“Need to Know Framework” derived from the PRISM

Trying to work out what you need to know and which information is most relevant at a particular time is like trying to hit a moving target. Not impossible but many factors play a role in the result. We all know that things change, yet we can fortify ourselves by becoming aware of which factors can impact us either directly or indirectly. Even factors out of our control can be planned for and risks mitigated.

The idea of a “Need to Know Framework” is actually an acknowledgement of how things used to be. The traditionally small groups of people working and existing together, organically gave rise to a sharing of information and knowledge, each person knew what the other person was doing and a network of awareness of the whole developed naturally. In the modern workplace the scale actually prevents the easy flow of information between indirectly but still connected groups. The recent ideas of tribes, regularly scheduled meeting and intranets etc. all are modern devices to try and replace the paradox of increasing isolation in larger groups.

So the only way forward is to begin at the level of the individual and instil a sense of “the Whole”. It is only when we appreciate the perspectives and requirements of others in the group that the greater good of “the Whole” moves forward. Some of the greatest advances in human history have only occurred when a discipline is examined from another perspective.

The need to understand the interconnections and dependancies that impact our tasks, is crucial to the understanding of the environment or “ecosystem” that our body of work will exist in over time.

It is essential for us to examine and determine which information and facts we will require. The resulting maturity that will develop, if we attain this perspective will be essential in helping us to reach our goals. The byproduct of striving to this end will be an increase in “Transparency” and a Need to Know Framework where each piece of information, can easily be prioritised into impact and according to our specific needs.

So how do can we get to this point?

Well it is only when we realise that just focusing on the immediate and specific task at hand, although seemingly efficient is actually detrimental to the ultimate whole. When any one thing is focused upon solely the result is always that the whole suffers. This does not mean that concentration on a particular task is bad but that any task no matter how small must and should be considered as part of a larger system. It doesn’t matter if your API is perfection, well coded, efficient and a masterpiece if it can not interact with its larger ecosystem.

So how do you generate a Need to Know Framework” ?

The inspiration for this comes from newtonian physics, in particular Refraction of light through a Prism.

Using the PRISM we can utilise the colours as indicators of the Importance, Directness and Impact of Information.

Centrally at Level 1 (RED) would be the direct and immediate information required for you to do the task, and the task only with little or no appreciation of where your task fits into the larger landscape. This is the equivalent of just in time management.

Next at Level 2 (ORANGE) is the knowledge required to perform your task and deliver it.

Level 3 (YELLOW) is information which helps you locate and position the task at hand, within a slightly broader framework. Such as knowing how it will impact and interact with its immediate neighbours or dependences.

Level 4 (GREEN) is information which is not usually considered required but when obtained frames and allows the project or task to comfortably sit within the broader landscape. This type of information aids in allowing you to grasp the interconnection between your task or project and those not directly involved, the first cousins to your work.

Level 5 (BLUE)  this level of information frames you task or project in the broader environment, with awareness of interconnection and nuance between the up stream and down stream relationships.

Level 6 (INDIGO) this level like the colour is between BLUE and VIOLET, the interconnection and interdependencies of all the tasks and projects, yours included and the information required to distill the over arching “5 Year Plan” or Vision..

Level 7 (VIOLET) this is the highest level of separation from your work, and as such is not often seen as essential or even required. Yet, it is the guidance under which all your tasks and projects have been organised to function within. This is the “5 Year Plan” or Vision developed from the Level 6 (INDIGO) information when evaluated and seen in the light of the company in the Global Economic and Social Ecosystems.

TRANSPARENCY; the Emperors New Clothes and You can’t handle the Truth

The very term Transparency as used in the modern world of Management and IT is at best ridiculous and at worst dangerous and an unsettling endeavour.

Harsh words but think about it; few of us could actually deal with knowing every detail about everyone or everything. The human animal has not evolved to store and process billions of bits of data and analyse them without bias or errors. The terms “Option Paralysis” or “Information Overload” spring to mind.

