What is now-to-new?

Now-to-new is an umbrella term covering innovation, change, problem solving, development, and other activities involving a shift from the present situation (Now) to what’s needed instead (New) with the aim of generating value.

Read about value, anti-value and value generation

Now-to-new work is focused on the end result — the outcome and subsequent value to be generated — rather than the means by which people will accomplish these aims.

Current reality. The situation in which you find yourself at this present moment.
The means by which the desired result will be accomplished. Now-to-new is not a prescribed method, although this website offers a range of frameworks, models, methods and tools that can be used by now-to-new practitioners.
The desired result, which is twofold:
1. The new reality you wish to bring into existence.
2. The downstream value it is now possible to generate by virtue of this new reality.

The six main types of now-to-new work

The six main types of now-to-new work are:

  • Problem solving
  • Surmounting
  • Creating
  • Changing
  • Developing
  • Utilising
The six main types of now-to-new work: problem solving, surmounting, creating, developing, changing and utilising. Originated by Jack Martin Leith.
Each type of work involves a shift from Now (the present situation) to New (what is needed instead).

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

In the table below, the examples are drawn from my casebook. The clients, from top to bottom, were ICI Melinex, Dogs Trust, McCain Foods, Nederlandse Spoorwegen (Dutch Railways), Environment Agency, and Shell GameChanger.

Type of workNowExampleNew
Problem solvingThings are not as they should beWe need to restore harmony between our marketing and sales people, who are currently at loggerheadsThings have returned to the way they should be
SurmountingThere is a need, desire or opportunity to surmount a tough challenge or accomplish an almost-impossible featWe need to respond to the very real threat of new dog-to-human viral diseases entering England from mainland EuropeThe challenge has been surmounted or the feat has been accomplished
CreatingThere is a need, desire or opportunity to create something that will generate valueWe need to conceive, develop and launch a product with the potential for volume salesThe new creation exists and is generating value
ChangingA different state of affairs is desiredWe need change the way we provide the travelling public with rail ticketsThe desired state of affairs has been achieved
DevelopingValue generation capability is not at the required levelWe need to teach some of our people to organise and facilitate Open Space meetingsValue generation capability is at the required level
UtilisingValue generation capability is not being fully utilisedWe need to find a good use for the contaminated water that accompanies oil as it emerges from the sub-surfaceValue generation capability is being fully utilised

The six types in more detail

Problem solving | Restoring the system to full working order, or rectifying that which is undesirable

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.

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.

Phillip Perry / Edgware Road station, (D&C lines), NW1 / CC BY-SA 2.0) and London Underground Circle line map

The copyright on the Edgware Road image is owned by Phillip Perry and is licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The Circle line image is taken from Wikipedia and is 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.”

Source: 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.

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.

“A rather direct implication of Maturana’s view [structural determinism] is that all problems are in language. Until ‘languaged,’ a problem does not exist. Maturana states that ‘Everything said is said by an observer.’ Since problems are things said, they must always be said by someone, to someone (even if the second someone is oneself). It follows that only the person speaking of a problem can have that problem.”

Source: The world according to Humberto Maturana (pdf), by Jay Steven Efran, Temple University, and Michael D. Lukens.
View more quotes about problems and problem solving

Surmounting | Overcoming a tough challenge or accomplishing an almost-impossible feat

This is an extreme example of the kind of challenge I’m talking about here:

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of pre-eminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war. I do not say that we should or will go unprotected against the hostile misuse of space any more than we go unprotected against the hostile use of land or sea, but I do say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again. But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon … We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”

President John F. Kennedy speaking at Rice University
John F. Kennedy, U.S. President, 12 September 1962.
Whereas problem solving, creating, changing, developing and utilising work generally takes the form of a project, surmounting a tough challenge often calls for a time-bound — “before this decade is out” — mission composed of sub-missions and contributing projects.
Mission, sub-missions and projects
As with problem solving, a challenge is surmounted in the moment. Either the astronauts have landed on the moon and returned safely to Earth, or they haven’t.

If you hear any of the following phrases, surmounting is probably the type of now-to-new work that is called for:

“Mission impossible.”
“This is a wicked problem.”
“We need a moonshot.”
“Bring in the A-Team.”
“It’s an insurmountable opportunity.”

When the challenge has been surmounted or the opportunity exploited, the stage is set for for further now-to-new work.

