3.16 – Basic Units

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.

Firstly, after we talked last week Cecilia sent me over a link to a TED talk by Yves Morieux, called “As work gets more complex, six rules to simplify“. It’s a great talk, and it’s here:

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:

What is my process?
What do I make?
How am I growing my capacity to learn?

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






3 Replies to “3.16 – Basic Units”

  1. This reminds me of how I often look to reframe KPIs to shift perception. A simple example is:

    KPI: Sell more stuff. That’s a hard KPI, and pushes people to act in a certain way.

    Reframe: Make it easier to buy. Similar idea, but the outcome is entirely different. It makes people act in way they don’t with the original statement.

    I see parallels in what you’re saying and this approach. The second question removes the pressure and focuses people on working together and solving problems, whereas the former often makes people look for someone to blame if they don’t meet a target.

    A lot of what you’re exploring makes me think about things in new ways. This is a really fascinating study, John. Can’t wait to see how this all concludes.


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