One benefit I’ve noticed of writing this thesis every day for a month is that as events, moments, links and the like float past, you can grab the best bits and weave them in as you go. It helps test the proposition at the centre, and makes for more visceral evolution of it.
(This is where the metaphor breaks down, sorry. A message in bottle in a message in a bottle. A meta in a bottle.)
It’s a short essay about Indicator Species, written in response to something Dan wrote on the culture of Silicon Valley about the people, their actions, and general behaviour. But it’s not just about the people, points out Deb:
“What Dan was describing was not just the actions of individuals, but of a system. It’s not so much that tech bros are bad in and of themselves, it’s that they’re a indicator species for an ecosystem. Like an algal bloom, their overabundance is a sign that the balance is amiss.”
Massive zings went off in my head, reading the whole thing. And it’s not just because I’ve been drinking seawater these last three days after the supplies ran out in the boat.
The idea of the ‘indicators’, the ability to be able to look beyond the thing itself, and work out what’s going on instead around it to cause it seems to be the usefulness that the Culture Matrix offers up. By the very nature of its construction, it invites you to find one precise place on the grid to put a thing, which subsequently then invites you to surmise what might be going on in the other spaces around it.
A random example, of something I was talking to folk yesterday about in the pub.
When Fast Food companies fund kids’ sporting events, what’s going on? The event sits in the LEADERSHIP/SOCIETY intersection; a platform created within the context of the world outside their walls. What’s it driven by? Is it just a marketing thing? I’m pretty sure not; there are much cheaper ways to market fast food.
The answer is more complex. It’s a form of justification to protect the short-term commercials; they can’t afford to really change our menu (and evolve a new customer base over the loinger term), so they offset that activity with other stuff (COMMERCE/SOCIETY).
However, it’ll also be driven by a smaller team; the folks who do it will really believe they’re making a difference inside and outside the organisation (LEADERSHIP/TEAM).
I could keep finding boxes on the Culture Matrix to examine the question, but you get the idea; you find an INDICATOR EVENT, and then start to discover what that says about the ecosystem more widely, to Deb’s point above.
What it does make me realise is that there’s probably a great deal of what you might call organisational empathy required to use the Culture Matrix well. How well can you imagine why people in a business are doing what they do?
Dan has talked about the need for much greater customer empathy within companies (try scrolling down here to ‘Chief Empathy Officer’ for instance), but empathy is something that I think is required internally too.
What makes people do what they do, and take the decisions and make the products they do? And therefore what can we see in the different parts of the ecosystem that could be changed, so they make better decisions?
ACTION 22 – THINK ABOUT WHY YOU MADE A BAD DECISION AT WORK
Thanks to conversations I’ve been having with Mark Earls and Tracey Camilleri (about a project might might well use this project to form and shape) the matrix has a new name. The ‘relativity’ matrix is a bit technical, a bit clumsy, a bit hard to grasp, as both Tracey and Mark pointed out. What about the Culture Matrix instead, they suggested?
It also feeds back to something Grant McCracken and I talked about earlier in the month; you can’t very well call it one layer of this ‘culture’, because it’s ALL culture.
So then, the Culture Matrix.
Something that helps you see everything at play within an organisation, and why the issues you find may be affected (and resolved) by all the different things around it. For instance, if your product innovation efforts aren’t delivering meaningful results, it could sound like a problem on the intersection of Customer and Division:
And it might be tempting to look precisely at the product innovation and marketing teams to try and solve the issue.
Yet by looking around the problem, we can start to see the effects that other factors within the organisation might have.
Below the initial diagnosis on the Matrix, the company’s commercial imperatives may prevent the right product being made. We’d love to deliver the product suggested by the inovation team, but we had to cut costs in making it.
Above it, there may not be the right platforms provided to truly experiment on. We wanted to make a truly market-changing product, but we tried to make it in the same spaces we make everything else, with predictable results.
To the right, the research drawn from different teams may have been incomplete.We conducted the usual market research tests, but we didn’t listen to any of the customer complaints that come in from a different team.
