How To Make A Difference

At The Intersection Of Framework Science And Creative Thinking. Berlin 6th-8th October 2015

Life Today.

More Fluid And Interconnected Than Ever Before.

Our work, our family and our leisure time is becoming ever more difficult to separate. For many of us it’s a meaningless distinction, for others it’s a constant battle to maintain a healthy balance.

Our actions have huge ripple effects within our communities and across the globe. We have so many influences that determine the choices we make — who we buy from, how we consume, what causes we support, where we travel, how we judge others and what we value (to name a few).

Our reliance on the resources of the planet together with our responsibility to each other and all living beings has never been so much in the balance. Nor our ability to do harm, directly or indirectly, unintentionally or otherwise.

Avoiding The Strategic Handgrenade

Life is complex and that complexity challenges us most significantly when we are engaged in our chosen pursuits — whatever the purpose. It shows up in our attempts to organise, to plan, to achieve our goals and ultimately in the ways that we engage with our ever growing networks.

It could all be better. A lot better. There is so much that we can and should do to really make a difference to how we live and manage our lives.

If not us then who? Our aim is to truly make ‘our’ difference make a difference.

Making The Right Choices

Work, by our definition, is everything that we do to perform our activities in whatever area that we engage in. It’s the defining idea of human endeavor. In business, in society and in pursuit of our ideals and dreams.

Our ability to make the best choices about where, when and how we make progress (and what we define as constituting progress) is important — in many cases life and death. The subtlety and nuance required to make these decisions and deduce the best actions to achieve the difference we want requires a far more scientific approach — one that can appreciate all of the parts in play — and the part they play.

A Science.

Science, by definition, is both an intellectual and practical activity. It ‘encompasses a systematic study of the structure and behaviour of a particular field’. Framework Science, our specific domain, deals with the complex nature of both the tangible and intangible characteristics of work and how to make that fit and ready to deal with the world.

The Advent Of Framework Science

Framework Science is applied through forensic observation of a situation, the application of creativity and collaborative development. All of that relies on us unlocking the right information.

And once we have that information determine through genuine logic and reasoning which bits we determine will create value and allow us to make the right choices.

The world needs such tools and techniques so that it can accurately respond to ‘real’ situations and the vitally important challenges that now prevail.

The Science Allows Us To See All The Moving Parts In The System

It allows us to understand their interactions and implications, and act accordingly.

Once understood it’s possible to motivate and mobilise all players to engage within a common ‘framework’. This ensures a well armed, ready and unified movement equipped and moving with confidence towards a genuinely valuable outcome.

What follows explains the model underpinning our ‘science*’ and how we apply this when building assignments — what’s often called a programme of work. A dangerous term that suggests something more temporary and formal than we all need.

*Whatever it’s called it’s both a mentality, a detailed manifesto for how to make a difference and how to make that difference stick.

The Enterprise, Society and The Natural World.

We have decided that for us — Group Partners — these are the three ‘aspects’ of the world that fire our passion.

This is where we intend to make a difference. They are where we’ve learned what does and doesn’t work and where we believe our philosophy and approach are ideally suited.

As with all things these ‘aspects’ operate through manmade or natural systems, and in each there are leaders that make key decisions about how things happen — directly or indirectly — and operational models that make things happen, good and bad.

“Each ‘aspect’ is inextricably linked and interconnected. One cannot exist without some kind of impact on the other.” — Group Partners

In The Natural World our focus is specifically on the organisations and institutions that help our fellow species and natural resources — the one aspect that has no voice of its own and whose fate rests heaviliy on the decisions of mankind.

In Society we aim to work with organisations who care about the impact they can make beyond their bottom line — the organisations on a mission to make lives better. Many will fit in the Enterprise category — and that would be genuine progress.

In the Enterprise our focus is primarily on the business, its purpose and helping them with the creation of value. This aspect in particular has a significant part to play as in most cases the organisations we work with hold the power to positively impact the other two aspects.

Each of these ‘aspects’ faces a range of opportunities and challenges. It is these opportunities and challenges that are the focus of our attention.

Our purpose is to work with them to help them to make a difference, in whatever challenge or opportunity they choose to take on.

“Making a Difference is an easy thing to claim and to aspire to — but in our new programs we intend for that to be integral to everything that we do.” — Group Partners

From the very start we need to be clear about the difference we intend to make and to be absolutely sure we go into this with eyes wide open, so that we can design a program that we know will achieve the intention.

