Generative images

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…faced with a tough, complex challenge that people care about and you want to improve or break through.

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Drawing highly motivated people to explore new, unforeseen ways to break through an existing challenge brings out the best in all.

Compelling vision can lead:

  • people towards it; and
  • to big bets.

Most visions create the illusion of certainty and fail.

Compelling—to call on something people care about.

The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen; but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees.
Erwin Schrödinger

Donald Schön: “problem-setting”, how a problem gets initially defined, is more important than problem-solving to the creation of good policies. Decision-makers ought to think metaphorically about issues they face, and that they in fact already do, and that the images often rest upon tacit and pervasive common rhetoric—generative metaphors.

generative images are:

  • fresh—unusual combination of words in this group, organisation, context;
    • may work in one context, may fail in another;
    • can often be found when ‘either/or’ is replaced by ‘both/and’:
      • “decentralised centralisation”;
      • “generalisation specialist”;
  • attractive—appealingly point to issues and/or futures people care about;
  • energetic—create openings for new, productive conversations; people want to come to these conversations;
  • generative—ambiguous, paradoxical slogans to allow people to imagine many different alternatives for action; has so many facets, people can leap into it in ways no one ever thought about it before; totally unique thoughts;
  • compelling—people care about it, feel the urge to contribute, act, take the lead.

Examples of generative images:

  • sustainable development—brought environmentalists and business people together; generative image in many contexts, almost universal; still glows;
  • decentralised centralisation;
  • exceptional customer arrival experiences, rather than, “How do we get airline employees to identify and act on innovations that will make is stand out from our competitors?” —British Airways;
    • much more meaningful for frontline workers, bagage handling, on the planes, people handling tickets, etc.
  • stress free customer services, rather than, “How do we get unionised employees from all parts of the supply chain to generate and act on ideas for increasing standardisation of work processes?”; boring!; they failed standardising for years;
  • uncompromised personal service—hotel chain


Attract people with an, often ambiguous and paradoxical, slogan that evokes an attractive, generative image to new, productive conversations, allowing many facets so people can leap into it into it in ways no one ever thought about before.

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