Now-to-new signifies a shift from the present situation to what is needed instead, such that value is generated, anti-value generation is halted, value generation capability is expanded, or it is restored.

+ Value and anti-value defined
Value means benefit. The three main forms of value are economic value, conceptual value and experienced value. I mostly talk about experienced value. Value is not ‘delivered’, as if by FedEx. It is co-created through the interaction between the value beneficiary (e.g. consumer) and the value generator (product, service etc.). See Wikipedia: Service-dominant logic. Value is a unifying principle: the red thread that unites purpose, vision, strategy, mission, project work, capability expansion, and other business fundamentals.

Anti-value is the degenerative counterpart of value. Anti-value is more than dissatisfaction. It manifests as an experience of physical pain or emotional upset arising from a poorly designed or malfunctioning value generator, or from the denial of previously received and possibly taken for granted value.

The five main types of now-to-new work

Each type of work involves a shift from Now (the present situation) to New (what is needed instead):

Type of workNowNew
Problem solvingThings are not as they should beThings are as they should be
CreatingThere is a need, desire or opportunity to create something that will generate valueThe new creation exists and is generating value
ChangingA different state of affairs is desiredThe desired state of affairs has been achieved
DevelopingValue generation capability is not at the required levelValue generation capability is at the required level
Utilising potentialValue generation capability is not being fully utilisedValue generation capability is being fully utilised

Why is the now-to-new concept valuable?

Seven reasons:

1. Now-to-new is a useful collective noun.

Imagine a world where the word fruit doesn’t exist. People would have to say “apples, oranges, lemons, raspberries and so on.”

Now-to-new: a useful collective noun

2. Now-to-new gives people a shared language.

Terminology matters. I’ve heard many people use such terms as innovation and change without any proper understanding of their meaning and with little appreciation of how they differ. In a meeting, we may all be talking about innovation but are we all talking about the same kind of work with the same kind of result?

3. Now-to-new enables the right intervention or programme of work to be designed.

When embarking on any kind of now-to-new project, the team’s first task should be identifying which of the five types of work is called for. Incorrect attribution at this stage could result in an ineffective intervention or programme of work. See for example the development vs. potential utilisation distinction below.

4. As a term, ‘now-to-new’ refers to an entire project or significant project component. As a fully formed concept, now-to-new puts emphasis on the end result — the outcome and subsequent value generation — rather than the means by which these aims will be accomplished.

Now stands for current reality, the situation in which we find ourselves right now.
to represents the means by which the desired result is accomplished.
new signifies the desired result.

There are two aspects to the ‘new’ part of now-to-new:

The new reality we wish to bring into existence.
The downstream value we wish to create.

5. Now-to-new indicates a reality change.

When the macro shift from Now to New has been accomplished, a new reality exists; one in which:

the problem cannot recur (problem solving), or
the new value generator exists and is generating downstream value (creating), or
the desired state of affairs obtains (change), or
value generation capability is greater than it was before (development), or
value generation capability is being fully deployed (potential utilisation).

6. Now-to-new works at all levels of abstraction: big picture and on-the-ground action.

Each New is a new Now, creating the ground for the next Now to New shift.

Below are five examples of a macro shift from Now to New (far left of the graphic to far right), using the example of planning, designing, organising and hosting an Open Space meeting.

+ What is an Open Space meeting?
An Open Space meeting (conference, event) is a participant-led gathering in which 10, 50, 100, 500 or more people discuss issues of heartfelt concern, share ideas, pool their knowledge, reach agreement on the best way forward, and develop plans for collaborative action. Participants create their own programme of self-managed sessions (e.g. discussion groups, experiential workshops, ideas sessions and planning meetings) in response to a thematic question such as: The future of the XYZ Corporation: What are the issues and opportunities?
From Now to New in one move
From Now to New in one move
Many years ago, I ran an Open Space gathering in a Kentish barn with everyone sitting on straw bales. It was completely spontaneous; I arrived at the farm thinking I was going to be chairing an annual general meeting of perhaps half a dozen people whose agenda included the rebooting of a dormant festival. Things unfolded rather differently, and turned out far better than anyone could have anticipated.

NOW A challenge exists: How to relaunch the EarthSpirit festival after a hiatus of several years and with minimal resources?
NEW: A plan for the relaunch exists, along with considerable enthusiasm for putting it into action.

Kaleidoscopic change is a type of change in which Now becomes New in a single move, like giving the barrel of a kaleidoscope a tiny nudge. The new pattern that appears is completely different from the old one, and there is no way of getting the old one back. If you’d like to explore this kind of change further, I strongly recommend Dr. James Wilk’s paper Kaleidoscopic Change (pdf).