The 7 Themes

Clients challenges all have their own unique dynamics but in our experience there are typical scenarios where we are most likely to provide the kind of help needed. We have categorised these challenges into the following themes.

The 7 themes below represent the broadest areas of challenge. They denote a need by an organisation (business, institution or authority) to get something done. Within each of these themes there are countless and differently articulated motivations (statements) that drive the leader to reach out for answers.

We call that statement the ‘exam question’. Without it we risk solving the wrong problem. As we develop the exam question we explore mandates, motivations, drivers and aspirations so that we ensure we arrive at the best expression of that exam question.

One that will enable us to answer the actual challenge.

Explaining The 7 Themes

1. Organising For The Real World

The focus here is on the way an organisation is set up, its structures, systems and operating models together with the connections to its wider ecosystem — so that the ‘business’ is set-up to succeed.

2. Shaping A New Future & Opportunity

Here the emphasis is on ‘vision’ together with the strategic direction to achieve it. Working towards an inspiring and meaningful sense of where we all want to head — a new purpose. Our objective here is to explore possible futures and push organisations to think more about the real value they could create.

3. Creating Energy & Passion For The New Purpose

This is all about creating connections between the people in the organisation and the direction the business is taking. Creating ownership within the hearts and minds of those that need to get us there. Making employees and leaders genuinely care about the successful outcomes. Ensuring they are actively engaged in clear definition and sustainable execution.

4. Getting To The Heart Of A Problem Or Challenge

This is all about getting inside a complex problem or challenge — making sure that we address the real causes, barriers and issues. It’s about avoinding thinking in isolation or silos. Thinking holistically about the system and ensuring that our thinking doesn’t solve the wrong problems really well.

5. Presenting A Compelling Argument

This is about being able to make a clear ‘business’ case a valid and evidenced argumanet for a course of action so that, whatever story or case needs to be made, it truly is defendable, compelling and authentic.

6. Energising and Mobilising Capability

This theme is all about making sure that emotional connection sticks — and that the right skills and approach is applied to seeing the work through and achieving the right outcomes over the long term.

7. Realising Value For The Benefit Of Customers, Stakeholders & Key Audiences

This theme is about being sure that genuine value is being created, that the organisation is achieving its purpose in the widest sense and that the recipients and stakeholders truly value and benefit from the work.

The 4 Dimensions Of Work

Work is a very abstract and widely variable term — it’s a helpful construct because it’s the fundamental component of activity in any organisation.

Each of our ‘aspects’ and the themes that weave around within them will be implicated by the nature of the work done — and especially the way that work gets done. In our experience the way work gets done often holds many clues to existing challenges — it tends to throw up artificial barriers to opportunity.

Existing definitions of work — mostly focused on some kind of variation of People, Process and Tools — lead organisations down well trodden paths and to organisation structures, policies and processes and enforced systems. It’s how it’s always been done.

We want to shake up the prevailing mental models from the very start and so we have introduced four dimensions of work that we think present a more progressive, creative way to refocus our energy on what it means to ‘do work’ in the 21st century.

Whatever Kind Of Work That May Be

The 4 Dimensions Of Work

The Effect of Work

This dimension is about sustaining value by knowing that work is effective and doing what is needed to achieve outcomes. And where things are not working it’s about knowing what is causing that and being able to correct situations and keep a line of sight between strategic intention and daily activity.

The Attachment To Work

This dimension is all about the connection that each member of the organisation has to the business, its vision, mission purpose and values.

It is about creating commitment through belief and emotional connection to the goals. It applies to each person as well as the teams within which individuals work.

The Discipline Of Work

This dimension focuses on how we manage the work and ensure that we do what we commit to do, that we are being consistent with our values and that we are achieving the outcomes that we set. It makes sure that we have a common definition of what good looks like.

The Design Of Work

In this dimension we are interested in the way we organise ourselves to do work. This covers everything from the physical structures that are established to allocate work through to the way that we approach the work itself. It’s how we know what matters and what it will take to deliver that.

The 5 Tests

We’ve learned that subjectivity is the natural state for everyone inside an organisation. Objectivity is a powerful part of any scientific method of discovery. It doesn’t get swayed by bias or judgement. Objectivity ensures that we achieve the best possible result of our tests.