Creating | 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, anti-value and value generators

I mostly talk about creating rather than innovating, because creating is wider in its embrace. For example, I created this web page, but no one would call it an innovation. A composer, chef or fashion designer would probably not think of their work as innovation.

Changing | 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 categories, and that this one is redundant.

For example, if a seventh category should ever need to be included, the ensuing work could be described as change. Now = six categories; New = seven categories. Whatever happens between Now and New is the change. Yes, a change is involved, but so what? And we now have seven 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

Developing | 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 culture is an abstraction — one that people try to enhance by manipulating other abstractions such as values and behaviours. It is also subjective, emergent and constantly generated as a result of the organisation (abstraction) or system (abstraction) doing its thing.

“We are examining footprints. The yeti is long gone.”

Source unknown.
The organisation development function exists to maintain and expand the people element of the enterprise’s value generation capability and ensure that this is deployed effectively for the benefit of customers or users and other beneficiaries.

Note that process improvement is a form of developing, product development is really about creating, and business development is an example of utilising.

Utilising | 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:

  1. The enterprise as a whole
  2. Business units
  3. Functions such as finance and marketing
  4. Teams
  5. Employees
  6. The value generators — tangible offerings such as products, or intangible ones such as services — produced by the enterprise

Utilisation work is undertaken primarily by the organisation development and learning and development functions (items 1 – 5) and the sales and marketing functions (item 6).

Now-to-new makes a clear distinction between developing and utilising.

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 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 utilisation one (generate maximum value from the excavated material). This is a fine distinction but an important one.

How did I come to originate the term now-to-new?

In the very early 1990s, I took a practitioner training in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) 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 case you’re wondering: yes, I do know about Perceptual Control Theory. Both have their place, but I find TOTE more useful.

“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, each with its own language, practices and practitioners. 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 — and organisational change work was in the hands of organisation development people.

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 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.

The now-to-new model I developed in the early 1990s and used throughout that decade is pictured below.

Now-to-new project model originated by Jack Martin Leith during the 1990s and subsequently consigned to the archives

I eventually ditched the ‘circle line’ model for three reasons. First, the diverge-then-converge process at stages 3 and 4 tends to produce mediocre, derivative ideas. Second, the systemic nature of the approach, with its nested and iterative now-to-new sequences, was hard for people to grasp. And third, the process of conceiving ideas and bringing them to fruition does not happen in stages, no matter how much we might pretend otherwise.

Now-to-new is method and mode independent.

Now-to-new is method independent and embraces the three modes of creating alone (this mode is often ignored or downplayed), creating together (by means of teamwork, collaboration or co‑creation), and helping others create (in an enabling role such as facilitator, coach, teacher or team leader).

I’ve almost finished writing an article that explores the modes in detail, including their generative and degenerative forms, and explains their origins. I’ll post a link here when it’s ready to view.

A timeline of now-to-new approaches

Timeline of now-to-new approaches

Read about Creative problem solving | Synectics | Co-creation | Design thinking | Agile
Other notable approaches introduced during this timeframe include:

Now-to-new indicates a reality change.

When a shift from Now to New has been accomplished, a new reality exists. We are not in Kansas anymore.

Now-to-new is a useful shorthand term and gives rise to a shared understanding.

Now-to-new serves as a convenient umbrella term for those undertaking innovation, change, problem solving and development work. When everyone talks about now-to-new, you can be sure that each person has got hold of the same elephant.

The elephant analogy

The term ‘now-to-new’ has a dynamic quality that is lacking in alternatives.

As-Is / To-Be, for example.

Now-to-new work is fractal.

Each now-to-new move is formed of lesser now-to-new moves, and is part of a greater one.

In the main, people want what they want now, not in some hypothetical future.

Each moment is a new Now. New is not a desired future – it’s a desired present.

Prospero is a particular kind of now-to-new approach

Prospero is a method-independent approach for conceiving truly original and highly potent ideas, and birthing new creations (products, services, facilities such as this website, enterprises, events, community initiatives and so on) that generate widespread value, infuse people’s lives with meaning and joy, and enrich the world.

Further reading

Glossary of terms for now-to-new practitioners

From Now to New Right Here: Change-as-Flipping, a set of 19 slides created by Niels Pflaeging & Silke Hermann, BetaCodex

Prospero: your questions answered