[  I. On Bootstrapping  |  II. ABC Model  |  III. Building Blocks  ]

II. An ABC Model for Bootstrapping Collective IQ0

Over the years Doug Engelbart refined his R&D strategy for unprecedented innovation to show how it can be applied to bootstrap Collective IQ within any knowledge-based organization. 1

The ABC Model2

Consider the primary activity fulfilling the mission of the organization to be its "A" Activity – be it building mouse traps,designing courseware, writing legislation , or addressing world hunger. Consider any effort to improve how the organization does its "A" work to be its "B" Activity – introducing new processes or tools, incentive programs, quality initiatives,etc. In other words, the "B" Activity improves the product cycle time and quality of the organization. Now consider any effort in the organization to improve your "B" Activity – e.g. better methods of identifying and assessing challenge areas and opportunities for improvement, identifying and implementing solutions, deploying results, incorporating lessons learned – to be the organization's "C" Activity. The "C" Activity improves the improvement cycle time and quality of the organization. Most organizations already have all three activities going on, but the "C" Activity is generally pretty weak and haphazard, and the "B" Activities suffer accordingly.2a

Now suppose you really want to boost the overall effectiveness of the organization. You want to start by energizing the learning and innovation at the "C" level, which will then energize the "B" Activities into faster and smarter improvement cycles, which then dramatically and continuously improve the "A" Activity. So you employ Doug's bootstrapping strategy. You will now think in terms of shifting from one-shot incremental improvements in the organization, to a compounding improvement capability curve. To launch this turbo charging effect, you assign someone to be in charge of "C" (a Chief Improvement Officer or equivalent, if only part time to start with) with a small but growing budget and at least one staff FTE (or half to start with) to figure out how to boost the innovation at the "C" level, and innovate their collaboration with select "B"level initiatives, and the "B"s collaboration with select "A" level projects. The primary focus of innovation is on boosting the collective IQ capability (aka improving cycle time and quality) as the point of greatest leverage across all three levels of the organization. This way whatever "C"is exploring on behalf of "B" and "A" will also improve "C". This will start reverberating the innovation up and down the chain – "C" <-> "B"<->"A" – just as Doug had going in his lab with his tiers of customers. 2b

The good great news is that you don't have to do this alone. More specifically you don't have to fund all the "C"work inside your organization. Whereas your "A" Activity and "B" Activities might be specific to your organization's mission and proprietary besides, your "C" Activity work is pretty much the same as any other organization's "C"Activity. Just as in the Total Quality movement you can establish a share and exchange at the "C" level across organizations to share lessons learned, pool R&D resources, and accelerate the innovation. You can even share the cost of early pilot projects. This networked "C" activity provides enormous co-evolutionary bootstrapping leverage to all participating organizations.2c

Even before you've lined up resources for an all out bootstrapping "C" level program in your organization, you can begin by hooking up with like minded individuals within and outside your organization, and collaborate on researching the component parts, identifying requirements, collecting data, writing a generic white paper you can all take home, and even lending support to other organizations who are further along in exchange for access to lessons learned.2d

Corporate Example3

Consider the example of a new organizational initiative to boost the collective IQ within a particular product team. The people engaged in implementing the improvement are working at the "B" level, and the target group is at the "A" level. Now let's say the planned implementation is more ambitious than this organization has ever undertaken. So some effort is made to design an innovative process into the initiative to address the complexity and enhance connection among the stakeholders – this is a "C" Activity. 3a

Now let's compare two organizations trying to implement this same innovation. One organization runs it like a regular project. The other has a funded and very active "C" level team that can step in and assist the "B" level initiative in their process innovation, drawing on resources, ideas, and feedback from their "C" alliance network. One organization is getting the job done, the other is getting the job done faster and smarter while at the same time increasing its capacity for innovation and implementation. Over time the first organization will still be making step-wise improvements, while the second organization will be getting faster and smarter at improving at all levels, and thus be able to undertake more improvements, more ambitious improvements, in tighter cycle times, with greater cost-effectiveness. 3b