From Now to New in two moves
From Now to New in two moves
In this imaginary scenario, EarthSpirit festival founder Jon W and I arrive at the farm. Jon takes me to one side and says: “Jack, I need to level with you. You’re not here to chair an AGM. I want you to run an Open Space. The theme will be something along the lines of How can we relaunch EarthSpirit with minimal resources?”

New reality #1: We’re about to convene an Open Space meeting.

You could argue that the same move also happened in the previous example. But in the true story there was no briefing. I suddenly found myself in a barn together with 20 or 30 people and assorted animals, decided that Open Space was the only way to handle the situation, and got on with it. Everything happened very quickly and spontaneously.

New reality #2: A plan for the relaunch exists, along with considerable enthusiasm for putting it into action.

Some now-to-new work — and probably more than you might imagine — can be completed in one or two moves.

This website is created using WordPress, and not only am I the author of the articles you see here; I am also the webmaster. As I type these words (now-to-new move #1) then hit the Update key (now-to-new move #2), the previous version of this web page instantly flips into the new one. There are no steps or stages — the change is immediate and, if I have done my job well, this version of the page has the potential to generate more value than the previous one.

Wordpress Update button
From Now to New in five moves
From Now to New in five moves
We’re now getting closer to the more usual sequence of events when an Open Space meeting is being planned and hosted.

The first big Now to New — deciding the thematic question (“How can we relaunch EarthSpirit with minimal resources?”) is formed of three smaller now-to-new moves:

1. An initial meeting.
2. A telephone conversation.
3. A second meeting.

Each of the three pieces of work results in a new iteration of the thematic question.

From Now to New in multiple moves
From Now to New in multiple moves
Most Open Space meetings, unlike the EarthSpirit example I provided earlier, involve a whole load of planning, design and logistical activities, of which some happen sequentially and some in parallel.

7. Now-to-new makes a clear distinction between development and potential utilisation.

Credit: Robert C. Jones

Credit: Robert C. Jones
Imagine a company that operates bus services. The company’s value generation capability could be expanded by buying more buses, or by replacing single decker buses with double deckers. In each case the company would be a undertaking a development project. Getting more people to use the existing bus fleet would be a potential utilisation project. We must be careful not to conflate development and utilisation.
From Crossrail to Wallasea Island
Some now-to-new projects fall into both categories. Here’s one such case: The material excavated when boring the tunnels for Crossrail (now named the Elizabeth line) in the south of England was transported to the Essex coast to create a new wetland on Wallasea Island (see video). This was both a development project (increase the value generation potential of the land) and a potential utilisation one (generate maximum value from the excavated material). This is a fine distinction but an important one.

How the now-to-new concept came into being

In the very early 1990s, I took a neuro-lingiistic programming (NLP) practitioner training with Ian McDermott, the founder of International Teaching Seminars. The TOTE model shown in the next graphic was one of the many things I learnt during the course. It made a strong and lasting impression and was the main precursor of the now-to-new concept.

TOTE model originated by George Miller, Eugene Galanter and Karl Pribram in 1960.

“In 1960 [George] Miller, Eugene Galanter, and Karl Pribram proposed that stimulus-response (an isolated behavioral sequence used to assist research) be replaced by a different hypothesized behavioral sequence, which they called the TOTE (test, operate, test, exit). In the TOTE sequence a goal is first planned, and a test is performed to determine whether the goal has been accomplished. If it has not been accomplished, operations are performed to achieve the goal. The test is performed again, and exit occurs if the goal is achieved. Otherwise, the process repeats.”

Souce: Encyclopædia Britannica entry on George A. Miller.
I took the NLP practitioner training while making the transition from the world of marketing to the worlds of innovation and organisation development, which back then were very separate, with their own language, practices and practitioners. To put this into context, the concept of design thinking, spanning innovation and OD, would have been unthinkable. The discipline of change management was in its infancy; Daryl Conner’s seminal book Managing at the speed of change first saw the light of day in 1993.

In the OD world at that time there was much talk about making a change from current reality to the desired future state — a cumbersome and not wholly accurate expression given that what really needs to be created is the desired present. There’s much more I could say on this topic but I’ll save it for a future article.

Around the same time, I came across a copy of an in-house publication produced by Gemini Consulting, a high profile and influential change management (I’m reluctant to say ‘transformation’) firm that evolved into CapGemini. The authors of the publication didn’t use the terms current reality and desired future state. Instead, they talked about As-is and To-be. Today these terms are commonplace, but in 1992 they were freshly minted.

What happened next was more like a game than a deliberate attempt at coining new terminology. I wondered if four letters could be reduced to three. My first attempt yielded Got and Want: accurate labels, but a little too colloquial for the business world and still four letters in the second word. Then inspiration struck. Got became Now, Want became New, and here we are, some 30 years later.

Defining the five types of now-to-new work

These are my definitions, which have evolved over the course of almost three decades. It doesn’t really matter what labels and associated meanings people use as long as everyone is using the same ones in the same way. If you can devise a better set of definitions, I’ll abandon mine and use yours.

