How To Brainstorm Better with Information Models



“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling

I wanted to share a simple way to brainstorm and come up with more scenarios for digital transformation.

There are a lot of very simple ways to come up with more scenarios. 

But the real trick is to find simple ways you can brainstorm more scenarios with teams of people.   And to figure out ways to brainstorm scenarios by creating a tree of scenarios that can easily grow over time, so you can build on what you know.

I’ll walkthrough using Information Models as a platform for brainstorming better scenarios, but I’ll also share some key ideas, like the idea that the scenario catalog for your company is actually the catalog of value for the future.

The Value of Scenarios in 3 Sentences of Less

I want to first boil down the game of business so that scenarios make more sense.

Here is the value of scenarios in 3 sentences:

  1. A scenario represents the future value you will create in terms of your customer, whether you create a product, service, or whatever.
  2. A scenario is the link between your customer’s current state of pains and needs, and the desired future state or aspirations.
  3. A scenario is a chunk of change that also links your business and delivery teams around an output with outcomes that customers will exchange value for.

You can think of a scenario as a problem and solution pair that is the backbone of your creative and engineering efforts that focus your execution and your value creation.

Scenario Storming

Let’s just call this process of elaborating or diverging on scenarios, “scenario storming”.

It’s actually a good metaphor because the idea is to create a whirlwind of ideas to instigate more ideas, and to hatch as many ideas as you can.

Finding better scenario is a numbers game.

You can storm scenario for fun or for profit, or even to be something of a “prophet”.

I am a fan of quickly creating a balcony view of the realm of scenarios.

When I go to win a space, the first thing I do is map the space.  I map the space in terms of building a map of scenarios.   By the time I’ve mapped the space out in terms of scenarios, I have a very good lens on where value will be created or destroyed.

And it puts me in a powerful position to anticipate disruption or to be the disruptor.

Key tip – The best way to respond to disruption is to build the muscle for continuous innovation.

Scenarios are the Catalog of Future Value

Scenarios are the catalog or “index” of future value.  You can think of a scenario as a problem and solution pair, similar, but not the same, as a pattern.

A lot of scenario planning models are very linear and walk through drivers, identify potentially disruptive events, or disruptive technologies, or shifts in values, and that’s all good.  In fact, those are all great inputs.

But I’ve experienced a magic that happens when people get together and riff on a simply visual or information model, and really come up with outstanding catalogs of  scenarios.

And your scenario catalog is really your catalog of future value.

Let that really sink in.  After all, people in the future will pay or exchange value to solve pains, needs, and desired outcomes.   Scenarios are backbone of all value-driven efforts and initiatives.

So the better your scenarios, the better your chances of creating high value for the future.

Or, as I like to think of it, the value of a solution is the value of the problem solved.

Example Information Model with Scenarios for Oil & Gas

I want to make this real for you as quickly as possible, so here is an example of a catalog of scenarios for Oil & Gas.

Note that you can represent information models in lots of ways, and I’ve used everything from fancy diagrams to whiteboard visuals to Mind Maps to simple collections of categories in a doc.

Here is a very simple sample of a catalog of scenarios for Oil & Gas…

Category / Personas Scenario Title
Exploration and Development
  • Reservoir Exploration and Visualization
  • Drilling Optimization
  • Seismic Study Data Management

View more…

  • Well Site Potential
  • Reservoir Analytics
  • Improved Reservoir Models Based on Production Data
Drilling and Completions
  • Real-Time Connected Rig
  • Well Performance Optimization
  • Project Management to Construct Oil Facilities

View more…

  • Real-Time Data Analysis while Drilling
  • Predictive Modeling
  • Dry Hole Prevention
  • Drilling Risk Reduction
  • Rapid Provisioning for Analytics
Employees and Service Providers
  • Connected Workforce
  • Back Office Operational Agility
  • Social Knowledge Management / Training

