Mash-up: Covey’s quadrants and sense-making

What would you get if you took Covey’s four quadrants, a pile of discrete items and a refusal to categorize?  Maybe you’d get a sense-making exercise?

Maybe.  That’s the question I posed to Mike Plotts today and here’s what came of the conversation.  Hold on tight!

In Dave Snowden’s infinitely re-watchable Cynefin video he introduces us to the difference between categorization models and sense making models.

Categorization models are the typical 2×2 matrices found all over the place.  Covey’s famous one looks something like this:

    Quadrants

Now what if we destroyed the categories and replaced it with a hollow space sitting between two horizontal extremes (urgent and not urgent) and two vertical extremes (important and not important).  It would look something like this.

Quadrants broken

That’s not fulfilling though because opposites aren’t really great extremes because they don’t imply a continuum between them.  They imply an either-or question (like the category titles they were).  Let’s replace them with extremes with a similar value assumed, but without the either-or construction.

New Labels

That’s better.  It’s personal to my perspective and all four are based on time, either the perceived worth of investing or wasting it on the task and the range from today until my last day on earth.  Now, let’s populate it with a set of things I know I shouldn’t do (but do anyway) [red], a few that I know I should do [green], and the things that I’m indifferent about [orange].  Borrowing from Snowden’s sense-making methods, what if I place those items in relation to the sides and in relation to each other.  They might scatter into the space like this.

Populated 1

Now, I’m visually faced with a choice that seems both more personal and more interconnected than the traditional lists that populate the corners of a 2×2 matrix.  I don’t know about you, but I truly feel like I should do something now that I’m staring at this mess.  But, what?  One thing is to split big actions (e.g., succession planning for staff departures) into the pieces that make up the larger whole.  Maybe moving around the pieces will allow us to focus on succession planning for our most indispensable people first.   [Note: For my Lean loving friends, this is an example of creating flow by breaking apart a batch into the pieces to get the work moving through the system.  See, I can apply Lean when I want to.]

Populated 2

For other things we can fix processes to eliminate time wasting processes or make ineffective time more effective.  By carving out the improvement from the generic task we might be able to convince ourselves to change what we think we must do every day into what we want to do each day.  Hence, the next step would be to set the must move on now (dare I say URGENT) tasks.  The green line marks the Urgent Zone.  The orange line fences in the actions that the sooner we take them, the sooner our daily life improves.  The exercise helps us understand what to do, but stops before it tells us exactly how to do it.  We’ll have to step out of the exercise for that.

Populated 3

Maybe there’s nothing to this mash-up of Covey’s quadrants and Snowden’s sense-making methods, but maybe there is.  Either way, it was fun to experiment with how we might take what I think is a time wasting exercise (mapping our work into the four quadrants) and replace it with an exercise that won’t take any more time, but will give us a clearer, more personal picture of how we could (if we chose to) remake our life and how we spend our time.

Why not try?

[Special note: Next week I’m experimenting with another method evolving from (maybe even exapting from) other Snowden narrative-Complexity-scanning thoughts that are bouncing around in my head.  Be on the lookout for a post about George Bailey’s Irish Wake.]

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Kairos

Just last week I learned that the ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos (the unfeeling time that flies by before us) and kairos (the human time of creating an opportunity for something important).

Often each week I’m asked how I get so much done.  I used to reply with a shrug of my shoulders.  Now I reply, “kairos.”

In the last week I prepared a command-wide presentation for our top executives, supported my son (he’s 2-and-a-half years old) through his fourth emergency brain surgery of the year, ran a half marathon, orchestrated a 70-person off-site session, attended a retirement celebration and an Elks club spaghetti field, worked four days (plus 2 hours on the weekend) and read two books.  Oh, and I blogged some too and did four loads of laundry.  I also read books to my children every night, helped them with their prayers and kissed them before they went to bed.  And, I think I got in a snuggle while watching a movie with my husband.

I get so much done because I am constantly making time work for me.  Now, granted, I’ve been practicing at this for years and I’ve got some natural energy that I attribute to a genetic gift from my grandmother, but I also look at time as kairos not chronos.  Time doesn’t control me. Time works for me.