Despite our modern life styles, which are information saturated, we actually only skim or glance over the actual information by taking other people’s narratives as easily digestible chunks. The fact that, very few of us even try to understand the complexities of our own environment natural or man made, socially and biologically is testament to millions of years of evolution which has resulted in our ability to filter and categorise.

This same ability to group similarities and make inferences from them is the very same reason we find the simple task of analysing data, without bias very difficult.

We often extrapolate from only a few data points and behave as if the presented data is “True” because it supports our previously held beliefs. We even find the weight of truth behind an unsubstantiated and sample of one (statistically irrelevant) as highly engaging and important :-Anecdotes.

So is it any wonder why, as a general rule we find true Transparency difficult. We actually don’t want transparency; like the Emperor, once he realised he was naked, we feel exposed; naked for all to mock and find fault. So is it really Transparency that we crave or is it actually the ability to access the information that we need or may need to complete our tasks well and in a timely manner, without any foreseeable obstacles or errors.

So instead of Transparency we actually require a “Need to Know Framework” that would allow us to recognise and highlight important information in concentric layers of Impact and Importance from you the Epicentre. This framework would be derived from the PRISM – a topic for another blog.

What the Culture? Chicken or the Egg

Since the late 90’s and over the last decades we have been bombarded with buzz words, “hipster” ways of working and living etc. Our workplaces have undergone numerous changes in both managerial and social spheres, all under the banner of increased efficiency and improving the work environment. Yet regardless of what the goal is we often hear the term “Culture”.

So what is culture?

Culture is a pivotal concept in anthropology, which includes a range of phenomena that are transmitted through human societies by social learning.

Evident in the social behaviour and norms of human societies, culture is “the way of life” for groups of people which has been passed down through generations, often tightly linked and specific to the groups environment, history and even genetics (sickle cell anaemia). Their shared ideas, customs, procedures and their shared world view or perceptions.

In our modern lives, the most invasive and under-defined term used would have to be culture.

So why is this a problem?

The issue is that when most people use the term culture, they seem to regard it as a lever to effect change. The idea you can simply, enact new procedures and change the “Culture” of a company is flawed at best and potentially dangerous.

So why and how do people truly change?

Like evolution, Culture is the product of a change based in advantage. The better suited a species is to its environment, the more likely it will have an evolutionary advantage. Similarly Culture is gradually developed and evolved over time with the underlying driving force being an advantage, better social cohesion, support, robustness etc.

So if you wish to enable true and lasting changes such as “Culture” there must be a definite advantage. In the workplace this could be more pay, job security, better and clearly defined processes and therefore roles, better management and a greater sense of self worth in the companies landscape both socially and economically.

The idea that “culture” can be changed from the top down is doomed to failure because if the advantages of the changes are not obvious, why would anyone adopt them.

“What’s in it for me,” is the driving force behind all change, even Altruism. Without an advantage why would anyone change the way they do anything.

Culture is not a lever or process but the goal to attain an improvement and lasting change for the better which is reflected in the mechanisms we perform.

Management techniques from the great beyond……..some useful and some not.

Cookie cutters and crazy quilts.

Well most of us know or can guess what a cookie cutter is, they are those shaped pieces of plastic or metal used to stamp out shapes from a sheet of rolled dough.

img_4944
The process allows for a rapid and consistent, production of visually identical outcomes and minimises the variables, to only the thickness of dough being used.

Of course the cutter shape can be almost anything but once decided upon, can not be changed. This gives us what we want or think we want, with little to no variation; rapidly and consistently. Cookie cutters are great management tools as well, especially for simple repetitive tasks and also for highly complex tasks involving many precise sub tasks. Cookie cutter management fails to give us options, once we decide what we need, we stamp out said desire from the dough at hand. This simplistic and “efficient” management style often fools us into a false sense of certainty and control.

