JANUS Initiative

Archaeological perspectives on understanding and managing change and innovation in organizations, businesses, communities, teams.

A research focus in next-generation Design Thinking

Michael Shanks Stanford University
Victor Taratukhin University of Muenster, Germany and SAP
Natalia Pulyavina, Plekhanov University of Economics, Moscow, and Stanford University

keywords/tags: capacity building, business archaeology, creative confidence, design thinking, strategic foresight, innovation, historiography, archaeology, transdisciplinary collaboration, change management, social and cultural memory, organizational culture

Looking back that we might be better prepared for uncertain futures

The Janus Initiative conducts research around a proposition or thesis regarding the ways that organizations, businesses, teams and communities connect their past, present, and future:

Hindsight – insight – foresight.

Mindful insight is the self-knowledge an organization, business or community has into its capabilities, its resources and values. It is proposed that such insight is associated with the capacity to innovate, to manage and adapt with creativity to the complex uncertainties that are so characteristic of a contemporary world of runaway change and black swan unpredictabilities.

Such insight requires hindsight, understanding what has led to current circumstances, and foresight, anticipating and planning for the unexpected. Past experiences, achievements and lessons learned, conveyed as stories and legacies, memories, and artifacts and buildings, are the foundations of the senses of identity and confidence of a business or community, offering orientation on present potential, and with a view to preferable futures.

As a  transdisciplinary research network focusing on human innovation and design experience in the past, present and future, the Janus Initiative is formally located in Stanford University’s Center for Design Research in the School of Engineering as well as in Stanford Archaeology Center. The initiative combines currents in design thinking, strategic foresight, scenario planning, design-based research, planning and implementation, organizational studies, archaeology, historiography, ethnography and anthropology.

The dynamics of building the future

Janus was the Roman divinity associated with transition, passages from pasts through to futures, windows, doorways and thresholds.

Simultaneously looking back and forward, Janus connects pasts and futures, gaining perspective with hindsight and foresight, finding orientation now, not by telling the story of the past, not by predicting what is to come, but by seeking relationships, passages, flows from the past, ways the past lingers to haunt, hinder, and inspire the building of the future.

Business archaeology

Such a focus on relationships and trajectories from where one has come from to where one would like to go means the Janus Initiative is not primarily about ways to investigate the history of an organization, business, or community, where we understand the concept of history to refer to what happened in the past. The Janus Initiative is more focused on past-present connections, what can be technically termed the actuality of the past.

The works of historians and museums may be used to capture the history of a business to good end: company histories have been used successfully to enhance brand identity (for example, car corporation Mercedes). Museums can be very effective in teaching history, what the past was like.

Rather than taking such an historical view of the past, the Janus Initiative is better conceived as archaeology. Archaeologists don’t discover the past; they work with what remains with a view to caring for what we value about the past, helping take us into futures that will be richer because of curated connections with where we have come from: sites, artifacts, associated stories and intangibles such as folklore and customs, even cuisine. The heritage industry of ancient sites and museum collections connects local, national and human pasts with preservation and conservation of past legacies. A business archaeology, an objective of the Janus Initiative, connects past business and corporate experiences with business challenges and concerns today, learning from and using the past to build creative innovative capacity to achieve desired future outcomes.

As the Janus Initiative develops, we envisage a knowledge base for business archaeology that collates examples of how the past actively informs the future innovative capacity of businesses and organizations.

Janus Initiative: some research questions

  • How are the history and memories of an individual or community, business or organization involved in senses of identity and orientation on the future?
  • To what extent is corporate culture embedded in attitudes to the past and the future?
  • To what extent does the history of a community, business or organization affect people’s capacity to judge, to find vision to change, to maintain a status quo, to innovate, or even just to plan and operate?
  • How might corporations and communities establish value and worth in past achievements in order to meet current challenges and develop capacity to meet uncertain futures?
  • How might knowing where you have come from help you assess future prospects, planning what is possible now, innovating with creative confidence?
  • How is the history of a business sector or corporation, community or organization embedded in its people, their places and their goods?
  • To what extent are these questions changing given emerging augmented reality technologies, surveillance-based information and communication technologies, and  human centered design methods in social innovation, in the experience economy?
  • How might we work with memory as orientation, to gain insight and deliver effective strategic planning, and as a counter to short term future orientations?

Janus Initiative: some archaeological questions

  • What kinds of archaeological research, what archaeological perspectives might be mobilized to inform matters of concern today, especially given a perceived need for alternative scenarios?
  • How might archaeological perspectives inform and affect understanding and managing change in community groups, organizations, and businesses?
  • How might archaeological hindsight inform (strategic) foresight?

Tool kit and techniques

In pursuing research across a broad range of case studies, with short-term and long-term perspectives, an objective is to develop a tool kit for connecting the past, present and future of an organization, business or community, building capacity for innovation, flexible adaptation to uncertainty with creative confidence.

In this the Janus Initiative is a contribution to the fields of human-centered design thinking and strategic foresight. Capacity to innovate is about people’s skills and competencies in techniques for researching and understanding human needs and desires, for ideation, and ways of delivering a product, solution, service or experience for a sought after future. Collaboration and communication are keys. Ways of incorporating memory, history, and how the past connects with the present through artifacts and material culture have hardly been developed in design thinking and foresight.

The tools and techniques relevant to the Janus Initiative are well established and proven. Many are already part of the design thinking and strategic foresight tool kit and skill set, and need only to be oriented on memory and how it is embedded in artifacts and architectures, landscapes and cityscapes.

  • Archaeology offers a host of techniques for curating past experiences embedded in sites and artifacts. Focus might be directed to unpacking the past achievements of a company or community embedded in what it has made. We might excavate the layers in a company’s psyche, analyzing its capacity to change, adapt, learn.
  • Historiography can be a means of helping a business or organization gain hindsight into the challenges it faces, into what needs to change, through the stories it tells of itself, where it has come from and where it is going.
  • Ethnography and oral history help people see who they are in terms of where they have come from, what has happened that shapes their identity.
  • Cartography and timelines map an organization’s experiences and environments, plotting events and processes that have made a community or business what it is and might become.
  • Collections or assemblages of artifacts and memories in a company or community archive or museum can be a key to shape self-image in respect of future orientation.