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Too Big to Solve

(Or, The World’s A Mess And We’re Taking It Personally)

Our partner John often gives a talk that begins with many of the big problems facing us as a species:

Hunger, poverty, war, obesity, AIDs, climate change.

It can be pretty daunting. His despair about these issues is real. So is the optimism he, Mike, and I share about mankind’s ability to create ingenious solutions to those challenges.

It might matter less to us if we were not fathers. I hope not. I like to think that we’re conscientious people who care about our fellow man. But, because we are dads, it’s personal.

Our children will inherit the crises made by our and prior right thinking generations. Solving those crises requires stepping outside the status quo—conquering biology and culture—and coming up with answers that might seem crazy or impossible today.

We started Future to put a dent in that particular universe of problems. We’ve sought to work with people who do work that matters. We built our business inspired by—and to help more—leaders like you.

People who are working hard to make the world a better place through their businesses, foundations, government agencies, nonprofits, and schools.

People who are not happy with the way things are.

People who have a vision for a better tomorrow—and the scars to prove how hard they have been battling to create that change.

As a consulting firm run by three partners we've always sought out clients and partners with whom we might be multipliers for good. When we all join forces we make a big difference. But what we can accomplish through our services alone is not enough.

That’s why we’ve written our forthcoming book, Think Wrong: How to Conquer The Status Quo and Do Work That Matters, and why we’ve built the Think Wrong Lab, our cloud-based software.

We want to foster resilient, resourceful leaders and organizations capable of making a difference and blazing bold new paths.

We want to unleash what one of our Think Wrong Heroes, Yvon Chouinard, CEO of Patagonia, might refer to as your inner-juvenile delinquent. He recently told Bloomberg, “ understand an entrepreneur, you should study a juvenile delinquent. They're both saying: ‘This sucks and I'm going to do it another way.’ You have to want to break the rules and prove that your way works.”

We couldn't agree more. We want to equip that restless delinquent, our children, and their peers with the necessary resources to bring crazy, mind-bending, rule-breaking solutions to life.

If we do our job well, the next time someone proclaims a challenge, “Too big to solve” you’ll have the confidence to reject the way things are, to think wrong, and to leave the world a better place than you found it.

Watch a recent TEDx talk by John. Thinking wrong is the opposite of following accepted orthodoxy. Future has developed an undeniable problem solving system that works across many disciplines and levels of difficulty. It's the best of design thinking married with positive change and impact.


Slankets& Moonshots& Pizzas& Crayons.


Slankets& Moonshots& Pizzas& Crayons.

Last November, before Game of Thrones' prophecy of "Winter's coming" became an all too chilly reality for the North East states, we partnered with the phenomenal Charles River School in Dover, MA. Their new head of school Gretchen Larkin invited us to help their school community—made up of faculty, parents and the board— to imagine the Charles River School of the future.

In a gymnasium over 100 community members convened—we explored the school to discover the odd, profound and amusing (of which there was a trove); we were inspired by speakers such as Warren Berger author of A More Beautiful Question; the community discovered what was truly special about the school—beyond their engaging theme taught curriculum (for instance, the kids get to learn all their subjects by using the context of the Olympics or Marco Polo—it is fantastic).

It became apparent that people fell in love with school when they visited or when they met the engaging and engaged students—we certainly did. Together, they came up with a series of small bets to get the word out about their amazing school and community (they even opened their homes for us to crash in their spare rooms!).

One of their small bets was a mini camp over the Massachusetts "ski week" vacation—which we suspect was in late May—it was fully subscribed.

Check out our video of the Blitz, it was a hoot! We really love this school.

To add further intrigue to our relationship with Charles River School, frequent Blitz participant and talented fine artist Tucker Nichols saw the Blitz Report at our studio and said "I went there—it's an amazing place, it had a huge influence on me", although a shocking coincidence it was far from surprising.



Blitz your way to an Outcome Jihad, or some Bad Ass Dads.


Blitz your way to an Outcome Jihad, or some Bad Ass Dads.

Last fall we worked with the Institute for Child Success in Greenville, South Carolina and their key partners to address a shared challenge "How might we disrupt the existing ways of doing things for children so that they and their families might have more opportunities for greater success in school and in life— earlier in their lives?"

The blitz set out to achieve the objectives:

  • Expand the reach of design thinking so more children in South Carolina—and beyond—can benefit from it.
  • Increase the number of people who understand and can apply design thinking to their challenges.
  • Engage the people who can affect policy and funding to bring design thinking to children.
  • Apply next-generation design thinking to improve childhood—and lifetime—success through the positive disruption of our education and healthcare systems.

Check out the video of the event, the ideas generated were legendary!


Thinking Wrong + Agile = True Love?


Thinking Wrong + Agile = True Love?

We were recently asked (again) if the Think Wrong Practices were inspired by Agile and Scrum methodologies.

The simple answer is “No.”

