3.05 – The Relativity Matrix

The relationship between the different layers of PEOPLE and SPACE in an organisation are linked through speed. Slow moving PEOPLE things tend to change slow move SPACE layers. If you take the diagram below, you can see that working itself through:

05 - b links

Each layer intersects its equivalent layer. Slow moves slow, fast moves fast.

Let’s look a little more closely at it. If you just looked at the intersections between layers, you could draw a straight line through these points, to see the places where people look, more often than not, for answers to problems they have. I’ve called it The Line of the Obvious Solution, a name which may well change as I wrestle through some of these thoughts a little more in the coming month.

05 - c obvious

It’s there because I wonder if the pacing of each of the layers makes it likely that in order to solve problems for themselves, businesses don’t tend to look in unobvious places to find answers.

If we have a problem with the day-to-day ACTIONS of our teams, we quickly look around for new MATERIALS to use which might change our habits. Or if we run out of a certain type of MATERIALS, we’ll just change-up our ACTIONS.

If COMMERCE suddenly places more emphasis on a struggling part of the business, we’ll port a couple of people over, quickly change the MOVABLES of the floor, and fix the problem. Equally, if we put people sitting next to each other who don’t usually do so, it may help the flow of information and innovation, and affect the bottom line.

If MARKETING demands making a new product or service, then we’ll make a new IMMOVABLE part of the building for them to operate within (or if we’re not thinking about it, make them to do it in exactly the same space). Alternatively, we might use empty or temporary space to create new marketing initiatives in.

LEADERSHIP may spot that there’s not enough new platforms for people to build upon, so can bring in SERVICES to help, like training. In balance, if a SERVICE is not performing as it should, it’s usually up to the leaders to pull the plug.

Finally, if there’s a deep-rooted CULTURE problem at the heart of the company, it’s usually the SURROUNDINGS that get the blame; “we don’t like working here, it’s too far out-of-town, the space doesn’t work, we need to be near agencies“.


Now, it’s not to say that any of these places are the wrong places to look for answers to the issues, but what’s interesting me with this model is how to look beyond the obvious questions, and ask different ones that are a bit more off the beaten track. I started to draw it out like this:

05 - d - questions

Which turned into something more like a matrix, where you could name all of the columns and rows, and think about the relationships between the non-obvious things.

05 - a title

I also started thinking about it as being about ‘relativity’ – not the Einstein kind, but I did stumbled across a useful definition of Cultural Relativity attributed to Franz Boas:

“Civilization is not something absolute, it is relative – and our ideas and conceptions are true only so far as our civilization goes”.

So you’ve got to see a company’s problems from inside the box of their own PEOPLE and SPACE. Simply mapping on solutions that have worked before for other clients will miss all of the subtleties in all of those layers. (Note: Further reading indicates that Boas is seen as the founding father of American Anthropology – something to pick up with Grant McCracken, perhaps, when we catch up when he’s over the week after next.)

Until then though, I’m going to start playing with the interesting questions that this model invites you to ask, and tomorrow I may even invite some friends to do it as a podcast together, rather than writing it all…

Until then, let me leave you with this; The Relativity Matrix, v 1.01:

Relativity Matrix 1.01-01



NOW READ – 3.06 – Testing The Matrix



6 responses to “3.05 – The Relativity Matrix”

  1. Hi John

    is the line of obvious solutions also a “line of least resistance”, at least in terms of getting consensus across the people layers, and ease of execution across or within space layers. This might imply solutions that don’t disrupt or erode the interfaces between the layers. This may echo with your more recent post that suggests a sort of flexible/permeable grout between layers. This permeability and how it is facilitated and maintained feels like an interesting area, in both space (departmental/discipline silos) and people (skills/interests and recruitment briefs) terms.

    1. john v willshire avatar
      john v willshire

      Hey Ian. I really like the ‘line of least resistence as a phrase’ – I may co-opt that for the next version of the Matrix, if I may? I had an idea called ‘Permeable Walls’ a while back about how people needed to make companies more open to people travelling through them… but your point is spot on when it comes to thinking about that internally too.

  2. […] PREVIOUSLY – 3.03 – The Clock of the Long Now NOW READ – 3.05 – THE RELATIVITY MATRIX […]

  3. […] on the compass would be. If I look back to the drawing I did originally of the intersection of the PEOPLE & SPACE layers, instead of turning it into a precise matrix, I could instead form a rough and ready compass […]