I arrived at the five categories through a lengthy process of study, reflection, discussion and application. The concept is under constant review. If a sixth category should ever come to light, change work will be required, and the graphic and text will need to be revised accordingly.

The five main types of now-to-new work: problem solving, innovation, development, change, and potential utilisation, by Jack Martin Leith

Problem solving

The work: Restoring the system to full working order.

A problem arises when there is a difference between how things are and how they should be
A problem arises when there is a difference between how things are and how they should be. Something has gone wrong and it needs to be rectified. Although this runs counter to conventional thinking, a problem is solved in the moment. Either the system is in full working order, or it isn’t. An almost-solved problem is an unsolved problem.

In an enterprise, the state of affairs described as a problem is generally one in which the enterprise’s value generation capability is threatened or impaired.

Much problem solving work is best described as now-to-old. But a return to how things were is not good enough. The aim must be to create a new reality in which the problem cannot exist and cannot reestablish itself. Indeed, in many cases it’s not possible to go back to how things were. The world has moved on.

London underground: Circle line

Circle line. Source: Wikipedia. Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported licence.
If you’re familiar with the London Underground, imagine a journey on the Circle line. You depart from Edgware Road, travel clockwise via Kings Cross, Aldgate, Victoria and Paddington, and return to Edgware Road. But its not the same Edgware Road station you departed from. Different people are standing on the platforms and the station clock is showing a different time.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus.

There’s a state of affairs that’s even better than one in which the problem cannot exist and cannot reassert itself. It’s one that in which value generation capability is expanded for all parties. I use the term problem transformation to refer to the means by which this state of affairs can be created. Problem transformation is analogous to conflict transformation. Whereas conflict resolution simply brings about a situation all parties can live with, conflict transformation leads to a relationship in which new sources of value generation become possible.

Read more about problem transformation

Finally, just to clarify: solving consumers’ problems through the introduction of new products and services is innovation work, not problem solving work.

Fritz argues for a distinction between problem-solving and creating. Problem-solving is taking actions to have something go away: the problem. While problem-solving has its place, as a persistent approach, it limits accomplishment. The elimination of a problem does not mean that the desired result can be created. As distinguished, solving a problem does not by design lead to a creation. Creating is taking action to bring into being that which does not yet exist: the desired outcome.

Robert Fritz

Source: Robert Fritz — Wikipedia.


The work: Conceiving and bringing into being something tangible (a product or other artefact) or intangible (such as a service or a piece of music) that produces experienced value when the user interacts with it.

Read about value and value generators

This section was previously named Innovation. I renamed it because a composer, chef or website developer would probably not think of their work as innovation.


The work: Replacing the current state of affairs with a desired state of affairs.

Change work is encapsulated in the phrase ‘out with the old, in with the new’. The status quo is abandoned and something better takes its place.

I have a strong suspicion that any piece of work framed as change can be attributed to one of the other four categories, and that this one is redundant.

For example, if a sixth category should ever need to be included, the ensuing work could be described as change. Now = five categories; New = six categories. Whatever happens between Now and New is the change. Yes, a change is involved, but so what? And we now have six categories — so what? The answer to the second “so what?” is that we now have a more useful model. The value generation potential of the model has been increased, which puts the work firmly in the development category.

Whenever change is called for, the question that must be asked is “why?” What is the ultimate purpose of the change work? Change in order to what? What value is to be created, and for which beneficiaries?

Too much focus on the change process; insufficient attention paid to the value that needs to be generated


The work: Expanding value generation capability.

An enterprise’s value generation capability consists mainly of its people, equipment, technology, systems, processes and practices. Some would argue that culture should be included here, but my current view is that culture is an abstraction that people try to enhance by manipulating other abstractions such as values and behaviours.

The purpose of the organisation development function is maintaining and expanding the people element of the enterprise’s value generation capability and ensuring that this is deployed effectively for the benefit of customers or users, other stakeholders, and wider society.

Note that process improvement is development work, product development is innovation work, and business development is potential utilisation work.

Utilising potential

The work: Making full use of existing value generation capability.

Utilise means “to make practical or worthwhile use of”.

This kind of work is directed towards unlocking the value generation potential of:

The enterprise as a whole
Business units
Functions such as finance and marketing
The value generators (products, services, facilities, establishments, events, interactions) created by the enterprise

Potential utilisation work is mostly undertaken by the marketing and organisation development functions.

From Now to New right here: Change-as-flipping

BetaCodex Network White Paper No. 16, March 2019.
A set of 19 slides by Niels Pfleaging and Silke Hermann.

My thanks go to Niels and Silke for their acknowledgement on slide 16.

Please send me a note if you have any questions, comments or suggestions with regard to the ideas presented in this article or the way in which I’ve presented them.