How to select a 90-day surprising results project

Choice, Community, Surprising Results
Following is an excerpt from The Vitality Imperative, to aid you in selecting a 90-day surprising results project:


Core samples are minimally invasive examples of the nature of a system. For example, you can take core samples to understand soil composition and better use land for agriculture. Core sampling is used for many other reasons, including mining, oil production, and medical diagnosis. We use the same idea to design surprising results projects in organizations, and here’s how:


Find an important problem that seems difficult or impossible to solve

Gather a small group representing various aspects of the work system. Have them wonder about what important problem you are facing, create options, and then pick one important problem with these features:

  • Relevant to a cross-section of people in your enterprise. The small-town banking crisis in Australia touched a wide crosscut of stakeholders, from residents to community leaders to small business owners to investors.
  • Widely discussed without resolution. The problems caused by the demise of small-town Australian bank branches were written about and discussed widely, with research conducted in New South Wales and Queensland. The impact on small towns all over the country was devastating, and no solution was in sight.
  • Capable of huge impact for many stakeholders. Business owners, employees, politicians, educators, parents, children, and many others all stood to benefit from solving the local bank crisis.

The demise of small-town banking was surely a problem that fit all three criteria.


Enlarge the issue: What larger problem includes the one we are trying to solve?

Find a big wall, cover it with paper, map out everything that seems related to your vitality imperative, and address two basic questions:

  • What happened that led to our dilemma? Find three to five relevant causes, and then for each ask, “What happened that led to that?”
  • Who are all the people impacted? For each group, write a few words about the nature of the impact. Wonder together about this question: What larger issue is our problem a part of?

As we mentioned earlier, Bendigo initially faced this major issue: what was good for big business was not good for small communities.

When a larger issue is identified, we naturally take into account a larger system of causes and effects. When this larger system is identified, our solutions become more effective and the population who benefits from our work increases. All who benefit, whether they know it or not, are stakeholders in our success, and each of them are potential supporters we can ask for help.


Narrow the focus: What apparently small, 90-day success has large implications?

What’s the smallest example of that larger issue that you can tackle now? This is about leverage, not just low-hanging fruit. Yes, it needs to produce a surprising, observable result quickly, but it also needs to yield actionable insight that spawns the next achievement and is useful in the larger system. Here are some criteria we’ve found useful:

  • Timely: Regarding this problem, what is it time for now?
  • Engaging: There are capable, influential people eager to work on it.
  • Measurable: What is our 90-day observable achievement? While the project can be part of a longer-term effort, it needs to have a focused 90-day measurable result at stake.
  • Surprising: When we say we will do it, many will doubt us. When we do it, many will be amazed.

At Bendigo, the first surprising result project was to research and design a model for shared risk and reward that Bendigo stakeholders and at least one Australian community were willing to pilot. Since the issue had been discussed to death, few believed much would come of this. They came to be surprised.


To continue with your surprising results project, refer to promise #7, “Surprising Results” in The Vitality Imperative.