Making Our Difference Make A Difference

In the enterprise, in society and in the natural world. The next chapter that charts our thinking since MaeRim, Thailand in August 2015.

What On Earth?

We know our planet is full of opportunity yet we see the challenges in realising them turn into impossible barriers and constraints so much of the time.

The systems and behaviours that are in place prevail over the change we seek — and at almost every turn. Whether in the enterprise, government agencies or institutions the negative effects of these systems are often unfair and extremely tenacious. In too many cases the effect this has over individuals and the opportunity suffocates hope and undermines progress.

We think it would be a welcome difference if these inequities were put right.

In Every Place You Look There’s An Infinite Number Of Places That Need Very Different Ways To Think…


  • If those in charge of making important decisions took their responsibilities more seriously and spent the time to see them through.
  • If more of the decisions that get made were less about profit ‘at any cost’ and genuinely balanced.
  • If the thinking was more about the long term — of real value to everyone and everything involved.
  • If we all as individuals joined forces more and for the good of the collective.
  • If work was just different and as a result more inspiring and rewarding — more of a calling and less of a duty.


“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” — George Bernard Shaw

Anyone who wants to make a difference in their area or field needs to understand what such difference will take if they really want to make it happen. A very different mindset is going to be required. A very different way of thinking and working. Without question it means very different tools and techniques to bring about the change they want.

A Sinister Challenge?

Our enemy in all of this change has become compromise, complacency and ‘business as usual’. Many people are now fatigued by it all. Many more are frustrated by the lack of attention and engagement afforded by those in positions of decision to actually getting stuff done.

“With nearly 7 billion people on the planet — able to immediately connect and interact with each other through incredible technological advances — our world has never been a more busy, ambiguous, unfathomable and imbalanced place…”

Complex. Simple?

We’ve stopped bothering about complex or simple. Yes it is.

We observe that it’s increasingly irrelevant (and unhelpful) to attempt to classify all the complexity into convenient ‘buckets’ of any kind. For example all activities and interests traditionally labelled under Work, Home or Leisure are much more entangled these days.

We’ve decided to explain our focus within three very broad areas — three ways of looking at the challenges we see — the enterprise, the society within which they exist and the natural world that supports them both.

These are the ‘domains’ that will focus our attention in different ways and at different times.

The Enterprise, Society And The Natural World

Three Of The Most Significant And Challenging Domains.

They represent our world of ‘business’ in and all its forms. They embrace the way that humans exist within the ‘systems’ designed to either benefit or disenfranchise them in some way. These three include, the trade, the innovation, the health and wealth as well as all the challenges as a result.

They include the greater world that surrounds us and which we need to protect as it both inspires, feeds and reminds us that we are only human.

We believe that the approach we’ve been developing over the last 15 years or so has a genuine contribution to make to all three domains.

We think our approach, philosophy — the tools and techniques — have the potential to make a real difference to tackling the challenges and opportunities they each face.

Creating Spaces And Places That Enable Mindset Change…

Making A Difference?

It’s all too easy for a phrase like that to sound glib.

What does ‘making a difference’ actually mean? Why is it so important that we make a difference? And who are we to think that we have the answer?

We are starting with the strong conviction that things need to change — in each of these domains. It might be a fundamental and radical paradigm shift or making significant advances in the way things get done. Each challenge shares the same aim — to do things differently so that more value and better outcomes are achieved.

At a literal level it means that things would not be the same — progress would be tangible — things would be better. There would be real value inside each and every purpose.

A Spectrum Of Difference

In each of our three domains there’s a spectrum of how we define ‘difference’ — it shows up differently in each case depending on the domain in question:

  • More effective operations — as a result of working more intelligently and in more connected ways.
  • Improvement to people’s lives — through the creation of capabilities and opportunities that are relevant to them and their context.
  • Less inequity in the world — through genuine engagement and collaboration and deeper understanding of need and perspective.
  • Greater motivation in the workplace — through personal connection and belief in the mission and the vision.
  • More value in the exchanges between people — with more respect and care for those that deserve it.
  • An intelligent balance in the way we ‘exploit’ our planet and its inhabitants — and we mean all of them.

Making Our Difference Make A Difference — In The Enterprise, In Society And In The Natural World…

Whatever way a difference needs to be made our aim is to help it to become far more than a vision or a set of good intentions. From bitter experience we know that making a difference requires a very clear appreciation of the challenge — then designing and developing the persistent* response to it. And finally executing on a genuine ‘contract’ to achieve it — way beyond just making the promise.

For this to happen we have to create attention, engagement and accountability to what that will take. We have to make this true right across the organisation and we have to sustain the work.