To the left, it may be a factor of the company as a whole drifting out of favour with the customer. It’s not the products that people have a problem with, it’s us…
It begins to become a lot simpler like this. Yes, there are hidden complexities, but that’s never a useful way to pull people in to something. This seems like it’s getting towards a simpler, more compelling expression. You can thank Tracey, Mark and Grant for that.
ACTION 21 – TAKE A PROBLEM YOU HAVE, AND PUT IT ON THE MATRIX. WHAT MIGHT BE CAUSING IT?
Today, we’ve been playing amongst Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, the series of sculptures on Crosby beach.
It wasn’t an intentional trip out to see them because of the PEOPLE x SPACE project, but became another example of how, just by wandering into a different, interesting place, you can new food for thought.
That’s how spaces work, I think.
Beyond the beauty and thoughtfulness of Another Place, there are some interesting things about the statues which became tangentially useful for the project.
Firstly, I presume that when they all went in the sand, fixed in place, gazing out to see, they were all pretty much the same. Identical, cookie-cutter statues, casts from the same mould, in the same material. You might have reasonably expected them to wear in the same way. Yet as you move between them, it is clear just how different they have become:
It’s not just the way that they wear at different rates, either. It’s in infinite additional little ways. The way the sun has blistered some, or barnacles cling to others (perhaps some were imperceptibly rougher than others, which have sea life more to cling too. They way the iron cooled differently, and little whirls of rust begin to appear.
Then, of course, they’ve been given an individual code by whoever works in the beach HR team… Perhaps it’s their payroll number? “Ah, good standing this month, Stanley. There’s a little extra in the pay packet. Now, Clive can’t do Tuesday any more, would you mind swapping shifts again..?”
Anyway, the 100 yards or so between each individual sculpture made me think about the spaces in companies. We presume that when people are dropped in, they’re all going to react to things in similar ways. Companies look for cookie-cutter people, who’re of one type. Sometimes they brief specifically for that, sometimes it just informally spreads that a ‘certain sort’ of employee will fit in well.
Yet everyone is affected by the wind and the rain, the tides and the currents, the chemistry and the biology of a business differently. You can be ten yards away from someone in a business, and have an entirely different set of feelings and associations about the things that happen there. Some people do well, some people do less well. Then you have the ones who just don’t conform to what you expect of them, and introduce something new…
As I stood on the beach, striding between Stanley and Clive and all of the other iron employees, I quickly rewrote on Artefact Cards a newer, better version of my five SPACE layers.
The things that affect us all in different ways, and can increase or decrease drag on our work rate. I talked about rate yesterday, you’ll remember.
I also realised that as much as the PEOPLE questions contained an element of the past (Work as a verb, something that has been done), the SPACE questions (Work as a noun, a place to do it) naturally contains something of the future; where will we do this work in future? What resources will we need to surround ourselves with? What locations will work best? What are the digital spaces between us that will help and hinder?
In order from fastest to slowest layer, then, the SPACE layers:
PERSONAL – “What will you need to do your best work this week?”
TEAM – “What will your team need to operate really well for the next month?”
DIVISION – “What will your unit need to make next quarter the best yet?”
COMPANY – “What will your business need to beat this year’s expectations?”
SOCIETY – “What will you need to still be thriving in the world in ten year’s time?”
ACTION 20 – ASK YOURSELF THE FIVE SPACE QUESTIONS?
“We needed something to move and fill up the space
We needed something this always is just the case”
Space (I believe in) – Pixies, 1991
I had promised yesterday (if ‘promised’ is the right word… ‘threatened’ perhaps?) to spend five whole days on listing out the various piles of books in the Book Matrix I made two days ago. That would have been six whole days (SIX) on just, well, lists of books.
I like a list as next as the next man. But there are limits. Just because it was something I said I’d do as a reaction to a few people asking for it… It certainly acts as an able demonstration of just how fragile real productivity can be. It’s so, so easy to just fill up the space, as our friends the Pixies point out.
D = R x T.
Distance Equals Rate Times Time.
Distance, how far we get, is subject to the rate we go at, by the time we have.