Strangely enough if we focus upon ever reducing fragments of a chaotic system, we increasingly begin to see commonalities which we often read as order. This is one philosophical perspective of chaos based upon chaos is only based upon our lack of understanding of the complex. That’s another topic for another day.

 

Crazy quilt or a Muratore’s view.

Crazy quilting is often used to refer to the textile art of crazy patchwork and is sometimes used interchangeably with that term. Crazy quilting is not technically quilting per say but a specific kind of patchwork, lacking repeating motifs and with the seams and patches heavily embellished. A crazy quilt rarely has the internal layer of batting that is part of what defines quilting as a textile technique.

Crazy quilts also differ from “regular” quilts in other ways. In a crazy quilt, the careful geometric design of a quilt block is much less important, this frees the quilters to employ much smaller and more irregularly shaped pieces of fabric. This found freedom empowers crazy quilters to use far more exotic pieces of fabric, such as velvet, satin, tulle, or silk, and embellishments such as buttons, lace, ribbons, beads, or embroidery, when compared to regular quilting. Crazy quilting is extremely creative and free-flowing by nature, and crazy quilters will often learn as much about specific embellishments as they will about crazy quilting itself.

img_4987

English: Tamar Horton Harris North. “Quilt (or decorative throw), Crazy pattern”.
15th July 1877. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

So what’s the problem, why don’t more of us do quilting this way ?
Crazy quilts are extremely labor intensive. A Harper’s Bazaar article from 1884 estimated that a full-size crazy quilt could take 1,500 hours to complete. This means that with the increased freedom and creativity allowed there is a bottle neck for many, unless you have a Muratore mindset.
Muratore is an Italian term for a mason/bricklayer, it actually means someone who makes walls, which traditionally were of stone and later bricks. So why didn’t I just say bricklayer or mason. A bricklayer is a bit like a mason using a cookie cutter for speed and efficiency and the term mason can bring other distracting extraneous baggage. So I used the term Muratore because it caries little to no baggage to the english speaking readers and my father was one of the best Muratore.
So what makes a master Muratore, the ability to mentally visualise and order the materials at hand, on the fly and find a place for every piece; all while attaining your goal of a plumb, straight and solid wall, it’s like being good at playing Tetras with irregular shapes instead of blocks.

It is this type of organic and fluid management that, I believe we should all strive towards. It is this Muratore mindset that has given us the master piece sculpture by Michelangelo called David.

img_4951
All the other sculptors rejected the piece of marble, that became the statue of David. In fact it was twice rejected. Agostino di Duccio gave up on a project using the flawed marble block, after which it sat untouched for 10 years. At that point, Antonio Rossellino took a crack at the block but decided it was too difficult to work with. The most famous statue ever carved was carved from a marble of poor quality filled with microscopic holes. So since Michelangelo could see what others could not we have this masterpiece. Michelangelo looked inside the marble and saw David. Michelangelo said that all that he had to do was chip away all of the parts that weren’t David to reveal him.

The interesting thing to take away from Michelangelo and the statue of David, is that he didn’t fight against the nature of the flawed block of marble or the fact a previous artist had already begun to block out the lower half of the block in 1464. In fact, he worked with what had come before and incorporated the flaws into the final design. It’s documented that on Sept 9, 1501, he apparently knocked off a “certain knot” that had been on the David’s chest. We believe this “knot” to be the flaw.

img_4963

Sometimes people ask me “How did you come up with that ?” I have often responded “Step back, look, listen and it will tell you how it should be done.”

So which management style do you fall into most often ?

Polar binary paralysis, the current social condition.

So what the hell does that mean?

Well in our modern society and culture we tend to see things in Black and White. There has to be a winner and a looser. We tend to see things in absolutes, all or nothing, off or on always binary. Now if you acknowledge this basic fact about our society then you are closer to seeing the issue.

