The speed with which the world changes is truly breathtaking. How many people knew
about Facebook, or LinkedIn five years ago? How many people owned a cell phone 20
years ago. How about those who are now using powerful new drugs to treat diseases
where there once was little hope or help? It’s amazing to think that many of our children
have never known life without the Internet.
It’s a time of tremendous opportunity and also of loss. The high-tech sector grows as
traditional manufacturing declines. Developing nations continue to compete for the right
to make products and deliver services to developing ones. The cost incentives are hard to
Problems need to be solved, goals need to be reached, products need to be developed and
opportunities need to be developed. Where do you turn for help?
The answer is your own thinking. It’s possible to accomplish great things if you leverage
your thinking – alone or with others. There are tools you can learn to use and assemble
into intentional thinking processes that will enable you to accomplish tasks faster and with
This presentation is an overview of Leverage100’s approach to improving our clients’
thinking. It touches on leverage and leveraged thinking, applications, and how we plan to
roll out our capabilities. We’re also including some ways you can stay in touch with our
progress, and we hope you’ll be open to our ongoing communication.
Before we get moving into the presentation, I thought I should talk briefly about the
copyright of this document. It is based on one of four standards from the Creative
Commons organization. You have the right to copy, transmit and distribute this work,
provided you attribute it to me and don’t make any derived works from it. Links to the
summary and full text versions of the copyright are noted above.
So, with the legal stuff out of the way, let’s talk about leveraged thinking by first examining
the concept of leverage. A scientist and systems analyst called Donella Meadows identified
that there are levers or places in any complex system (an organization, a team, an
ecosystem and so on) where small shifts can bring about big changes.
An engineering example of leverage in action is the turning of a super tanker. Super tankers
are very heavy, and turning the rudder takes an enormous amount of energy. What
happens in practice is that the main rudder has a smaller rudder of its own. The smaller
rudder is turned and causes the main rudder to turn using much less energy to accomplish
I had a client who is a public sector union that was looking for ways to save some costs.
One area where they were spending a lot of money was paying for arbitration adjudicators
that were nominated for cases that we cancelled at the last minute. The union had to pay
a fee to the adjudicator even though the hearing didn’t take place. One of the members of
a change team came up with a small but powerful process change. The union began to
nominate its own arbitration officers as adjudicators and then switched their usual
adjudicators into the case when it was clear things were going to go forward. That small
change in approach saved hundreds of thousands of dollars.
My experience has generally been that changes at points of leverage are more effective,
easier to implement, and better received by the people who are affected by them –
especially if they have participated in the finding of them.
Leveraged thinking, then, is about identifying and making changes at points of leverage.
Often people have their stock solutions to any goal or problem which have worked in the
past but won’t work very effectively today. Sometimes the implementation of new
information systems, while attractive, has very little leverage against an organization’s
issues. Yet organizations spend a lot of money and end up blaming the users for not being
open to change.
I know of one organization where the CEO almost throws a tantrum when his sales
numbers aren’t reached, and threatens a downsizing or outsourcing of his sales staff. He
won’t listen to talk about product improvement, and about how quickly his most promising
sales people leave. He just keeps beating the proverbial dead horse.
Leveraged thinking is also about making time devoted to thinking more leveraged.
Sometimes teams find themselves working the same issues over and over again with no
progress. For other, change is so drawn out and difficult that they shy away from it. Some
people, being placed in a new position, can feel overwhelmed and need to quickly get a
handle on their responsibilities.
Leveraged thinking is about intentionally thinking using a process designed to meet its
goals. The process is made up of a sequence of tools that are followed to maximize the
results from the thinking effort. Dozens and dozens of these tools have been developed
that can be used in thinking processes. Some are simple acronyms that encourage types of
thinking to be done. Others are more complex to use, such as process simulation.
Often, leveraged thinking processes are group processes using a facilitator. However,
leveraged thinking can also be done by individuals working on their own tasks, or in a
coaching relationship where the coach takes the client or subordinate through a leveraged
Today’s automation supports leveraged thinking processes. Social media products,
knowledge management and capture tools, information modelling tools and workflow
technology can form an important part of a leveraged thinking process. It seems that one of
the courses of development in IT seems to be the development of technologies that enable
good group and individual processes.
So where can we apply leveraged thinking processes and their associated tools? The list of
above suggest there are lots of applications. My experience is that organizations of all sizes
can use leveraged thinking. There is no industry barrier, no organizational structure barrier,
and very little organizational culture barrier when it comes to the use of leveraged thinking.
It seems that we can all be more intentional and more focused when it comes to our
Over the past 25 career years, I’ve learned a lot about tools and processes of thinking that
result in leveraged solutions – and those that don’t. My experience includes work in IT,
Management Science, Business Consulting, Process Design and Delivery, and Organizational
Change and Transformation. I’ve have used the tools and processes I recommend to clients
in work with other organizations, which include for-profit and non-profit clients of different
sizes and sectors.
One of the leveraged thinking tools is called TORO. The slide shows that this is a four-stage
thinking tool. The first stage is clarify what is being thought about and the steps to follow
in thinking. The second stage is to set out information about the target – that which is
known already and that which requires gathering. The third stage is to identify what next
options can be taken, and to improve those with the most promise. Those should be
located at points of leverage in the system under consideration. Finally, the fourth step is
to identify next steps – who will do what by when, and the time another gathering will be
held to look at progress.
In fact, TORO is considered to be the core leveraged thinking tool, since it can be used to
create a thinking process that draws on other tools for particular stages. So, if I was using
TORO as a problem solving process, I might design the use of the INC (Is-Isn’t-Could Be If)
tool to help with setting boundaries on the problem. Of course, TORO can be used alone to
bring leverage to a whole range of thinking tasks. In fact, it should resemble the kind of
successful thinking processes that we’ve all experienced.
As I mentioned earlier, there are dozens and dozens of thinking tools that make up the
Leverage100 offerings in leveraged thinking. All of them share two common purposes –
finding points of leverage in a system as candidates for change, and adding leverage to the
process of thinking itself.
Moving forward, there are three overlapping stages of effort. The first is to create and
maintain an online presence, which has already started. The second is to deliver more
reusable modules like this one which teach the leveraged thinking tools. They will be
delivered under Creative Commons licenses, making them freely usable subject to certain
constraints. I’m hoping to gain feedback on the tools and processes of leveraged thinking
this way. The final stage is to create derivative works and infrastructure that generate
revenue for participants. Some of these have already been identified and will be disclosed
at an appropriate time.
Here’s contact information for reaching me about leverage100. I would recommend
visiting the blog and signing up for site updates or the RSS feed, but following along in
twitter is fine as well. I am present on other social media sites as well.