My time is finite; the 31st of August represents when I must have a summary/idea/thing by. A self-imposed rule, but a rule nonetheless. How far I get, the distance, will be dictated by how quickly I’m going. I’m not going to get the far if I don’t up the work rate. I don’t have time to waste five posts on book lists…
So, here’s the deal. I’m not doing the five separate list posts. But I have listed and linked all the books here, on a separate static page.
Instead, we’re going to get into the SPACE layers that have started to fall into place, evolved over the last few days of dancing in between the books.
As I stood there, it occurred that the basic structure underpinning the matrix is three simple questions to ask yourself as you work on things.
The first question is What Is My Work Here?
As you observe what’s in front of you, listen carefully to others, feeling around with your eyes and your ears. Identify the task, the problem to be solved, the better question to ask. Understanding the brief, the scope of work, the request. I’m thinking out loud here, but I think we can consider this to be Distance; how far from here (not done) to there (done).
The second question refers to the first one; What Do I Mean By ‘My Work’..?
It’s thinking about Work as a Verb again. What are the sorts of things it might take to solve the problem. Use the PEOPLE layers to think about the fast and the slow stuff. Is it a few rapid actions? Playing with the financial model? Talking to customers? Making platforms for others to achieve things? And funnily enough, we always struggle to separate work as a verb from the Time it will take to do.
The third question also refers to the first one; What Do I Mean By ‘Here’..?
This, of course, is Work as a Noun. The space in which the work exists. The office you do it in. The team you sit with. The distractions you have. The comfort of the surroundings. the devices you have to do it on. The global distribution of your offices. I realised yesterday that while of course it’s about the physical space, it’s about the digital space too. The software and servers. The communication tools between. They’re all spaces too. All of these things have the potential to create drag on our work. Space becomes remarkably important when it comes to getting the work done. It fundamentally affects our Rate.
D = R x T
Distance (how far we’ll get)
= Rate (how quickly we can work in a given space)
x Time (how many hours and days we have)
Tomorrow I’ll get into the descriptions of the SPACE layers, but I think the simple expression of D = R x T might offer a nice, quick introduction to The Relativity Matrix. We’ll see, I guess.
ACTION 19 – WRITE YOURSELF A D=RxT EQUATION FOR A PIECE OF WORK
Quick recap; I built a version of The Relativity Matrix from books yesterday, and didn’t have a chance to capture it.
Well, here it is… one row at a time (so the next five posts to come).
I’ve categorised each section by the headings I have them under now with a superfast explainer on what I think lives here.
NB – this is not the go to reading list for each section; it is only built from the books I own. There are no doubt thousands of other books that can fit under each section. Links where I have ‘em, using Amazon Associates – what I make in the miniscule commission I buy more books with. This is all subject to change, your mileage may vary, etc etc.
I’ll work my way up the Matrix, using the PEOPLE layers.
What have you done in the last day to help get something done?
These five sections that you can do tomorrow. Immediately. They’re all about you, and the actions you can take to make a dent in the business you’re working in.
Sure, it might be a small dent. But it’ll be real, and it’ll be yours, and you can come back the following day and do it again.
This is the wax on, wax off stuff…
PRACTICE – things you can do to change your basic approach to anything
Ignore Everybody – Hugh McLeod
Steal Like An Artist – Austin Kleon
How To Thrive In A Digital Age – Tom Chatfield
Can Scorpions Smoke? – Steve Chapman
The Courage to Create – Rollo May
Intuition Pumps – Dan Dennett
Thinkertoys – Michael Michalko
PLAY – ways to learn with your team, in the best way to learn there is
SHOW – using drawing, sketching and visuals to share ideas
PLOT – thinking like you’re starting from scratch
SPOT - feeding off the important, granular changes in the wider world
Out of Office – Chris Ward
Program or be Programmed – Douglas Rushkoff
TXTNG – David Crystal
The Kids Are Alright – Beck / Wade
Superactually – Chuk Moran
Drive – Daniel Pink
Throwing Sheep In The Boardroom – Fraser & Dutta
Stuff – Daniel Miller
ACTION 18 – WRITE DOWN YOUR FIVE METHODS FOR GETTING STUFF DONE
I won’t kid you; I’m a little bit zonked. I’ve spent the best part of the last nine hours dancing around a version of the Matrix made from books. I do mean literally dancing, too… it’s laid out across my kitchen floor, neatly stacked in twenty-five lovely, distinct piles, each with a one word title on an Artefact Card on top. There’s not a lot of room left, I’m sashaying past trying to make cups of tea and the like.