Experience shows that challenge is important if we are to overcome making the same mistakes. Experience avoids us using outdated thinking to tackle new issues, it helps to overcome the fear of the unknown which is increasingly where the better answers lie.

That means we will undertake a series of tests to ensure that the client in each case has sufficient capacity, appetite and passion for truly solving the stated challenge and we will work with them to achieve that aim.

Some tests will directly guide the design of the programme, others will help us stay on track and identify when adjustments need to be made. Between them they tell us what matters at any stage of the programme and give us the clues as to what we should do about that.

The 5 Tests

1. Can We Make A Difference?

In the early stages — even before we reach a commercial agreement — we need to test whether it’s even possible to help our client. We will be wanting to assess whether the client has a clear appreciation of what they are potentially engaging us to support — making sure that this is aligned with what we think that would take.

2. Let’s Make a Difference

Having passed the first test of whether we (Group Partners and the client) feel that a collaborative programme can make the difference hoped for we would move into the design and configuration of the most appropriate programme for that client.

At this stage we are able to determine the investment needed — from a financial and logistical perspective and also from a capacity and capability perspective. At this stage we would expect to formalise the engagement and have a programme defined that’s tailored to the client

3. Making a Difference

The start of thinking and working differently.

While some of this work will be only relevant to the duration of the programme we would expect to be introducing new ways of thinking about work through the disciplines that we will bring to the programme. This test determines the team’s maturity, capability and commitment to the ‘new ways’ and also tests what works and what doesn’t — so that we can quickly adapt and refine new disciplines

4. Living With Difference

To a very large degree this is a continuation of Making a Difference but the focus here is on sustaining new ways — not dropping back to old habits once the engagement is over.

In here we will want to be making sure that enough people in the organisation are well versed with the frameworks that have been created and are champions of new ways of working. Critically they are self sufficient in that they can take this out to more people (themselves) and ensure it becomes the new way.

5. What’s The Difference?

To consider a programme successful we must be able to define the difference that has been made. It may be that there’s more do to beyond our current engagement and being able to tell a positive story about the benefits and impact created will be vital.

The Resulting Requirements

Our Tests allow us to see what’s going on and to understand what’s going to be needed to respond to a given situation or challenge. This feeds into the definition of requirements — the things that we have to include in our programme for it to be successful.

The tests will provoke responses that add vital data — information that we will need to begin fleshing out our appreciation of the existing ‘systems’ of work and crucially how that may need to change. Data that throws out insight and clues. They suggest how we need to think and how to design the best approach to tackling the challenge.

From the very first test, even before we are formally engaged, we are gathering information that will grow in meaning and value as we progress.

Our search for the hidden insights, the underlying issues and clues into what does and doesn’t work — and why — will be a constant throughout.

Explaining The Requirements

A Strong Story. A Meaningful Purpose. An Authentic Case. A Connected & Coherent Landscape. Clarity Over What Matters. The Hearts & Minds of the People.

The Disciplines

The pillars that underpin our work.

In each of the aspects, within every theme each test and across every requirement involved, there will be different disciplines applied. At different times, sometimes solely by us, sometimes by the team deployed to carry them out, mostly in collaboration.

Click On The Images To See Each One At Larger Scale…

The disciplines of framework science and creative thinking are what we bring to every assignment — they have been gained over many years. We are constantly exploring and learning, so these disciplines are regularly refreshed and always tailored to each program of work — while staying true to our core framework science principles and the logic explained here.

These disciplines bring together the experiences we have had in a wide array of other cases and the tools we describe below to equip the teams to deliver and execute.

Explaining The Disciplines

1. Creativity And Curiosity Infusion

An important part in the successful engaging of a team is to make it inspiring to want to reconnect. It’s part motivation, part aligning and very much about unleashing skills and capabilities that are currently gathering dust. Simply being different to the average consultant has an immediate impact on teams

2. Platform Engineering

In the modern world effective teams (can) collaborate continually, work (can) get done virtually among dispersed teams and organisational boundaries are blurred through multiple partnerships and alliances.

Embracing new ways of working means adopting new tools and systems so that work is effective and technology is being fully exploited. We do not promote any specific tool or platform but keep a constant watch on what is being introduced and how its used and we will work with teams to help them consider what would work best for them and make sure that the outcomes of the programme find the right place in the organisations infrastructure.

