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Envisioning Innovation in Service Systems: Induction, Abduction and Deduction

In engagements with clients/customers, my work often includes system envisioning: facilitating the description of a collective desirable future (on a horizon of maybe 1 to 3 years out).  Once a group has converged on a future state or vision, moving forward is merely a matter of will.  Defining that future state, however, is more art than science.  In addition, with many more businesses operating as service systems, getting a handle on the invisible work that will be performed can be a challenge.  Work practices will coevolve with new technologies in ways unfamiliar to experiences to date.

In discussions with my colleagues, differences between their engagement approach and mine became clearer.  I understand and appreciate the process-based methods (e.g. process consultation by Ed Schein) used by large consulting teams, but my typical engagement is now timeboxed to a few weeks elapsed time, with just a few interviewers.  Some executive sponsors may ask for an interview guide in advance of coming onsite, but I don’t use a formally-structured guide.  The context for 60-to-90 minute interviews are light — we want people to talk about time-intensive activities and annoyances in their jobs — and generally find that interviewees would be happy if small adjustment could be made so that each would have to do less work.

Reflecting on these methods, I’ve seen a pattern of three stages in this approach:

  • (1) Induction: Rather than coming in with a preconceived model of how work gets done in a particular business, let those closest to the activities speak freely. 
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In engagements with clients/customers, my work often includes system envisioning: facilitating the description of a collective desirable future (on a horizon of maybe 1 to 3 years out).  Once a group has converged on a future state or vision, moving forward is merely a matter of will.  Defining that future state, however, is more art than science.  In addition, with many more businesses operating as service systems, getting a handle on the invisible work that will be performed can be a challenge.  Work practices will coevolve with new technologies in ways unfamiliar to experiences to date.

In discussions with my colleagues, differences between their engagement approach and mine became clearer.  I understand and appreciate the process-based methods (e.g. process consultation by Ed Schein) used by large consulting teams, but my typical engagement is now timeboxed to a few weeks elapsed time, with just a few interviewers.  Some executive sponsors may ask for an interview guide in advance of coming onsite, but I don’t use a formally-structured guide.  The context for 60-to-90 minute interviews are light — we want people to talk about time-intensive activities and annoyances in their jobs — and generally find that interviewees would be happy if small adjustment could be made so that each would have to do less work.

Reflecting on these methods, I’ve seen a pattern of three stages in this approach:

  • (1) Induction: Rather than coming in with a preconceived model of how work gets done in a particular business, let those closest to the activities speak freely. 
Read more (in a new tab)
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