I had said earlier on twitter that I’d provide a fulsome list of links to all of the books. But sorry, I’m not going to, for two decent reasons:
1) I’d like to revisit each stack in light of finishing the words underpinning them. I’d also like to be more precise about whether books are in the right place, and if so then why they are there (some books are in certain places for specific sections, rather than the whole thing).
2) I’m pretty spent. I can’t face typing out the names of over a hundred books and finding links for them.
What I shall do though, is share a quick thing about the process itself, and what I think it helped me do.
As I started placing each book by where I thought it went, it made me carefully consider what the category for that square on the matrix meant. Which was fine when it came to the PEOPLE side, which I’ve worked up pretty extensively by now, but the SPACE side immediately became problematic.
I’d had SURROUNDINGS / STRUCTURES / INFRASTRUCTURES / SERVICES / MATERIALS along the top, but it was hard to think well enough about what those things meant.
I’d expand on where I got to with them tomorrow, but save to say that playing in the physical space with the books, glancing here and there to see what books were next to / far away from, and hopping over to the far side to look at it from another angle, all helped me think about the idea as a whole more clearly.
The best bit is the peripheral vision. There isn’t really any peripheral vision in digital, you can’t spot things hidden in the system if you’re not looking directly at them.
Hooray for books, eh?
ACTION 17 – BUILD YOURSELF A PHYSICAL VERSION OF SOMETHING YOU’D NORMALLY DO DIGITALLY
If you ever want to understand something, buy the kids version for it. Someone who knows their subject matter well will have simplified it down into a sharp, compelling form for a beginner.
I’m only saying this now because Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids arrived yesterday, after I’d bought it to get some more ideas about the whole Froebel Gifts thing for doing stuff with our kids (there are twenty-one different activities in there, it’s very good if you have kids).
Anyway, the way that the author (Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen) explains Wright’s approach to shapes is brilliant:
“Everywhere we look we see shapes. There are shapes we find in nature, and there are shapes in things men and women have made. Shapes are made of lines that enclose space. Some lines are straight and some are curved. Frank Lloyd Wright’s boxes of Froebel blocks contained the most basic shapes that can be made from straight and curved lines. These shapes are the circle, the triangle, and the square. They are the basic shapes of geometry…”
She continues to describe how Wright used shapes from geometry in buildings, design and decorations for all his work, always looking for the basic shapes in the things he observed. It gave him a way to see, both in the deconstruction and the construction of things.
It made me think of various other things, but given it’s a Saturday, we’ll stick to two.
Morieaux’s first rule is simple; understand what others do. What is their real work? Not what their job description says they should do, but what they actually have to do everyday.
Second thing – Ian Fitzpatrick of Almighty in Boston is currently doing a fascinating series of posts on “twenty questions of personal reflection to which I have no meaningful immediate answers“.
In those twenty questions are things like:
It’s a series well worth following.
So, with these in mind, added to the “basic shapes of geometry” inspiration, I’m wondering how you could design a simple set of questions about how people would unpick ‘the basic units of work’?
Is it possible? Could/would you do it for a person, a team, or even an organisation all at once?
For instance, it might be that the PEOPLE side of the Matrix, with the various layers moving at different speeds, is somewhere you could start these questions. But you could wrap in elements of time as well, to help frame different answers.
A quick example run through…
ACTIONS: What have you done in the last day to help get something done?
COMMERCE: What have you done this week to help hit our targets more quickly?
CUSTOMER: What have you done this month to benefit customers?
LEADERSHIP: What have you done this quarter to help others work in a new way?
ORGANISATION: What have you done this year to improve our organisation’s culture?
Helen and I just had a chat through the implications of these. They’re not really KPIs in a traditional sense, and they expose some of the failings in most KPI systems, where the measurement bias is towards faster, more commerce focussed measures.
