You have seen these rooms, I'm sure. The corporate War Room is festooned with hundreds, sometimes thousands of images and broadsheets.
Let's say that task at issue is to "rethink the car." The war room will have pictures of sea gulls, box cars, LA from a traffic helicopter, the Sydney Opera House, a suburban garage, the Delorean, the beach at Nantucket, the Ford F-150, sheep out standing in a field, experimental aircraft from World War II…that sort of thing. The broadsheets? They report brainstorms in point form.
The motive is admirable. To good effect, the corporation trades in the literal and the linear. But sometimes it needs to embrace the figurative and the simultaneous. It needs to "think outside the box". That's when everyone files into the war room.
But there are problems. First, what about that metaphor? I can hear Jerry Michalski snort, "war room? Next you'll be telling me your customers are 'targets'." But I think we know what's going on here. Any time the corporation feels obliged to do something lateral and imaginative, it issue a metaphor that says, "Dude, this stuff is deadly serious."
The second problem is that War rooms for all their seriousness are amateurish. Images curl. The bright plastic push pins pop out. Thing overlap and disappear. It's enough to provoke a visit from the Mike Ditka who lives in all of us: "You've got crap all over the place!" The idea that organizes these ideas is something like "look, we did this ourselves. We have posted all of our best ideas, our favorite inspirations, it's all here waiting to happen."
Too often it doesn't happen. And sometimes we wonder. Is the War Room designed to get the world into the corporation? Or is it a kind of "lock box" designed to keep things under lock and key once they get there. Sometimes, the war room feels like "contents under pressure" to be opened only with "extreme caution!"
In a more perfect world, the war room would look like the inside of the head of someone who is really smart, really imaginative person, Henry Jenkins or John Deighton, say. We would enter it as it stumbling upon a Victorian labratory, images and analysis flying (thanks to the wonder of pneumatic tubes!) hither and you, order and emergence in perfect proportion.
And that got me thinking. Who could reinvent the War Room? I came up with two candidates. I am soliciting any and all suggestions, dear reader. A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a place at Stanford that sounds just about perfect. The Stanford Strategy Center. This appears to be the work of Michael Shanks, Tim Burns, Douglass Carmichael.
Here's what they say about themselves:
Stanford Strategy Center is an initiative to create an environment designed to enhance discussion, strategic planning and collaborative decision making around matters of common and pressing human and international concern.
We start from the experience that strategic conversations in major organizations tend to be narrow in focus and unhistorical in framing. Our initiative has two key aspects:
- to bring together in conversations those whose professional focus is on key issues and those whose humanistic study might provide valuable knowledge – from history, philosophy, literature, archaeology …
- to provide a rich surround of supporting images and artifacts – a room, real and virtual, that provides participatory access to an archive of discussions set in context of themes, trends and narratives drawn particularly from the Humanities and Arts.
We are developing principles and practices for open, extended and iterative conversation that will inform more effective action in and around matters such as environmental change, energy issues, new media and technologies, the global market, sustainable planning and design, local democratic agency.
My second candidate is a firm called Toniq. Cheryl and Craig Swanson have this brilliant way of canvassing the world, discovering the ethnographic and anthropological truths out there, and bringing them back into the corporations in images and sounds that are exquisitely chosed and organized. This really does feel like being in the head of someone very smart because, well, Cheryl and Craig are very smart. Why we don't turn over our War rooms to the Swansons is a small mystery. Here's a bigger mystery: why is Toniq not better known. Talk about a secret weapon. These people are the difference between good marketing and bad marketing.
If one of the objects is to make the capitalism more porous, to help corporation inhale understanding and exhale intelligence, war rooms need fixing.
For more on the Stanford Strategy Center go here
For more on Toniq, go here
I am obliged to say that I know Cheryl and Craig Swanson. I think I'm being objective, but you should know that there is the possibility of a conflict of interest. I don't know anyone at the Stanford Center.
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