While a binary view of the world is helpful in decision making and rapid responses, which makes us feel more efficient and therefore superior, it also is a very unnatural state. The world is not binary, yes you can define parts of it that way but when looking at the entire system it is more complex and interlaced. There is rarely a binary condition, physic has understood this and made a branch called Quantum mechanic.

So what is the problem with our binary view?

When we lived isolated and disconnected lives a binary view was easy and extremely helpful but as society becomes homogenised, the binary differences become grey and complex. We enter a Quantum state where there can be complex states, off and on at the same time.

I have always explained that most of us when faced with a decision, consider there are only two option positive or negative (Yes or No) but in reality there is always a third option. The third option is actually what I call a Zero state, so instead of positive or negative we also have a Zero. This zero state can range for “wait and see” to do nothing, yet its very passive nature makes us consider this not an option.

We have been trained to polarise in one direction or another. What this means is that in our modern society there has to be a winner and a looser.

We have all seen it recently with Brexit and the US presidential election. There must be a result therefore one side wins with only a fraction of a percent more than the opposition. The winner seems also to state that they have won with a mandate from the electorate. So our desire to have a winner means we end up splitting hairs to find a winner, Polar Binary Paralysis.

There is no middle ground or balanced view only polar opposites which are often shadows and reflections of the other.

When in ROME….

When in Rome do as the Romans….an old saying that highlights more than most would ever suspect. The intention of the saying was about “cultural adaptation” and behaviour when traveling. The way I see it, is that when a traveler went to another country or even city they would mimic and behave as the locals. The goal was to blend in and immerse themselves in the cultural differences to savour the real local flavours.

The saying when in Rome, predates the modern age and is more from the era of the Grand Tours from turn of last century. The time of exploration, discovery and immersion into foreign cultures. The idea of travel was very different then and we have lost much in the desire to be efficient.

Anyway the modern idea of travel is wrapped up in tour groups, check lists, efficiency and to “see the sights”. Modern tourism and even travel is more about efficiency and being disconnected and removed from the local culture; after all we’re all time poor and very busy now days. Sort of an extension of the idea of camping with a caravan with all the conveniences verses roughing it.

We are not open to discovery, exploration and learning because our cup is already full with our own culture, technology and importance.

So why am I talking about travel and culture?

Let me first define what I call culture. Culture to me is not just about countries, cooking, dress etc. but also covers the way we conduct ourselves and interact with each other, everywhere. This means you behave according to the culture of all the influences in your life… the culture of your Country, State, Town etc.; the culture of your Family, Friends and Neighbours and the culture of your Work place and leisure spaces like Bars, Clubs and Parks etc..

So to me culture is not based solely upon location but all the rules, guidelines and implied behaviours in our lives.

The basic idea is that there has been a shift in the way our culture views itself and other cultures. We now seem to believe our culture is best and other cultures have nothing to offer, we glance at the surface and make judgements and observations based not on immersion, acceptance and understanding but upon the confirmation bias of your own culture.

We seem to have lost our cultural adptiveness and acceptance and replaced it with political correctness, minority majorities, multiculturalism and fear. You can not homogenise cultures just like you can’t homogenise a person. This leads to an identity crisis and loss.

Our ancestors knew identity was highly important to self-wellbeing, different places, different faces, different races and different paces. Differences are good and should be respected yet “When in Rome do as the Romans do”.

So next time you interact with your work colleges or change jobs, just remember it’s actually up to you to fit in with their prevailing culture. So if you haven’t found the right blend of culture for yourself by 3 to 18 months to make it work then maybe you’re in the wrong place.

The majority should not have to bend over backwards to make you feel comfortable and welcome you. You are in a “foreign land” and must accept and adapt to its prevailing culture. You are responsible for your own actions and responses; and all actions and reactions have consequences.

This is a sad reflection of our modern world view and its lack of understanding.

Just because you’re fully grown doesn’t make you an Adult !

Management, thermodynamics and the weather.