3. Information Design

All information is valuable and deserves to be used in the most creative and meaningful way. Everything from the design of a report through to a complex interactive system. For us this is a mixture of things — the marriage of visual and text, the structure and layout of the information, the story behind the information, the audiences and their needs of the information and the channels that we use to deliver information.

4. Visual Engineering

Visualisation is at the heart of our science and it comes in many forms. What they all have in common is a very deliberate design. These represent visual concepts that are full of symbolism and explain ideas and intentions that can be articulated from many perspectives and in many dimensions.

5. The Art of Conversation

When we talk about conversation we take a broad definition of the word. In many cases organisations have lost this art, they attend meetings with fixed agendas, they go through the motions but they don’t really talk about the things that matter and not with the right people. We elevate the importance of conversation and bring that into the programme in several forms.

6. Shifting Paradigms

A lot of what we do is to ‘bust’ outdated thinking, mental models and bad systems that are holding teams and organisations back.

To help teams adopt new ways of working and create more sustainable outcomes means they have to change the way the approach work and we will need to create that realisation with them and to help them see new models and systems that will serve them better.

7. Dynamic Configuration

At the heart of our ‘science’ is the combination of structure and creativity.

Frameworks are vital to help organisations make sense of their challenges and to be able to reach well considered conclusions.

Equally vital is the ability to spot new context, see new patterns, respond to new information — and to be able to use this in creative, imaginative ways to keep thinking in fresh and relevant ways and cope with constant change.

Both our programmes and our tools are carefully designed to be able to deal with this and any changes necessary will be reflected in new configurations of the tool and / or programme in real time. This all starts with the first hypothesis of the exam question.

8. Forensic Exploration

Throughout our work we are pushing constantly to get at the most important information — what really matters, whether its to the client and their aspirations, to tackling a problem, or to creating value (and so on) — at all stages we need to find the information that leads us to these answers.

9. Pattern & Insight Mapping

Early on in a programme we will be looking for the primary dynamics within the organisation — as well as external to the organisation. We will be making sure that we understand the influences that they have, the way that they show up and looking to test how ‘balanced’ they are.

As we work through a programme they will be a constant reference as we consider changes and dig into challenges. They will be used to test the impact of changes made so that we are alert to new dynamics or possible ‘ripple effects’ that uncover new context.

The Tools

Alongside each assignment a number of tools are brought into play at different times. Some are used perpetually and others come and go as required. In framework science a tool has a wide definition.

All tools have specific utility.

We use tools to describe the forcing mechanisms for thinking, to capture and foster the gathering of information, for collaborating online and in the real world — for communicating and for far reaching operational performance and sustainability.

Click On The Images To See Each One At Larger Scale…

In each of these situations we are stimulating, analysing, storing, creating, reporting, displaying, conveying and equipping everyone involved with visual and verbal information. The value increasing over time and with each wave and phase of work.

We see this ‘new equipment’ — these tools — as essential to making a difference. These tools are deliberately designed to be inspiring to use, to encourage conversation, creativity, faster and more accurate decision making, immersive communication and motivate engagement in and ownership of the results of this work.

Categories Of Tools

Data Gathering Tools, Contextual Frameworks, Logic Models, Communications Devices, Collaboration Hubs, Presentation Dashboards & Modelling Tools.

The Difference Engine

Making a difference is our intention in every case. Making a difference is unique — designed specifically to suit the challenge in each case. It’s a collaborative endeavour built with those who have the mandate and capability to execute.

Our techniques promote the surfacing of what matters through structured and visual thinking and framework science.

In the new world this demands scale and pace coupled with simplicity and ease of use so that it can constantly adapt to the changes that occur each day at the same time as reducing complexity and lack of engagement. This requires automation and the deployment of new technology if it’s to stand any chance of engaging everyone required.

Making a difference has to be measurable. We are building an engine to enable all of this. The Difference Engine is just that — it’s the ‘machinery’ that supports the initiative.

It allows each assignment to be built as a team effort — built on purpose and to enable us to work together throughout the challenge within the discipline of framework science. It allows that to be done on a geographically dispersed basis.

It allows us to run both the direct and indirect parts of each wave of activity — the tests and their subsequent requirements as well as the results and effects of the disciplines and tools that are applied.


The result of this is both an efficient and effective interface to the work being done and a repository for what’s been achieved — ultimately though it’s the platform for sustained difference.