View more…

  • Cross-Boundary Collaboration
  • Real-Time Onboarding and Training
  • 360 Customer View of Oil Company [for Service Providers]
  • Seamless Communications
  • Enable Devices and Mobility for Field Personnel
  • Simplify Workflow with Devices
  • Real-Time Guidance/Feedback for Field Personnel Solving Problems
  • Shared Data for Collaboration
  • Mergers and Acquisitions Productivity
  • Customer 360 Degree View (for Service Providers)
Operations and Production
  • Connected Operations
  • Connected Oil Field
  • Predictive Maintenance

View more…

  • Production Efficiency
  • Prediction of Extraction Events
  • Understanding of Reservoir Conditions
  • Oil Lifetime Extension
  • Enhanced Oil Recovery
  • Micro-Seismic Mapping
  • Complex Process Optimization
  • Data Center in a Box
  • Joint-Venture / M&A Planning
  • Operations Optimization
  • Predictive Pipeline Maintenance
  • Predictive Maintenance for Boarding Facilities
  • Asset Optimization
  • Cost Containment
  • Remote Analysis, Diagnostics, and Maintenance
  • Asset Health Monitoring and Benchmarking
  • Connected Vehicles
  • SAP Archiving and Document Management
  • Supply Chain Optimization
Midstream Operations
  • Lubricant Operations
  • Refinery Operations
  • Terminal Management
Downstream Operations
  • Product Distribution
  • Retail Fuel Operations
  • Connected Sales / Marketing
  • Connected Brand
  • Connected Services

View more…

  • Social Listening
  • Loyalty Management
  • Connected Process Innovation
  • Connected Product Innovation
  • Connected Retail Innovation
Profitability Management
  • Energy Trading
  • Product Price Optimization
  • Profit Optimization
  • Environmental Risk Management
  • Environmental Stakeholder Management
  • Environment Reporting
Health and Safety
  • Onsite Employee Health Screening
  • Real-Time Risk and Safety Monitoring
  • Health and Safety Risk Management
  • Oil Field Threat Detection and Characterization
  • Advanced Security against Cybercrime (Computer Vision)
  • Enterprise Security

View more…

  • Predictive Pipeline Security
  • Insight on Geopolitical Trends
  • Real-Time Security Monitoring (Computer Vision)
Incident Management
  • Situational Awareness (following a disaster)
  • Predictive Analytics to Prevent Disasters
  • Stakeholder Communications and Collaboration

Create a Simple Catalog or Index of the Scenarios

My favorite approach is to pivot from a base information model and create views that are helpful for the particular audience or goal. 

They don’t even need to know the complexity behind the scenes, all they need to know is here’s a handful of hot spots we can use to brainstorm new value.

And, most importantly, I like to first and foremost create the index or catalog.  The master view before the details.  The bird’s-eye view or the balcony view of the terrain. 

The index or catalog is a great place to hammer out the names and labels you use for the actual body or details of the scenarios that they represent.

Yes, words do matter, and the better you name your scenarios, the stickier they will be, and they will also help gain traction in the system, in terms of mindshare and value.

The “Making Of” the Catalog of Scenarios for Oil & Gas

The catalog of scenarios is based on first mapping out with experts, the upstream and downstream value chains in Oil & Gas.

I wanted everybody to have a simple shared view of how to look at how the game of business works in the Oil & Gas arena.

Plus this helped build a common vocabulary and frame of reference.

The idea was to give everybody a platform and prompts to come up with more scenarios.   The beauty was that rather than limit to the value chain view or a particular view, I opened up the realm of possibility so we could explore the art of the possible, by simply creating a frame of high value categories.

And the simple frame of high value categories became a launch pad for brainstorming more scenarios than we could possibly keep up with.  And that was the idea. 

The idea was to think in terms of a broad portfolio of opportunities, to get people really thinking about potential futures, and then narrow down on best bets, as we test and learn ideas.

The surprise was that for several years, our map of the future scenarios actually kept us ahead of the game, and better able to anticipate disruption and change.