End of blog?


Since we keep getting asked, it’s probably worth taking a closer look at how they’re related.

Agile has its roots in software development, but today you can find people across organizations using it to run projects. Why has Agile taken hold? Because the big bets and risk-filled assumptions of traditional waterfall project management too often failed to deliver products and projects. Agile wins because it works.

Rapid Ingenuity has its roots in how designers are taught to solve problems—what has been coined as design thinking by IDEO and Stanford founder David M. Kelly. So, today you can find people across sectors and industries embracing design thinking to solve challenges where MBA thinking has failed to do so. Design thinking produces solutions—and results—that business problem solving orthodoxies cannot.

Many of the organizations who pioneered the broader use of Agile have stumbled upon a new challenge: “We’ve mastered the development and delivery of solutions, but we’re not where we want to be when it comes to conceiving game-changing innovations.”

To address this, engineering, product management, strategy, and innovation leaders have turned to design. They’ve spotted a useful overlap in the Agile/Design Thinking Venn diagram. One accelerates conception. The other accelerates execution.

And Thinking Wrong is next-generation design thinking.

Building on the foundation of design thinking, we’ve added a critical definition and three distinct practices:

Thinking Wrong
A key component of thinking wrong is ingenuity—Ingenuity is the clever, original, and practical use of existing resources to solve a challenge—fast.

This definition provides a helpful checklist for evaluating innovations:
Does your innovation make clever use of existing resources?
Does your innovation make original use of existing resources?
Does your innovation make practical use of existing resources?

The Be Bold Practice.
Be Bold focuses everyone on your challenge and how to make the most from taking it on. It helps you not only take users into account, but also the strategic aspirations of your organization and the people who show up every day to achieve those. Ultimately Be Bold challenges everyone to raise the bar on what’s possible. It’s a unifying practice that inspires and energizes your people, your partners, and the communities you serve through shared purpose and a compelling vision of impact.

The Let Go Practice.
Let Go deliberately breaks the heuristic biases and synaptic connections that result in the status quo and stand in the way of ingenious solutions. The Let Go Practice forces you to solve from a place you would never consider, ensuring solutions you could otherwise never imagine.

The Bet Small Practice.
Bet Small, inspired through our work with best-selling author Peter Sim’s (Little Bets), counters the fear that too often snuffs out new born ideas by applying Sim’s concept of affordable loss. So, rather than placing a massive bet on an unknown and untested idea (what the waterfall methodology was developed to manage), this practice generates a portfolio of small bets from which ingenious solutions can quickly learn, adapt, and evolve.

With its scrums, sprints, and frequent deliverables Agile offers a management approach ideally suited to producing the LFI (Learning From Investment) that Think Wrong’s Make Stuff, Bet Small, and Move Fast Practices are designed to produce.

So, while the honest answer to whether or not the Think Wrong Practices were inspired by Agile remains, “No.” It’s equally true that Agile and Thinking Wrong are kissing cousins.

If you use Agile—of any flavor—you might consider giving the Think Wrong Practices a try the next time you have a challenge that demands a game-changing solution.

Likewise, if you use the Think Wrong Practices and want to adopt an equally reliable set of practices to manage the execution of your portfolio of small bets you might consider bringing in an Agile pro or Scrum Master, regardless of whether your ingenious solutions demand software development.

When used together Agile and the next generation of design thinking yield even more ingenious outcomes.

Even faster.





The not so Secret Project.

For the past 11 years we’ve been running an experimental program called Project M. M was inspired by the work of Samuel Mockbee, what he called an “architecture of decency,” and the Rural Studio, the off-campus design build program he co-founded with D.K. Ruth in Hale County on behalf of Auburn University.

Like the Rural Studio, Project M operates in the communities it serves. M inspires and empowers young creative people to identify needs and come up with ingenious solutions to challenges facing the people living in those communities.

While Project M’s spiritual roots are in rural Alabama, we've run sessions in Baltimore, Connecticut, Detroit, Kansas, Maine, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and Oklahoma—and internationally in Costa Rica, Germany, Ghana, Iceland.

Project M sessions always produce ingenious small bets. Some have been short-lived, while others have gained momentum—producing learning, insight, and impact over time. That momentum has generated sustainable impact locally—as well as international interest, news coverage, and acclaim. One of our most notable projects is PieLab, covered here in the New York Times Magazine

The good news.

Project M has produced hundreds of alumni out in the world who are using rapid ingenuity to take on some pretty daunting challenges. Take +Pool, a floating, water-cleaning pool for the rivers of New York City, by M alums Archie Lee Cotes and Jeffrey Franklin. (Go PlayLab!) 

The bad news.

Given our day jobs running Think Wrong Blitzes for corporations, start-ups, foundations, non-profits, and government agencies we can only run so many two-week Project M sessions in a given year.

The better news.

