What is fragile should break early while it is still small
Maurice Duffy

Written by Maurice Duffy

I was recently working on business redesign programmes within the NHS (such good fun) and was fascinated again by how many organisations perceive that their value is what they do, rather than what their customer/market perceives that they receive in real terms. This is particularly relevant in my experience with service industries. Recently, I had a group of three hundred leaders who, in a series of master classes, were looking to learn about remodelling/redesigning their business model (it’s the NHS, so organisation) in order to reflect the new realities of the Health Service.

The  master class model typically follows the route of:

  1. Trends and market insights
  2. Inflection points
  3. Looking back from the future
  4. Customer segmentation
  5. Business modelling
  6. The 5 Experience Culture®
  7. TransformationDNA®
  8. Constraints on performance
  9. 5v Business Model Building®
  10. Market model orientation

The challenge facing us all is how do we build organisations that are as nimble as change itself? How do we mobilise and monetise the imagination of every employee, everyday? How do we create organisations which are highly engaging places in which to work? Why do we have to retain what we have? How can we introduce real innovation into occupied territory, which is business mainstream. These challenges simply can’t be met by redrafting the organisation chart or without reinventing our hundred-year-old management model of: “How do you get people to serve an organisation’s goals?” Today we have to ask and challenge ourselves with the following question: “How do you build organisations that merit the gifts of creativity, passion and initiative of the people who work within them?” You cannot command those human capabilities. Imagination and commitment are things that people choose to bring to work every day … or not.

In the business modelling sessions, I often use the Osterwalder and Pigneur work on business canvass, which provides a basic framework for ideation and linkage within a business framework. One of the things I challenge participants with in using this framework is the thoughts of Frank Gehry on prototyping: evolving and testing a business model first. This is alien thinking to many organisations, which feel that organisational modelling starts with an organisation chart … and for some the scary thing is that it finishes there. Frank Gehry challenges the norm in the way he creates buildings. He first creates them in fragile form (paper) and breaks each iteration early, while they are still small, as he moves through his design process.

In the words taken from the "The Sketches of Frank Gehry", Director Sydney Pollack's first documentary, "We get to learn how a genius works … Frank Gehry is the architect who did the curving, soaring metal walls of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, as well as Disney Hall in Los Angeles. He is the one who lets us walk into out of the box.” During his early years Gehry spent his time hanging out with artists rather than fellow architects. "He works by taking sheets of heavy paper and making models out of them. Not blocks, not wood or Styrofoam, but paper. When one of the models becomes an idea worth pursuing, it goes through an evolution, a series of models of increasing sophistication." As we should with business models.

Now Gehry’s thoughts help to communicate the message that we need to prototype models after we establish an idea worth pursuing, and driving it through an evolutionary phase, to a series of models of increasing sophistication. All redesign must start with market insights, inflection points and looking back from the future. However as a Taleb disciple, I am of the opinion that nothing should ever become too big to fail.

Now, for those who don’t know, Taleb wrote a number of books, from one of which, blackswan derives its name. One of Taleb’s great principles is that evolution, in economic life, helps those with the maximum amount of hidden risks – and hence the most fragile – become the biggest. The sigmoid curve is a perfect example of sitting on our laurels when opportunity is all around, but complacency or greed dissuades us that now is the time to break, change, future proof or be aware of potential negative black swan events.

The voice of DNA transformation links functions, people, systems and customers into more natural forms that add flexibility, innovation, rapid response, humanity and fun into getting work done more efficiently and effectively. In DNA transformation, we need to drive for more second-tier thinking, which is the power of the DNA paradigm to constantly understand the whole, whilst expertly remodelling the parts, in a way that is as nimble as change itself and enables us to prototype/break, redesign/break that which is fragile, early, while it is still small.