So what has management got to do with thermodynamics and the weather, well the different styles of management can be grouped into two very broad categories and three styles : Radiant management and Ambient and/or Convection management.

Thermodynamics is a stream of science concerned with heat and temperature and their relation to energy and work.

Radiant management; follows a similar definition as radiant heating and has similar benefits and disadvantages. Radiant heating is characterised by the use of radiant energy to heat, like the warmth of sunshine. Radiant heating is the method of collection and directing radiant heat to transfer radiant energy, from a source to an object. The advantage of radiant heating is that only the objects in the direct path of the radiant energy are warmed up. This means there is no waste of energy, warming up the ambient environment. This form of heating and management is highly efficient but also highly directional and dependant upon a clear line of sight.

Convection management; follows a similar definition as convection heating and has similar benefits and disadvantages. Convection heating is characterised by the use of convection currents which circulate through a body coming in contact with a heating element. The air coming in contact with the heat source becomes energised and expands, increasing in volume and becoming more buoyant and rising. The heat source, heats the ambient air directly, convection heaters often include a heat exchange mechanism, to increase efficiency. Convection heating is typically a passive and slow process, where heat gradually moves from the hottest object to the coolest. An oil column heater is an example of this slow convection heating.

The common fan heater has more in common with a convection heater than a radiant heater.

Ambient management; shares a lot of components with convection management, the result is that the whole increases in effectiveness. The convection currents and stratification that results from convection heating gradually increase the whole. To use heating as an example the heater in the room will eventually warm the entire space but gives rise to a temperature gradient and zones in the process. This heating process if left unaided will be both slow and gradual. The heating effect is dependant upon proximity to the source resulting in stratification and gradients. The only way to reduce the stratification and proximity effects is to actively “stir” the environment. This effort is required to reach a stable and constant state.

The ambient warm air, tends to accumulate at the ceiling unless mixed with ceiling fans.

Just like the heating examples above there is overlap between each method, radiant, convection and ambient. Convection heaters often utilise radiant heating methods to improve efficiency and no radiant heater is 100% solely radiant. Even an infra red lamp, one of the purest forms of radiant heaters we have, affects the ambient environment and causes convection currents unless in a vacuum.

I propose that we often are not aware of which style of management or blend of management styles is appropriate for any given situation.

In an environment where there is a disconnect, or disjointed structure then a form of radiant management would make the most sense. Radiant management is also the best method where there is high staff churn and highly fluid and dynamic structure. This is often what occurs even if we are not consciously aware of it. The charismatic leader will often evolve in a fluid and dynamic environment and others will often gladly align with them. In chaos stability is sought either in the structure or leadership.

Convection management is what occurs naturally, lead by example. When there is a radiant management style there is a proximity effect where those who interact with this type of management gradually by “osmosis” begin to modify their behaviours. This is where we should be aware of what we as managers are broadcasting. Hopefully our better traits are being broadcast but there is also a possibility, bad habits or negativity maybe passively transmitted. These convection currents must be taken into consideration and acknowledged if we are to reduce and prevent negative management.

Ambient management is what we end up with if left to our own devices. It is the “cultural” methodology which surrounds the work place when the boss is not active and/or around. This is the realm of very slow and gradual change but can be aided with the correct tools and processes. The idea is that just like in our heating example if a gradual “mixing” of the environment is allowed then the result is a comfortable rise in temperature with no stratification or proximity effects.

Positive ambient or convection management is often the result of a well structured and defined environment. Established processes and confidence in predictable outcomes are all the result of positive ambient or convection management. This leads a sense of freedom, security and safety, to allow flexibility and exploration.

Logical Mind and Emotional Mind – the duality of change

A simple yet ignored and overlooked fact is that we all are in two minds. The saying I’m in two minds is actually based in fact. If you think about it we all do it. How many times have you logically known the answer and yet for some emotive reason avoided it. The logical mind often sees what is the actual reason or solution yet the emotional mind may not be ready to accept or even hear it. How many times when an obvious solution or fact is presented, have you heard the statement …Yes… but…. . The but, says it all, the proposal, solution or facts has satisfied logically, yet the person is not yet emotionally ready to accept the outcome.

