Many organizations are so busy running and growing the business that they spend insufficient time thinking creatively about alternative futures. The Align Technology executive team took a progressive approach to address this challenge by harnessing the brain power of their top talent.

Ten senior leaders from around the world were taken out of the business for eight consecutive weeks to participate in a program led by Duke Corporate Education’s Tony O’Driscoll. The chosen ten’s task was to reflect and think strategically about the future. The initiative was called Catalyst.

The Catalyst participants were presented the challenge. They jumped into the fray, leaning into the uncertainty and ambiguity of the challenge with curiosity and zeal. They did in-depth analysis, gathered data in the field and then used scenario scoping and ethnographic research that ultimately enabled them to present options for solutions to the executive team.

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“We have big strategic questions we need to ask ourselves, and they get lost in the hurly burly of daily activity – especially at Align, where we are all about action,” said program sponsor Simon Beard, senior vice-president & managing director EMEA. “We briefed the team to look at different options. My expectations of them were high, and they exceeded them with the quality, depth and breadth of their thinking. They thought of things that we as an executive team hadn’t.”

One of the biggest learnings from the program was improved customer insight through ethnographic research. This meant spending time with customers in a wide variety of contexts, looking at how the Align products are used in practice, seeing and learning up close what works and what frustrates.

“Meeting actual customers as well as non-users and understanding how they do their work was the opposite of theory,” said participant Mary Kumar, VP global enterprise & platform IT. “I learned about our business, our offerings, and where colleagues think we do well or not.”

There are numerous examples of how Align Technology now collaborates differently. There is consensus among the group that the output created will position Align for ongoing success.

“I have experienced the power of giving ten talented people the time and resources to really answer a difficult challenge and to create an opportunity out of it,” said Beard.

Raphael Pascaud, chief marketing officer and a program sponsor, concluded: “Duke Corporate Education made this happen. We need to recognize that; the entire Duke team was absolutely vital. Align is carrying on the journey we started years ago. We are successful, but we don’t rest. We drive on an increasing level of positive paranoia.”

This story first appeared in Dialogue.