Visual Tools for Scenario Storming

Just to put it out there, you can use Journey Maps, Capability Maps, Value Chains, Mind Maps, Topics Maps or Information Models to brainstorm more scenarios. 

’ve found all of the tools to be incredibly effective, depending on which stage you are at, and they all work well whether you are brainstorming alone or have a team of people hacking with you.

The idea here is to really map out the constellation of potential scenarios.   You can always refine ideas later, and you can of course, take a more targeted approach using a Double Diamond, for example.

Here is a quick tour of the visual tools, just to get a sense of what they are:

  • Journey Maps – You can think of a Journey Map very simply as a visual representation of the path a user or thing might take.  This is especially helpful when business leaders all have silo views of their piece or portion or aspect of the customer.  The journey view gives a visual way for all the business leaders to focus on the customer and see their business from the customer’s lens.
  • Capability Maps – Capability Maps are awesome, when done well.  Think of a Capability Map as a visual of the building blocks of a business, if it’s a “Business Capability Map”.   And a “Technical Capability Map” is helpful for breaking technology down into building blocks.   In fact, they are among the best way to both learn a new platform and to create a shared vocabulary around what the technology can do.
  • Mind Maps / Topic Maps – I’ll just lump these together for simplicity, but picture a bunch of bubbles on a page with all the topics or ideas fanning out from the central idea.
  • Information Models – Information Models is a representation of the concepts and relationships.  You can start by sharing simple “mental models” of a given space.  But Information Models are a game changer for me.   I’ve used them to win competitive assessments for software platforms, and to help share and scale expertise for complex domains.

In all of these cases, I found that if you get smart people in a room, or virtual too, but nothing to look at, minds go blank.

It’s tough to start from a blank page, even if you want to metaphorically start from a blank page.

Whether you think of the tools as seeds or soil or thought starters, visual tools and maps help prime the mind, and they help people jumpstart their thinking, and to quickly iterate through ideas.

Agile Information Models

Don’t get bogged down when you are first creating categories to hatch, grow, and group scenarios.  Lightweight information models work just fine, and you can elaborate your information model or tree, as you learn more, and need to add more information.

Just like the right question is often more valuable than the right answer, the right categories for your scenarios can end up more valuable than the scenario you come up with.

The right categories reflect where value will be created or destroyed.  Just think of how much effort marketing puts in to try to dominate category, or to even show up in a category in a consumer’s mind.

Categories are how you win the game.   You can try to go deep in a category.  Or, if the category appears already dominated, you can narrow your focus, as Al Ries teaches us to do.  For example, you don’t try to compete against “Online Bookstore.”  You divide the category or narrow the niche and specialize.  For example, you would focus on “Business Books” and create incredible experiences with guest speakers, special deals, and more.

When you think about categories, it can be like a chicken and egg situation.   Some people create a bunch of categories up front, but then they aren’t relevant or they actually get in the way.   Sometimes it helps to first gather some rocks, then see what sort of buckets make sense.

The key point is that the value of the Information Model is the level of insight that it provides.  Stay open and flexible and keep a lightweight information model that can learn and grow with you, versus outgrow your ability to shape and change it. 

When that happens, start over, carry over the good, and leave the baggage behind.

Brainstorm with Information Models and Think in Portfolios

Nothing is worse than a weak or limited list of scenarios that teams and people go and spend their precious life force working on.

There’s no reason for it.  

Not when it’s actually a quick exercise to map out a space, brainstorm scenarios with skill, and actually great a great catalog of ideas and scenarios to work from.

Plus, the more you explore the potential in a space, the less likely you will be disrupted, and the more likely you will be to be the disruptor.  Disrupt or be disrupted.

Think in terms of a portfolio.  Don’t just settle for the first handful of ideas that pop in your head, or the first few ideas that are thrown your way.   Challenge yourself to really explore the space and illuminate the space through a catalog of innovative scenarios.

Create a great portfolio of scenarios so that you can ensure the potential for your future value.

Success really is a numbers game.

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