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:
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.
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.
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.
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.]
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.
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.]