a time and place to debrief on what everyone has experienced. You might plan the share out as a series of skits that participants deliver or a competition around a specific prompt, like the best idea for a new product or innovation. Capture the top three ideas or insights and make a plan to move each of them forward.

And don’t forget to enjoy yourself — the bonds made through shared exploration will last long after the tours are complete.

Jennifer Muhler is a Strategist at SYPartners in San Francisco. She began her journey as a designer, with eight years in the practice and study of architecture (the building kind, not the data kind) before transitioning to business consulting and strategy after completing her MBA in Design Strategy at California College of the Arts. She can often be found in a yoga class or hiking throughout the Bay Area with her husband and rescue pup.