Dr. Lawrence Lippitt, author of "Preferred Futuring", Visits IBM Research - Zurich

5 questions with Dr. Larry Lippitt

Q. What is "Preferred Futuring"?

Larry Lippitt. Preferred Futuring is a way to engage everyone in the system to be able to communicate with each other. Communication is so important and so basic to operating as an organization effectively and, nowadays, it happens so very quickly, too.

Preferred Futuring helps people come together and discuss “How on earth did we get to where we are?” and “Where are we, actually?”

Once we’ve agreed on these issues, we can discuss “Do we have any values or beliefs that have participated in getting us there?” because our basic values and beliefs affect the way we behave.

And finally, “What are some of the trends and developments on the horizon?”. As we hope and plan to arrive at the future we want, we need to ask, “Which trends might impact us?” So we need to be smart in our strategic thinking.

Then, collectively, we all participate in determining “Where to we want to be?” Not, “Where should we be?” or “Where ought we to be?” but “Where do we want to be?” It’s about listening to the passion in my heart that says “This is exciting, and I want us to get there together.”

We need to talk with each other in order for us all to work together towards getting there. This is then followed by planning and implementation. That’s basically the process.

Q. The event today is about inspiration transformation. Can you explain?

LL: I have to smile at this because sometimes the process generates so much energy that you just have to get out of people’s way. Inspiration transformation comes from the sudden understanding that we’re all on the same page, or when you recognize what our whole system looks like and think, “Wow, I never knew.”

So the idea is to exprience this sensation together, suddenly, as part of an integral system, not just you over there and me over here. When we begin to see that and experience that, the energy grows. Then we can talk about some of the hard questions, such as “What are we doing right?” as well as “What are we doing wrong?” because everything we’re doing isn’t wrong, of course.

We begin to get a complete picture, a balanced view of where we really are, not just of all the problems we have. Then when we share the vision with each other, it’s like splitting the human energy atom! There’s so much motivation and the ability to innovate, to think outside of the box I was in just a little while ago.

The process gives us the inspiration to continue together, and it gives us the motivation from that energy.

Q. Based on your 30 years of experience, are there any tricks that you can share?

LL: You know, being an effective leader is really not that complicated. It seems that way because there’s so much to do and so much to take into account. But it is really about connecting with the other person. Not letting the fact that you’re the leader or I’m the leader and you are to be led, whatever—not letting that intervene with the fact that we are people and we need to work together to get a job done.

As a leader you need to know that we don’t get anything done unless we can work together as colleagues, as equals, although there may be an unequal status because someone is the designated leader. But it’s important to let that not get in the way.

The other thing is respect and courtesy. These are basic things we should have learned in kindergarten. Respect means that, well, maybe I’m not quite sure about your ideas, but because they’re your window on truth, it is important that I as the leader listen to you.

Because when you listen to that truth, suddenly things change. You have to try to understand the other person through their own eyes. Something magical happens when you’re able to work together and communicate with each other and this enhances the leader’s ability to have empathy.

Q. As we honor 100 years of IBM, any personal anecdotes?

LL: (Laughs) Well, this goes way back in history—because I also go way back. There was the stereotype that, at IBM, everyone was all buttoned-down, we all wore dark suits and ties. One time I was at a facility outside of Boulder, Colorado. I was coming to work one morning and had this little pop! of inspiration about leadership. I was one of these buttoned-down guys, and just had this surge of inspiration.

I don’t think many people at IBM wear dark suits anymore, certainly not in the techie part of the organization—so that’s one memory that makes me laugh.

Q. Any advice for future leaders?

LL: You know, it may not seem a fashionable approach right now because leaders are supposed to direct others and so on. But I think it’s essential to learn the skills that help people do their job, to listen and do those very human things that support the people you work with to do their job better. To develop the skills that let you be helpful and facilitate the processes relating to the work.

Many thanks, Dr. Lippitt, for these very interesting insights.

LL: It was my pleasure, thank you.