We've found a way to increase the number of young people we can introduce to rapid ingenuity. We call them 48-hour Blitzes. To date we’ve run dozens of them at universities across the U.S., in the U.K., and in Australia. 

Check out how some students used the Make Stuff Practice to take on the challenge of changing the eating habits of Americans during their 48hr Blitz at the University of Kansas. 

The best news.

For the past 5 years, we’ve been searching for the right academic partner to extend the reach of Project M—and rapid ingenuity. Surprisingly that partner was right in Future’s own backyard. When Steve Beal, President of the California College of the Arts (CCA), approached me and said “We’ve been thinking of doing something like M.” I knew we had found a partner who was not afraid to experiment and who shared our passion for eduction and our zeal for driving positive change in the world.

So, now the cat's now partially out of the bag. This Fall CCA is launching a new program called Secret Project, that I will have the honor of leading. Soon the secret will not be so secret. Stay tuned for updates and announcements about Challenge Blitzes, partnerships, and an ingenious building that might just pop-up on CCA’s back lot in San Francisco.


The $8 Cookie


The $8 Cookie

Get Out Think Wrong about venues

I recently received an enticing email entitled “Are your meetings memorable?”

I’m a person who goes to quite a few meetings, and indeed many of them are not what I’d call memorable.  In fact, too many just suck. So as you can imagine I read on with great anticipation; having more memorable meetings would considerably improve the quality of my life. As I passed the subject line the email got better and better. They were even offering FREE LUNCH. The opportunity to learn how to make meetings more memorable, AND free lunch—wow! What could this be?

By now, I’m imagining what could make a meeting memorable...something totally unexpected, radically different from the humdrum monotony of dungeonesque hotel conference rooms graced with vomit patterned carpets and the remnants of duct tape from meetings past. I’m imagining light years beyond the bulk-ordered brass wall sconces and the beige assortments of chicken-or-eggplant steamed and served from vats. I’ve almost forgotten the indignity of the $8 cookies. Seriously, some hotels charge 8 whole dollars for cookies at events!

I clicked through to the website—the 50 Best Venues for Events—and clicked on Chicago, a cool city filled with museums, parks, quirky neighborhoods, universities, botanic gardens, galleries, restored industrial spaces and oodles of historic buildings. I’m thinking, “This is going to be awesome, some inspiring and memorable places!”

Nope.  Wrong. A list of truly uninspiring f*&k you hotels—Marriott’s, Hyatt’s, Doubletree By Hilton’s, the big Hilton’s themselves, et cetera, et cetera, blah, blah, blah. Here’s one of the images from the website for a “memorable location.”

*Note*     We have not changed the quality of this image!

That, I’m sure you'll agree, would make for an extremely memorable meeting; especially for the person who gets to sit with a 9 degree view of the screen, two feet away from a speaker near the door—the definition of receiving the cold shoulder.

I read further, and discovered these event locations were not the promised miracle solution to making events memorable—that would be technology. More precisely, a “robust SaaS platform [that] can help you lower your venue costs, support integrated marketing campaigns, increase attendance, and enhance attendee communication.”

Talk about ingenious—I had no idea that the lack of one of those SaaS platforms was the culprit responsible for merging all my meetings and events into one giant blob of torturous forgetfulness!  Now that I think about it, of course I can see that support for integrated marketing campaigns was the one thing that would have made them more memorable for me. Forget the human experience.

Here’s an alternate approach if you want to have a memorable meeting—GET OUT.


Pick an unexpected location: a park, a museum, even someone's back yard. Bring a blanket and let people bring their dogs.  When it’s coffee time have a local coffee shop show up with some specialty coffees, get some cupcakes from a nearby bakery and have a taco truck show up for lunchtime, or give people vouchers to local restaurants and let them Get Out from your Get Out.

How will you project your PowerPoint? You won’t. And people will thank you, and remember you for it. It’ll even save you $8 cookies.



Precedents don’t offer the potential for thinking wrong

Think Wrong McWrongsey

Here’s an industry secret worth billions. Consultants like to use the term “best practice” to describe what the rest of us would call a precedent—just a method that has worked, before, somewhere else.

This isn't to say best practices are useless. Precedence is great when you understand the challenge you’re facing and want to repeat a solution—say, when you want to select brakes for a train (or brakes for anything, really) or when choosing an open heart surgeon. But if you’re trying to outpace competition, solve a long-term problem that doesn't seem to go away, or tackle a challenge you’ve never seen before...applying precedent is not so helpful. Precedence is not disruption, and is not meant to be.

But too often, consultants dress up plain precedence and offer it as an ingenious driver of organizational change—a glaringly obvious contradiction. Most of the time, there’s nothing better about a “best” practice, and you could say that consultants have found a clever way of selling old rope for new prices.

The truth is, these precedents don’t offer the potential for ingenious ideas. They only replicate the past.  So, if you want to unlock new ideas—stop thinking right, and start thinking wrong.