However, as a set of questions for people to keep referring to, to make sure they’ve always got an answer to each… then they become potentially very useful.
There’s even a slightly Machiavellian idea in here too. Tell people these are their new KPI questions, and go through the six-monthly rigmarole of doing the appraisal. But base nothing on the evaluations that come out the other side. Just be happy that everyone in your business is going around worrying about these five questions all the time…
ACTION 16 – WRITE DOWN FIVE OF YOUR BASIC UNITS OF WORK
I’m going to start today with a slight worry; I’ve realised how much reading I’ve given myself.
In the last fifteen days I have added (to a fulsom list of things I’ve lined up to read anyway) a whole new pile of books and URLs, which as we speak are gathering dust in my nagging conscious. I’m just going to face up to the fact that it’ll be tough to get through them all by the end of the project on 31st August, and that I’ll just have to try some speed reading to get to something that makes me go ‘ahh, that’s a useful thing…’
Read a bit, grab something, think about how it fits in the context of other bits, and move on. Anything I really want to finish, I’ll go back to in September.
To that end…
There are many, many interesting things I’m learning about Wright, who I admittedly knew little about beyond the obvious (Fallingwater… and something Chicago-ish). His upbringing, multi-talented parents, learning his trade not by education but thropugh apprenticeship (“A good pencil in the master’s hand” as he called it), making a studio on the side of his house (with a corridor connecting the two that still had a live tree growing through it), it’s really fascinating stuff. I’ve read about a quarter, and would say without hesitation that it’s well worth a read.
The most useful thing that I’ve pulled from it for application here though is not yet anything about Space and Structures, but actually about education.
Wright was, from the age of nine or so, given Froebel Gifts, a sequential series of toys that were given to children to explore and learn about the world in ways that they could build upon later in life. They were designed by Friedrich Fröbel (or Froebel, apparently either spelling is fine??) for his first kindergarten in 1837.
“Each gift was designed to be given to a child to provide material for the child’s self-directed activity. These Gifts are a series of activity-based playthings ranging from simple sphere-shaped objects, through to geometric wooden blocks and more advanced Gifts pertaining to sewing, cutting, weaving and the modelling of objects in clay”
Wright not only went through this ‘training’ as a child, but returned to it as a parent, reading aloud from the instruction manual in the playroom in his house as his children set about exploring the task themselves. It seems to have had a profound affect on the way that Wright approached the world; not just to picture, convey or represent it, but to actively design it.
It’s made me wonder if, in setting up The Relativity Matrix for productive use, there could be a simple, sequential series of exercises that starts people thinking with increasing sophistication about how their actions in one part of the business can affect all of the others.
The interconnectedness of actions is something key to the Froebel idea. I found this video explaining the history of Froebel’s gifts. The voiceover is a little reminscent of “fitter, happier, more productive…” but don’t let that freak you out:
Towards the end of the video, they’re talking about how Froebel fell out of favour; bad, by-rote application of the methods by people who thought that the things were the important thing. Yet there’s nothing mystical or quasi-religious about the gifts as inherent objects, they are simply a demonstration of the principles Froebel is building on. A quote from the video tells us about the thinking at heart of Froebel’s idea:
“This is Froebel’s goal – the understanding by the child of the logic and interconnectedness of the universe. All future information can be put into the right context or framework. His method allows children to form the outline of future knowledge, before they are asked to fill it with otherwise meaningless facts. Children are not empty containers waiting for information to be poured in. It is more important in this age of the internet to know how information fits together than to memorise the facts themselves.”
This chimes with a lot of the stuff in Rupert Wegerif’s ‘Dialogic: Education for The Internet Age‘ which I first picked up when researching the Fracking the Social Web talk. I always come back to a section from the opening of that book, about how we need to change the way we all learn, not just those in formal education:
“We must learn, think and thrive in the context of working with multiple perspectives and ultimate uncertainty”.
All this, I think, provides many good steers for building out the workings of The Relativity Matrix, or indeed any structural system of education. Much like the way I’m going through the books perhaps, it’s about finding the context of the new piece of information, and working out where it might fit into the existing framework.