* We talk in detail later about how an approach that treats change as an occasional intervention is completely missing the point.
Looking At Systemic Change From Every Direction…

A New Era Of Critical Thinking

For many years now we been developing our ‘tools’ and ‘techniques’.

They’ve matured to the point where they have even wider applicability — we can describe their value in terms of each of the ‘domains’ above. We have now defined seven classes of challenge that motivate us (See Below). Unsurprisingly there’s situations and types of ‘client’ that are more ready and more in need of us than others.

For example:

  • There will be those who recognise that traditional thinking just no longer cuts it
  • There will be those that know that thinking about their systems and the holistic thinking that goes with them is vital
  • Those that are genuinely interested in getting to the root of the problem
  • Those that believe they need to truly collaborate and learn how to operate in this unforgiving and dynamic world.

And there will be those that just know that they don’t know where the next step to value will come from but that they need to push at every chance to get there.

Working Differently And Together With Creativity To Understand And Convey The Whole Picture…
“Increasingly there will be people nodding vigorously to conversations like this. They will also agree when we explain that whilst it’s important to have a vision and strategic direction, and even some form of plan for getting there, that the right foundations need to be in place…”

We don’t know of many long standing organisations who could confidently claim to have that today. It’s becoming an imperative to dismantle the existing system —the one that’s designed to make sure that ‘difference’ never happens. We can see that there are many leaders are out there now that really want to make a difference.

What the world lacks is fresh perspective, new ways of looking at existing landscapes — identifying alternative options for solving historic and insidious legacy challenges.

An End To End Approach To Creating Difference

We know that the different ways that WE think and work are of genuine interest and value to these new challenges and the leaders we’ve described. We know that the value would be much greater and their changes much more sustainable if more of our approach found its way into the daily routines of these enterprises.

Therefore this document explains why, how and what that means.

Visual Mathematics

For many years now we’ve been building a Practice where equations and rigour operate in a healthy tension with free thinking and structure. When you think about it that’s quite a challenging ideal. It’s often at odds with the world we encounter as we unpack each client’s context and push a little harder on definition and expectation.

The Space And The Freedome To Think Differently

Clients pose their request of us in language that has become ‘habit’ to them.

Many already believe they have the answer before they have taken the time to think. In particular to think more deeply about the different dynamics influencing their world. They are often fixated on solving the symptoms, not the causes.

Evidence of this is the short term nature of their ‘exam questions’ — the challenge we agree in advance. This expression of the challenge is often not the most important it could be and the commitment to truly solve it is usually quite short term. Our observation is that while it’s become ‘natural’ over time — the accepted way of working even — the way it forces everyone to tackle the challenge is no longer helpful in solving challenges or helping to deliver the real value.

Too many organisations really are ‘solving the wrong problems’ — and not even really well. When we created Group Partners we set ourselves up to do the opposite and that’s still our mission.

Programs That Make A Real Difference?

The Seven Areas Where We Know We Can Make A Difference.

In The Enterprise, In Society And In The Natural World

ONE: Organising for the real world so that the ‘business’ is set-up to actually succeed.

TWO: Shaping a new future and opportunity so that there’s an inspiring and meaningful idea of where we want to head.

THREE: Creating energy and passion for the new purpose in the hearts and minds of those that need to get us there.

FOUR: Getting to the heart of a problem or challenge in ways that tackle the real barriers and issues and in a way that doesn’t mean we solve the wrong problems really well.

FIVE: Presenting a compelling argument so that whatever story or case that needs to be made it genuinely is.

SIX: Energising then mobilising capability — so that the vision and direction is properly executed.

SEVEN: Realising the value in the solutions (products, services) for the benefit of customers, stakeholders and key audiences.

Our Own Story

This is a new chapter in our story and it initially emerged from applying our own methods to ourselves in MaeRim Thailand in 2015. We will translate the ideas above (and the approach that follows) in a wide range of ways. In our conversations, on our digital platforms and in every opportunity we have to make a difference.

As a result we will be offering and designing new types of programmes. In time we will stop offering some of the things that we currently deliver.

Towards More Natural Language

We really only have words when we talk to each other.

You can argue there’s more to it than that but we need them to make sense — fast. We must also avoid their tendency to become (quickly) superficial through overuse.

Using Every Tool And Technique We Can To Get Inside Our Client’s Heads…

A major part of the challenge is getting the attention of hearts and minds and words are not sufficient.

