“What the hell is imagineering?!”

website-fieldnotes-bwWhen I learned about the term imagineering, I instinctively understood it had to do with ‘engineering the imagination’. But how, exactly? I had no idea. I embarked on the journey at the Imagineering Academy in Breda, and what a journey it has been.

I dove in with an open mind, eager to learn new things. The way things were done, didn’t cut it anymore; at least not for me. I needed a new perspective. A whole new world opened up to me and to top it off, I learned a thing or two about myself during the journey.

I was among a group of students and professors from different countries – Brazil, Bulgaria, Colombia, Germany, Indonesia and the Netherlands – mixed in a group of Master students and Executive Master students. People from different backgrounds and age groups had to make it work together; and we did. Although it took some getting used to. I learned to lead in a collaborative fashion and I learned that anybody can lead; who leads depends on the time, space and context.

People would ask me what I was studying, and I would have difficulty explaining it. Especially in the beginning I would fall back to my old ways. I was so used to finding a solution to a problem; it was a reflex. I had to learn to pace myself, to adopt a more reflective stance. It often frustrated me. When I started to get the hang of it, everything changed. Suddenly there was this beautiful new vocabulary, with words like ‘complexity’, ‘emergence’, co-creation, ‘social constructionism’, ‘appreciative’, ‘unpredictability’, ‘chaos’, ‘participatory’, ‘contextual, ‘design-approach’, ‘bottom-up’, and phrases like ‘trust the process’, ‘the solution is in the system’, and ‘words create worlds’. And a toolbox filled with contemporary research and facilitation methods. What really shaped my understanding was the application of the new knowledge. Being sent into the field with fellow imagineers to work with organisations in different contexts, on different continent, was challenging, yet exciting.

Today, when people ask me what Imagineering is, I tell them that imagineering is a complexity-based design approach to meaning making, which is helpful when addressing complex problems that require new order and paradigm shifts. I share my views on the changes that take place in the world around us at relentless speed, and that coping with these changes requires new levels of knowledge, adaptability and abandoning the idea that we can control and manage situations. I add that in chaotic or dynamically changing context, or in situations that need to be built up from scratch, the design approach is highly valuable, because of its reflexive, narrative and entrepreneurial characteristics. And if they still want to know more, I invite them over for a cup of coffee and a chat at the office, where I can show a thing or two.

So, if you want to know more, feel free to drop by at Creative Scrum, drop a note or give me a call.

If you build it, he will come

For whom the title doesn’t ring a bell: it is the catch phrase from the 1989 movie ‘Field of Dreams’, starring Kevin Costner. Long story short: He’s a farmer in Iowa whose property is about to be repossessed by the bank. A voice tells him to fallow his cornfield and build a baseball field instead. The voice reassures him that if he builds it, he will come.

I love that movie, but too often I see how the thinking from the movie is applied to real life, real business. Just recently I read the retail vision for the region Leiden, in which plans are unfolded to restructure and revitalise retail in the region. I commend that. However, gathering from the documents, I feel one important voice is missing. Government, educational institutions, and entrepreneurs worked together to realise this vision, but where was the customer’s voice in all this?

It appears to be a typical if-you-build-it-he-will-come-situation, in which parties with a vested interest decide on what it is that the customer wants, build it and then expect the customer to show up, just because it is there. If you build it, he will come. We also see this approach applied in politics and many other fields.

I desperately feel the need to say: Guys, it was a movie! And mind you, a movie from a quarter of a century ago. This approach might have worked in the 80s and 90s, but today it is a whole different ball game. Things changed in the 21st century and are still changing.

Today, you don’t get to decide what the customer wants. People can and will decide what it is that they want. And people have ways of telling you what they think of your ideas and decisions, and ways of mobilising others.

As Ramaswamy & Gouillart so eloquently put it, customers are too often thought of as passive recipients of processes designed by organisations. Processes that are not optimised for them, and cannot be influenced by them either, leading to mediocre experiences. However, giving customers the latitude to redesign their interactions can change the quality of their experience. Keywords here are: co-creation, collaboration, whole system change, bottom-up.

If you build it that way, he will come.

Give me a call at Creative Scrum or drop by for a chat, if you want to know more.