ACTION 15 – IDENTIFY A FRAMEWORK YOU ALREADY USE. REFLECT ON HOW YOU ADD NEW INFORMATION TO IT.
I’ve had some really useful conversations today around the map, with Cecilia Weckstrom from LEGO and Julie Doleman from Experian. They were both chats about other things, but both times we used the cards to think about ways in which changing one particular thing can impact on other parts of the matrix.
I’d brought a couple of LEGO minifigs with me to talk to Cecilia about the idea of using them in empathy mapping (which I’ve talked about before here), but we actually played around with using one of them as a representation of an idea across the matrix… a piece on the game board, perhaps?
For instance, say that you decided to target a particular customer who wants a really pared-back, no-frills version of your product. You use the LEGO minifig to describe that customer more; what she wants, what pressures in her life are making her think about this, what she sees others around her using, and so on.
Then you place her on the matrix where you might start to try and solve the problem.
In this example, you state that it’s a structural issue, because you need a new type of factory that can make a cheaper version of the product for you; the proposed solution is to have a new factory in China.
By starting in one particular place, against CUSTOMER and STRUCTURES, you can start to question the other things that happen as a result throughout the business…
Going to the faster layers (down & right), perhaps you get more obvious granular effect questions.
What are the commercial benefits that emerge? Does it just produce a new line of revenue, or does it cannibalise existing revenue streams. What actions do your people now undertake more of as a result of having to deal with a factory in China. What additional infrastructure and services do you need to change your operation?
Going to the slower layers (up and left), the questions that emerge seem to be more conceptual, harder to immediately resolve, more actually more important for the long run business.
What impact does opening a factory in China have on the areas surrounding your current factories? Do existing customers who live around these places support the decision? How will leadership justify this in the surrounding culture? What can existing factories learn from this new factory? Are there opportunities to improve the way these existing factories are run by the leaders in that business?
I’m going to try a few more scenarios, on different places across the map, to see if this pattern (down & right asks fast and functional questions, up and right asks slower, conceptual questions) is something that’s always true because of the way the layers are structured.
If anyone else wants to give it a go, please do. The layers as I’ve named them today are:
ORGANISATION, LEADERSHIP, CUSTOMER, COMMERCE, ACTIONS
SURROUNDINGS, STRUCTURES, INFRASTRUCTURES, SERVICES, MATERIALS
You don’t need Artefact Cards to do it, of course, just whatever you have to hand. But doing it in physical space is definitely recommended.
As is building LEGO customers
ACTION 14: BUILD AND PLAY WITH YOUR OWN VERSION OF THE MAP.
OK, enough thinking, a change of pace, a real thing.
A very recent story, from today as it happens.
(See, I told you this was broadcast live…)
I spent some time with a client whom Mr Mark Earls and I have been working with over the last five weeks. We’re getting to the culmination of the project. They’re a start-up who’re growing out of being a start-up. A grow-up. They’ve lovely people, doing great things for people who need it, which makes working with them even better than it might be ordinarily.
We’re helping them investigate, describe, refine, articulate and act on what a ‘brand’ might be for companies like this nowadays. It’s not about pyramids, onions, all that misleading, daft malarkey. It’s about a brand being a tone of action, not a tone of voice. All of the things you do, and all of the things your customers do, they all help define this weird, amorphous thing we call brand nowadays. Brand is the sum total of all action, not just the parts we choose it to be.
Whilst we’re doing this brand work, coincidentally they’re moving office.
They’re not moving office because of the brand work, because of the vision of who they are that we’ve helped them discover within themselves. It was just that they were growing out of the old space, and needed a new space to occupy. As natural a shift as a hermit crab looking for its next home.
All of the things they’re talking about, all of the things they’re doing as part of the brand ‘who we are’… how to better at communicating, be more helpful, make things more visible for others… it’s as much a function of the space they occupy as it is the behaviours they try to instill in themselves and others.
People and Space. It all seems so intertwined, no more so than today. Sitting in that room listening to their founder, their leader, create the platform that invites them to rush and swell into that building, those rooms, those corridors; to fill the space with that company they will become.
Never has the whole PEOPLE x SPACE idea felt more poignant and potent than today. This might just matter.