Getting real engagement and ownership is an idea that sounds so obvious that nobody doubts it. But we know it’s next to impossible to achieve. Even when we have the attention. It’s not enough to have leaders agreeing that what we say makes absolute sense — they have to fully engage and help make it happen. After all it’s only going to make a difference when they can say it’s actually made a difference.

Ultimately we want to know what difference we made. Difference will only be created when minds are open and leaders, managers and teams accept that things need to be different — and then appreciate fully what needs to change. We called it ‘A profound sense of why?’

Red Boxes

A big part of our approach is to surface insights.

We see an insight as that crucial bit of information that can inform a better decision and outcome. It’s a truth of genuine importance. These can be good or bad and everything in between but they are without question the raw material of making a difference.

Looking Below The Surface To Solve The Actual Challenge…
In the representation above “I Just Don’t Feel Very Motivated In My Work” is a typical example of what presents as the issue. It could well suggest a solution based on KPI’s and motivation counselling. That would be a partial answer and not solve the problem. Everyone knows that in truth it’s probably a symptom of things that go far deeper and wider— but most importantly require far more consideration and work to really get right.
We’ve called those that qualify as real insights the Red Box.

We identify them through many routes — research in all its forms, conversation, engagement, negotiation and observation. We give them their deserved importance by writing them down — establishing them as an issue or a challenge — in a session we write them into the frameworks and put ‘red boxes’ around them.

When they first emerge they are often the symptoms rather than the causes — but there’s an underlying insight that lives below its initial label.

And that’s what we are after.

How Will We Achieve This?

We’ve designed a high level programme framework that will be applied in all cases. What emerges will be specific to each client and their context but the way that we work out what matters and what it will take to be successful will follow a consistent pattern

Module A — Can We Make A Difference?

Our challenge in achieving this is (in part) down to whether we have an enlightened and equipped customer. How would we know? We see people agreeing with our approach already and then not being able to follow it through.

We remain optimistic that over time we can educate and make the argument but that’s still a light year away from it being executed. And that’s as true if we are speaking to the CEO of a $billion enterprise or the owner of a start up, an NGO or Government department.

Many people have made the following point in a variety of ways — if you don’t start off how you meant to continue then don’t expect to succeed in the way that you meant.

By taking much more time understanding the challenge and the opportunity we are dealing with we know we will be far better equipped to succeed.

And it’s highly reasonable to assume that all parties will benefit in many ways.

The challenge is always explaining the value of this ‘pre-nostalgia.’ Convincing our audience that there’s much gold in this is where we will be spending a lot more time. Naturally enough it will require us to present strong arguments for thinking differently and have deeper conversations with sponsors as we start to get further inside their dynamics. We will need to create belief and confidence in the value of this approach from the start, and persuade clients to fully invest in the programme — and we don’t mean simply financially

The above demands greater consciousness and engagement all round. It will begin* the process of education and appreciation that we need. It’s all built on building in the real value — those ideals in our MaeRim work — visceral and profound engagement in why and what matters.

* From the very start we will be creating valuable context that will be used as we co-create the programme. What we learn in our initial briefings will find its way into the frameworks and tools that we will configure for use in tackling the exam question. The exam question itself will evolve as we work through the programme.

As a result we can arrive at far better understanding and clarity of what we say and mean and be clear on our definitions behind the most important terms and phrases in common use.

These are the things that so often result in misunderstanding in teams. Things like our definition of strategy, value, vision, outcome, deliverables for example. It means properly managing everyone’s expectation as we go forward.

Module B — Let’s Make A Difference

OK so let’s say our client says yes.

That triggers a number of things that we do today but with added dimensions — selecting and then starting to work with the team that we will be given to help ‘work’ the work.

Our principle is very clear — we cannot be the dependency that the traditional models feed off. Those responsible should be responsible. This team will be made up of those who can be best placed to make the difference. They will need to be selected after much thought and given the capacity to do the work.

Genuinely Savvy

Our approach to creating capability and capacity (to execute the program) is always to leverage those that actually work for the business.

We are widening involvement (where relevant and appropriate) to anyone connected to the improvement of the enterprise and able to provide genuine insight. These people may already be directly responsible and accountable or they may be beneficiaries. Whatever their connection they are the ones we feel are likely to be best placed to speak the truth about what works and what doesn’t. They are the most savvy. In many cases this could be the customer or consumer of the product or service.

This is the opportunity for a genuine reality check. And because there’s no agenda or partiality the objective reflection and honesty goes far beyond anything that we will have heard before. It is the raw truth that baselines the state of the business today — it marks the territory clearly for how we proceed and how we need to think.