Improvement Community Example4

An Improvement Community as defined by Engelbart is any group whose mission is to improve something. For example, a professional society, an internal corporate initiative, and industry consortia and associations, are all examples of Improvement Communities (ICs). Improvement Communities whose mission includes improving some aspect of Collective IQ are ripe candidates for applying the ABC model to leverage and accelerate their efforts. These would include, for example, special interest groups, associations, and corporate teams focused on advancing the state of the art in collaboration, or team building, facilitation, organizational improvement, total quality, continuous learning, digital libraries, hypertext, groupware, mail lists, wikis, human-computer interaction, technology transfer, and so on. 4a

Whatever their primary area of focus, or "A" Activity, they are each spending some amount of energy to improve how their particular community collaborates and shares information and lessons learned, which is their existing "B" Activity. As a minimum one would hope that they each work diligently to apply their own mission to themselves – i.e. the digital library association would host an exemplary digital library of its members' contributions, the groupware association would be employing best practices and advanced tools for collaborating, and so forth. An Improvement Community thus specially endowed to boost its own Collective IQ is, in Engelbart's parlance, a Networked Improvement Community (NIC).4b

Now imagine the potential if representatives from each of these community's "B" Activities were to form a meta-community, or "C" community, to collaborate on how their respective Improvement Communities could be more effective, and jointly pilot a composite of Collective IQ best practices from each of the communities represented. What you've created is a super meta NIC, or turboNIC, aimed at boosting total Collective IQ. The missions of each member community, or NIC, would be greatly boosted, which in turn would feed back to the meta "C" community turboNIC, which would in turn put into practice greatly enhanced results and lessons learned from its members, and in turn be that much more effective at piloting the collective best practices. This tight feedback loop for rapidly improving Collective IQ up and down the chain of innovation sets off a compounding return on investment. Member organizations would gain significant and rapidly increasing advantage over their non-member counterparts. Member nations could benefit commensurately.4c


What percentage of an organization's budget is it worth to put these scenarios in motion? 1% ... 5% ... ?%? What would be the added benefit if professional societies and consortia did likewise? And what percentage of our federal budget is it worth to advance both competitiveness socio-environmental well-being of our nation(s) and planet to fund a proactive "C" alliance network infrastructure with satellite laboratories to serve corporations as well as small business, non-profits, grassroots organizations, NGOs, government agencies and international initiatives in boosting their collective IQs? 5a

And here's where we get back full circle to Doug Engelbart's life long pursuit: as world problems become increasingly complex and urgent, and as the product of complexity and urgency escalate exponentially on a global scale, we can muster our Collective IQ to boost our Collective IQ at a commensurate or surpassing rate wherever Collective IQ really matters so we can solve world problems faster than those problems multiply. What is this worth?5b

No matter where you start, remember you're bootstrapping, so think big but start small and evolve it, look for what's going to give the most bootstrapping leverage, and scale your improvement efforts from there.5c

 [  I. On Bootstrapping  |  II. ABC Model  |  III. Building Blocks  ]

Further Reading6

  1. Quick Reads: See The ABCs of Organizational Improvement, plus brief overviews in A Vision and A Strategy, as well as Doug's Dreaming of the Future article, Call to Action, and Vision and Mission Statement 6a
  2. Watch Doug: Browse our Engelbart Academy for his key talks, workshops, and interviews. 6b
  3. Put to Practice: Your Toolkit for Bootstrapping Brilliance in your initiatives or organization. 6c
  4. Press: 6d


"Without a doubt the most important innovation in Engelbart's seminal work was this strategic framework embodied in every aspect of his lab's R&D environment and culture [...] which created an accelerative learning environment for dramatic gains in innovation, augmentation, and increasingly boosted collective IQ [...] up and down the innovation chain.

Furthermore, Doug's strategic framework is still as viable as ever and completely replicatable, with at least as much potential for payoff in increased innovation and effectiveness as ever. It is ripe for the picking for any [endeavor] where Collective IQ really matters.

Christina Engelbart, On Bootstrapping Our Collective IQ