Whether you read Covey’s words about “first things first” or Drucker’s Effective Executive, the gurus tell you that harnessing your time to your purposes is the sure route to improving your performance and gaining the success you desire.  They believe in the power of kairos.

I think Peter Senge would tell you that you have a flawed mental model if you only assume time is chronos.  Break that mental model.  Add kairos to time and see what happens after you believe that you can create time.

Seek out kairos.  You’ll be surprised how much time you find.

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Do you know the 7 Habits?

I’ll admit I’m a fan of Covey’s 7 habits.  I’m a fan for two reasons, 1) the habits seem to work as advertised and 2) most people have heard of the 7 habits, making the habits a ready language for discussing personal and organizational improvements.

Do you know the 7 habits?

If you don’t, or even if you need a refresher, don’t turn to most of the glossy Covey-adoration pages.  Instead, Rogue Polymath has posted a short outline of the 7 habits of highly effective people, expertly condensing the habits into ready to use bites.

If you know the 7 habits, but are struggling to apply them, do you feel like you’re the only one struggling?  Don’t worry; you’re not.  We all struggle with applying the habits.  The habits aren’t a road to perfection; they’re just excellent tips for how you may, if you choose, organize your life to get more of what makes you happy more often for many more years. And, who wouldn’t want that?

At the end of his post, Rogue Polymath asks:

Anyone have a personal story of how the seven habits have made a
positive affect on their lives?

Here’s one of my 7 habits stories: I often neglect the restful parts of Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.

Though habit 7 isn’t an encouragement to do more, I often read it that way.  More reading. More exercise. More something.

Instead, I should read it as a prompting to do more of what matters when it most matters, so I’ll be at my best when the big challenges come.  I often forget the part encouraging me to lay up stores of energy, or rest, or whatever, so that I can be ready for the next sprint.  I need to learn that rest sharpens my saw.

Learning my lesson, I’m going to devote the remainder of tonight to rest, something I don’t get enough of, and often don’t allow myself enough of.  Good night my readers!  I’m off to rest.

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It’s the journey

I’m typically an impatient person. But tell me a good story about an incredible (or even a mildly interesting) journey and I will sit in rapt attention. For example, I never get bored reading, watching or listening to anything about Lewis and Clark’s journey to the Pacific ocean.

I think my fascination with any journey is why I love driving change.

I once thought (and my naive’ reading of many business books led me to believe) that change is a near instantaneous process of: Boss reads a book Monday,  implements changes on people Tuesday, is showered with praise from now cheerful people Wednesday, gets big promotion to corporate headquarters Thursday and is celebrated at farewell party Friday.

Turns out, it doesn’t usually work that way.

When I was slogging through a partially successful (and terribly slow) implementation of Theory of Constraints or failing at my first Guiding Coalition attempt, I didn’t realize that I was on a journey.

Now that I’m older and wiser, and know how to drive change (versus drive people to change), I enjoy the journey and–surprisingly enough–I drive a whole lot faster toward my destination.

Plus, now when I hit a snag, a pothole or a tree, I don’t get discouraged.

Those things happen on a journey.

So I pick myself, look around for what or who I’ve still got with me and–most importantly–keep going.

[How do I do this?  I can’t quickly explain, so I’ll borrow some pictures. Think Jim Collins’ flywheel and Stockdale Paradox mixed with Stephen Covey’s  Be Proactive and Circle of Influence.]

I won’t say today that I’ve really reached the destination of my journey.

I’m not quite ready to yell with Clark, “Ocean in view!”

But…if I tilt my head and take a deep breath, I can smell the scent of salt water a little ways off; and now and then I’ve seen a few gulls fly overhead.  So, I keep driving.

If you love a good journey, consider driving change.

If you love a good journey story, keep checking this blog.  I have a few good journey stories to share.

If you’ve got a journey story you want to tell, let me know. I’ll consider posts from guest bloggers.

Keep driving your change, maybe that ocean is closer than you think.

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