No successful business just does what its audiences ask but to ignore their insights is suicide. We must make a difference and that includes surprising our audiences with fresh ‘things’ and new ways — stuff they’ve never dreamed of.

Expect Different

We work visually and a very public expression of that is the large scale aspect of what we do. No surprise because visual information gets to the brain 60,000 times faster than through text or voice data. That’s why we apply it and why it’s more memorable than anything we could say or write. We start working visually immediately we are engaged and we create visual architectures, schemes, frameworks and artefacts.

We don’t just do this in the team sessions that align and force the frameworks to exist — we also apply visual energy in every other way we can — whether it’s a retreat in a different part of the world — getting a client team to see how other organisations think and work or if it’s an ‘unplugged’* session with two or three people. The result will be a visual tool or outcome that can be shared in the real world.

All of this equips us to make both the experience and also the outcome different. This is a different way to think and work — it’s most certainly not the same as the way we typically try to make things different today.

* Unplugged means informal and more social ways to get to appreciate the client context. Over a coffee, small group sessions in informal locations or ‘out there’ in places and spaces that ensure everyone can all relax and talk openly.

Module C — Making A Difference

Making a difference means starting to embed new ways of thinking and working. It will take time but everything that has happened so far will have been creating the new foundations — equipping the team with new ways of tackling their challenges. This is where that early enthusiasm and commitment will be fully tested.

C0-Creation — Collaboration AND Creativity

Creating new capability in the team, and ensuring they always retain ownership of the exam question is vital.

We will work with the team in different ways at different times — sometimes in formal workshop, often much more informally, always focused on offering insight and guidance and not providing the solution ourselves. The team will always be properly supported and equipped for the challenge — but it is both their challenge and their’s to solve.

We will encourage the use of tools and platforms fit for the 21st Century, ones that make work effective, efficient and rewarding, fun even. Some of those tools and platforms will be commercial products freely available and we have no vested interest in which particular set is adopted — as long as they serve the purpose.

We will layer onto this our own visual dashboard — providing multiple lenses into the data that will be developing and converting into insight.

Module D — Living With Difference

One of the biggest frustrations for us over the years has been to hear that our intervention and work was great but that it didn’t stick. It didn’t get implemented or parts of it remain and other bits just got left out. Only a few teams actually treat their framework as a living tool and those that do are liable to work from a single ‘snapshot’ for far too long without revisiting context and dynamics.

To us this is at the crux of everything.

Frameworks are not static documents. The only thing that stays the same is typically the construct, everything else is variable. As circumstances change and conditions dictate they retain the principles that are unarguable but the content and context can change as little or often as is necessary. As you look at them think visual equations based on data and math — if this then this.

That’s not in synch with how business is designed and this is one of the challenges in getting them fully adopted as tools.

Business is not comfortable with uncertainty and such entanglement. The trouble is that this the world we inhabit so sooner or later (actually just sooner) we have to think and work like that if we are to make the difference we are claiming is our intention.

Living with difference is to be confidently delighted with change. That translates to business opportunity because it’s within these changes that business can improve, make progress and be of fresh value to its customers. It doesn’t matter if it’s a global brand or a team of people trying to save a forest.

Things are going to change every day and it’s those that are prepared to exploit the new situation that live to fight another day.

“Dismantling the old as we build the new sits right in the middle of everything. Often change doesn’t happen because the old ways are older and cuter than the new ways. Our work (us and the team) is as much targeted on what will stop this from happening as it is on building the new.”

Through this we will monitor and track progress and make adjustments along the way. Frameworks will become something much more than a great visual on the wall or a snapshot in time.

They will be digital portals — real tools that look into what’s going on NOW and what’s likely to be going on tomorrow. Such techniques will help us bring the new situations to life quickly and just as quickly reset course through new decisions that are now more valid and help everyone to stay true to the overarching course.

There will be clear lines of communication to whoever it takes to explain why and what needs to change if it reaches the level beyond the skill or remit of the team.

Module E — What’s The Difference?

We know how hard it is to sustain anything like this and also that it will take time.

Our approach means regular and timely ways to regroup. This is not the same as setting a few milestones. Working to a point in time can set up the wrong behaviours and cause people to think it’s a test or an arbitrary check in. It certainly isn’t. Our approach suggests a periodic review of everything in the framework and an objective discussion together with new input and reflection from us.

Every three or four months we would be bringing a whole new lifetime of experience from everywhere else — we would have worked around the world with insights and support, counsel and suggestion for those areas of concern or question.

That’s just a natural thing and will help us see what’s difference has been made, understand the challenges and help teams regroup and adjust where necessary.

Our Difference

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make” — Jane Goodall.