The home truth is we all do it I know I should throw that out, or get more exercise but I am actually not emotionally ready to implement the change. So next time you hear a ..Yes..but.. take it as a sign that the logical solution or proposal, may not be rejected, only the emotional timing is wrong. Often the emotive mind needs time to move on and embrace new ideas. This is not a bad thing but it is essential that we become aware of the two minds we all have. Sometime we know we should do it but we really don’t want to because of emotive reasons.

Rediscovery Reiterations and Frequency

How often do we revisit ideas and decisions? It is a strange fact that once we decide on a course of action or a solution we seem to think that there is nothing left to do but implement that which we have decided. The very act of deciding some how defies the law of space and time, a temporal bubble is formed around that very point in time and nothing will ever change. Ludicrous but this is how we behave, we rarely if ever, revisit the decision making process and if we do it is often a revalidation process rather than an actual open and frank analysis. We are now heavily invested in our previous decision and heavily biased by it. A dangerous starting point for any discovery.

This ludicrous temporal bubble which we create around our decisions highlights the linear causality we use as our default mental model.

So how often should we revisit a previously decided process or decision ? Well that’s the golden question. I can only offer a philosophical view and that is the process or decision should be revisited depending upon its complexity, its interdependence upon other projects and the number of people involved in its implementation. Basically complexity requires vigilance, the more intricate and interconnected a project is the more often we should take a step back and revise our situation and the decision making process and decisions based upon the previous state of knowledge.

As Tobbe said :

“What’s required to deal with complexity might not be vigilance but explicit anticipation and rough boundaries validity.

While mining complexity we should always bring our canary with us down into the mine.”

Requests Versus Intentions

This is a fairly common occurrence when dealing with others and especially, with customers or even staff. We all filter during our waking life, most of which goes unnoticed by us, as these “auto-pilot” events carry on in the background. This evolutionary strategy frees up our brains to perform “higher” functions such as thought while still enabling us to maintain life functions such as breathing, walking etc.

As humans we tend to go into an auto-pilot state when ever possible, did you pull the hand brake when you parked the car? Did you turn off the gas? This ability to subconsciously perform tasks is highly beneficial, yet our ability to easily slip into it can have consequences.

When talking to someone we often listen just enough, so we can begin to form our next statement. This can be efficient and perfectly adequate for simple tasks covering well defined and commonly known parameters, facts and requirements.

Yet if the purpose of the conversation is to bring into focus the requirements and needs of a customer then the requested items or tasks may not deliver the actual intended outcome expected by the customer. A customer will often ask for a preconceived “product or service” which to the best of their understanding is the correct one. This request is often skewed by the amount of knowledge, time, importance and even ego the customer has.

The basic idea that the customer is always right is greatly misinterpreted by most of us. The customer has obviously the final say as to whether they are satisfied with the final product or the resulting service but that does not imply they are experts that have precise specifications for their requirements and the equipment and skills to deliver said item or service. If they did they wouldn’t need you.

The greatest obstacle to a satisfactory outcome is often ourselves. Trust is key, each party must have each others best interests at heart, we can not expect a free ride but simple pride in ones work and courtesy goes a very long way. The intention of the requested work is often buried under layers of ego, insufficient knowledge, time constraints and “auto-pilot” conversations. The best customers know what they need and your job is to help them get it. The intention of a piece of work is its reason for being, the request is but a starting point and can and should not be considered a precise specification for the deliverable. This is where the value of your input and speciality knowledge is required and essential, if you don’t have all the answers, then be open about it and then find out what extra pieces of information are required. This manages the customers expectations and shows transparency and honesty while protecting yourself as well.