When we describe our vision and mission this way we are talking about our difference making a difference. It’s not meant as an arrogant statement to say that we alone will make the difference.

Collaboration In The Nation

Our approach is deeply collaborative at a time when that behaviour is still a challenge for many. Even collaborative social networks are hard for people and it’s arguable how much collaboration actually gets achieved that way. This is a new journey for the majority of people we are going to be working with.

Structured Visual Thinking™

Visual thinking is quite a newly minted discipline — a phrase that’s variably translated. For some it remains pretty pictures and a more entertaining way of having meetings or it can be a great way of seeing and consuming complex documents and data — for us it’s right at the heart of decision making. It’s about human attention, real engagement and mindset change.

It’s why we added ‘Structured’ to the expression.

That Global Perspective

‘Experience’ in countless other scenarios can often be misinterpreted as ‘we know your problem and here’s the solution’ — but for us it’s simply more ways of thinking differently — it becomes stimulus for conversations that may lead to fresh thinking, avoidance of risks or to avoid wasted cycles.

The chances are that we have seen a very similar challenge in other contexts and have witnessed different approaches working in places that we will happily share.

We can even connect teams to other teams through our collaboration platforms where it makes sense.

Making ‘Difference’ Through Mischief

Right at the heart though is creativity, challenge and mischief. These are not the traditional tools of the traditional practitioner seeking to make change. People speak a lot these days about disruption and it’s a persuasive idea. If it’s shorthand for making people think really hard then great — if it’s merely a trick to spend forever changing everything in sight because that pays the bills then for us that notion will be busted.

When we talk about mischief we mean speaking truthfully about what needs to be said in a respectful and enjoyable way.

We have a lot of sensitivity and even sympathy for our clients and know their pain — wanting things to be different but also unintentionally complicit in their own frustration.

Take a look at what we mean.

Just One Top Ten

  • ‘We want to change but the processes won’t let us’ — and we ask who is responsible for the processes — are they included in the process?
  • ‘We have to bite off this part first in order to gain the credibility to go to the next stage’ — and we ask why do you lack credibility in the first place and how come we are doing this bit?
  • ‘We have to develop our argument to take it upstairs’ — and we ask how come ‘upstairs’ aren’t interested enough in helping think about the problem themselves?
  • ‘This is so important and although we couldn’t get everyone in the room we need to get it started’ — and we say we understand but why aren’t they in the room or even feeding into the room? Will they ever be in the room or even in the process?

‘We don’t get enough time to think about this stuff’ — and we ask why not? — surely this survival (whatever) thing is the day job.

‘We all have a different idea of what is important and what the priority is’ — and we ask how on earth do you communicate and share anything — to get anything done?

‘We lack the skills and capacity to achieve this new vision and position in the market’ — and we ask who is responsible for creating interest and position in the market. Err — Where is marketing/HR/manufacturing, sales, finance, R&D in this conversation?

  • ‘Our technology and systems at work are light years behind what I even have on my child’s phone (laughs)’ — and we ask what’s being done to change these things before the business finally goes out of business (cries)?
  • ‘We’ve been talking about doing things in these areas for a long time but it’s so hard to get things done’ — and we ask why you are still employed by this firm and why does whoever employed you still have a job?
  • ‘We’ve tried many methods of change but nothing has ever really stayed around for long’ — and we ask how many of the previous ‘make a difference’ programs were run by the people in this room? And then we ask if the C-Suite had given their full time attention and support. Did they have the real idea of difference attached to them?

Taking No Prisoners

Our framework approach is designed to wreak mischief AND to create a new landscape for thinking, problem solving and decision making. It doesn’t lie so when something isn’t favourable to a subjective or biased position taken by someone for the wrong reasons it will call itself out.

“We’ve kept a record of the clues that prove how maddening this whole area is and why we’ve decided mischief is the right tactic…”

Another way to describe all of this is to think of the idea of ‘tension’ — in a positive sense. Each framework contains the degree of tension that is appropriate to the question.

Without some form of tension it’s far too easy to accept the first answer that springs to mind and feels ‘safe’. All creative processes depend on tension to bring out the really great thinking.

One More Thing

“The Challenge To Every One Of Us”

With the signing of the new global goals on 25 Sept 2015 there has never been a more significant time to make a difference. The widening of our focus was not deliberately timed to coincide with this but the connection is impossible to ignore.

These goals belong to all of us and they challenge us to think and work differently. We are excited to be evolving at just the right time to meet this challenge.

Let’s all work together to help achieve the Global Goals

Click On The Global Goals Logo Below To Visit The Site: