Inspiration and Perspiration in SpaceTime

 An important difference between Leaders and Managers is their perception of SpaceTime. 

Leaders observe from a greater strategic distance so they have a wider horizon and they see more pattern and less detail. They see the forest rather than the trees.  Managers observe from a closer tactical vantage so they have a narrower horizon and see less context but they see more detail. Both maps are needed – broad brush and fine detail – but the map need to match the task and the person: sometimes the detail is critical; sometimes the detail is confusing.  

The same is the case for both Space and Time. Strategic space is global – tactical space is local. Strategic time is proactive – tactical time is reactive. Leaders Inspire and Plan the Work – Managers Perspire and Work the Plan.

It is interesting to observe what can happen when the same tool is applied in a strategic and in a tactical context. An  example is the RAG (Red Amber Green) method for reporting status.  The principle is that the colour indicates what to do: Green = Relax;  Amber = Alert; Red = React. 

Sounds easy enough so what is the problem?

The RAG method is designed to indicate our current status but status of what?  Our current position or our current course? Our course is given by a series of positions recorded over time on a chart – as a picture – and we use that to help us navigate – to plan an effective and efficient course to our intended destination.  Unexpected things can happen though – we can get swept and blown off course and we may come across an unexpected or unpredictable obstacles on our intended course. So we need to be able to navigate our way to our original destination by a new route. So imagine what could happen if we were only able to compare our current position with our target position and we only work to stay on target. We would be unable to adapt to a dynamically changing or unpredictable strategic context – we would be unwise to go off position because we would get lost.

So if we do not want to lose our way then we must ensure we know what our RAG is telling us – our position or our course. 


The Three Faces of Improvement Science

There is always more than one way to look at something and each perspective is complementary to the others.

Improvement Science has three faces: the first is the Process Face; the second is the People face and the third is the System face – and is represented in the logo with a different colour for each face.

The process face is the easiest to start with because it is logical, objective and absolute.  It describes the process; the what, where, when and how. It is the combination of the hardware and the software; the structure and the function – and it is constrained by the Laws of Physics.

The people face is emotional, subjective and relative.  It describes the people and their perceptions and their purposes. Each person interacts both with the process and with each other and their individual beliefs and behaviours drive the web of relationships. This is the world of psychology and politics.

The system face is neither logical nor emotional – it has characteristics that are easy to describe but difficult to define. Characteritics such a self-organisation; emergent behaviour; and complexity.  Our brains do not appear to be able to comprehend systems as easily and intuitively and we might like to believe. This is one reason why systems often feel counter-intuitive, unpredictable and mysterious. We discover that we are unable to make intuitive decisions that result in whole system improvement  because our intuition tricks us.

Gaining confidence and capability in the practical application of Improvement Science requires starting from our zone of relative strength – our conscious, logical, rational, explanable, teachable, learnable, objective dependency on the physical world. From this solid foundation we can explore our zone of self-control – our internal unconscious, psychological and emotional world; and from there to our zone of relative weakness –  the systemic world of multiple interdependencies that, over time, determine our individual and collective fate.

The good news is that the knowledge and skills we need to handle the rational physical process face are easy and quick to learn.  It can be done with only a short period of focussed, learning-by-doing.  With that foundation in place we can then explore the more difficult areas of people and systems.



The Devil and the Detail

There are two directions from which we can approach an improvement challenge. From the bottom up – starting with the real details and distilling the principle later; and from the top down – starting with the conceptual principle and doing the detail later.  Neither is better than the other – both are needed.

As individuals we have an innate preference for real detail or conceptual principle – and our preference is manifest by the way we think, talk and behave – it is part of our personality.  It is useful to have insight into our own personality and to recognise that when other people approach a problem in a different way then we may experience a difference of opinion, a conflict of styles, and possibly arguments.  

One very well established model of personality type was proposed by Carl Gustav Jung who was a psychologist and who approached the subject from the perspective of understanding psychological “illness”.  Jung’s “Psychological Types” was used as the foundation of the life-work of Isabel Briggs Myers who was not a psychologist and who was looking from the direction of understanding psychological “normality”. In her book Gifts Differing – Understanding Personality Type (ISBN 978-0891-060741) she demonstrates using empirical data that there is not one normal or ideal type that we are all deviate from – rather that there is a set of stable types that each represents a “different gift”. By this she means that different personality types are suited to different tasks and when the type resonantes with the task it results in high-performance and is seen an asset or “strength” and when it does not it results in low performance and is seen as a liability or “weakness”.

One of the multiple dimensions of the Jungian and Myers-Briggs personality type model is the Sensor – iNtuitor dimension the S-N dimension. This dimension represents where we hold our reference model that provides us with data – data that we convert to information – and informationa the we use to derive decisions and actions.

A person who is naturally inclined to the Sensor end of the S-N dimension prefers to use Reality and Actuality as their reference – and they access it via their senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. They are often detail and data focussed; they trust their senses and their conscious awareness; and they are more comfortable with routine and structure.  

A person who is naturally inclined to the iNtuitor end of the S-N dimension prefers to use Rhetoric and Possibility as their reference and their internal conceptual model that they access via their intuition. They are often principle and concept focussed and discount what their senses tell them in favour their intuition. Intuitors feel uncomfortable with routine and structure which they see as barriers to improvement.  

So when a Sensor and an iNtuitor are working together to solve a problem they are approaching it from two different directions and even when they have a common purpose, common values and a common objective it is very likely that conflict will occur if they are unaware of their different gifts

Gaining this awareness is a key to success because the synergy of the two approaches is greater than either working alone – the sum is greater than the parts – but only if there is awareness and mutual respect for the different gifts.  If there is no awareness and low mutual respect then the sum will be less than the parts and the problem will not be dissolvable.

In her research, Isabel Briggs Myers found that about 60% of high school students have a preference for S and 40% have a preference for N – but when the “academic high flyers”  were surveyed the ratio was S=17%  and N=83% – and there was no difference between males and females.  When she looked at the S-N distribution in different training courses she discovered that there were a higher proportion of S-types in Administrators (59%), Police (80%), and Finance (72%) and a higher proportion of N-types in Liberal Arts (59%), Engineering (65%), Science (83%), Fine Arts (91%), Occupational Therapy (66%), Art Education (87%), Counselor Education (85%), and Law (59%).  Her observation suggested that individuals select subjects based on their “different gifts” and this throws an interesting light on why traditional professions may come into conflict and perhaps why large organisations tend to form departments of “like-minded individuals”.  Departments with names like Finance, Operations and Governance  – or FOG.

This insight also offers an explanation for the conflict between “strategists” who tend to be N-types and who naturally gravitate to the “manager” part of an organisation and the “tacticians” who tend to be S-types and who naturally gravitate to the “worker” part of the same organisation.

It  has also been shown that conventional “intelligence tests” favour the N-types over the S-types and suggests why highly intelligent academics my perform very poorly when asked to apply their concepts and principles in the real world. Effective action requires pragmatists – but academics tend to congregate in academic instituitions – often disrespectfully labelled by pragmatists as “Ivory Towers”.      

Unfortunately this innate tendency to seek-like-types is counter-productive because it re-inforces the differences, exacerbates the communication barriers,  and leads to “tribal” and “disrespectful” and “trust eroding” behaviour, and to the “organisational silos” that are often evident.

Complex real-world problems cannot be solved this way because they require the synergy of the gifts – each part playing to its strength when the time is right.

The first step to know-how is self-awareness.

If you would like to know your Jungian/MBTI® type you can do so by getting the app: HERE


The world seems to is getting itself into a real flap at the moment.

The global economy is showing signs of faltering – the perfect dream of eternal financial growth seems to be showing cracks and is increasingly looking tarnished.

The doom mongers are surprisingly quiet – perhaps because they do not have any new ideas either.

It feels like the system is heading for a big flop and that is not a great feeling.

Last week I posed the Argument-Free-Problem-Solving challenge – and some were curious enough to have a go. It seems that the challenge needs more explanation of how it works to create enough engagement to climb the skepticism barrier.

At the heart of the AFPS method is The 4N Chart® – a simple, effective and efficient way to get a balanced perspective of the emotional contours of the change terrain.  The improvement process boils down to recognising, celebrating, and maintaining the Nuggets, flipping the Niggles into NoNos and reinvesting the currencies that are released into converting NiceIfs into more Nuggets.

The trick is the flip.

To perform a flip we have to make our assumptions explicit – which means we have to use external reality to challenge our internal rhetoric.  We need real data – presented in an easily digestible format – as a picture – and in context which converts the data into information that we can then ingest and use to grow our knowledge and broaden our understanding.

To convert knowledge into understanding we must ask a question: “Is our assumption a generalisation from a specific experience?

For example – it is generally assumed that high utilisation is associated with high productivity – and we want high productivity so we push for high utilisation.  And if we look at reality we can easily find evidence to support our assumption.  If I have under-utilised fixed-cost resources and I push more work into the process, I see an increase the flow in the stream, and an increase in utilisation, and an increase in revenue, and no increase in cost – higher outcome: higher productivity.

But if we look more carefully we can also find examples that seem to disprove our assumption. I have under-utilised resources and I push more work into the process, and the flow increases initially then falls dramatically, the revenue falls, productivity falls and when I look at all my resources they are still fully utilised.  The system has become gridlocked – and when I investigate is discover that the resource I need to unlock the flow is tied up somewhere else in the process with more urgent work. My system does not have an anti-deadlock design.

Our rhetoric of generalisation has been challenged by the reality of specifics – and it only takes one example.  One black swan will disprove the generalisation that “all swans are white”.

We now know we need to flip the “general assumption” into “specific evidence” – changing the words “all”, “always”, “none” and “never” into “some” and “sometimes”.

In our example we flip our assumption into “sometimes utilisation and productivity go up together, and sometimes they do not”. This flip reveals a new hidden door in the invisible wall that limits the breadth of our understanding and that unconsciously hinders our progress.

To open that door we must learn how to tell one specific from another and opening that door will lead to a path of discovery, more knowledge, broader understanding, deeper wisdom, better decisions, more effective actions and sustained improvement.


This week has seen the loss of one of the greatest Improvement Scientists – Steve Jobs – creator of Apple – who put the essence of Improvement Science into words more eloquently than anyone in his 2005 address at Stanford University.

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” Steve Jobs (1955-2011).

And with a lifetime of experience of leading an organisation that epitomises quality by design Steve Jobs had the most credibility of any person on the planet when it comes to management of improvement.


I used to be puzzled when I reflected on the observation that we seem to be able to solve problems as individuals much more quickly and with greater certainty than we could as groups.

I used to believe that having many different perspectives of a problem would be an asset – but in reality it seems to be more of a liability.

Now when I receive an invitation to a meeting to discuss an issue of urgent importance my little heart sinks as I recall the endless hours of my limited life-time wasted in worthless, unproductive discussion.

But, not to be one to wallow in despair I have been busy applying the principles of Improvement Science to this ubiquitous and persistent niggle.  And I have discovered something called Argument Free Problem Solving (AFPS) – or rather that is my name for it because it does what it says on the tin – it solves problems without arguments.

The trick was to treat problem-solving as a process; to understand how we solve problems as individuals; what are the worthwhile bits; and how we scupper the process when we add-in more than one person; and then how to design-to-align the  problem-solving workflow so that it …. flows. So that it is effective and efficient.

The result is AFPS and I’ve been testing it out. Wow! Does it work or what!

I have also discovered that we do not need to create an artificial set of Rules or a Special Jargon – we can  apply the recipe to any situation in a very natural and unobtrusive way.  Just this week I have seen it work like magic several times: once in defusing what was looking like a big bust up looming; once t0 resolve a small niggle that had been magnified into a huge monster and a big battle – the smoke of which was obscuring the real win-win-win opportunity; and once in a collaborative process improvement exercise that demonstrated a 2000% improvement in system productivity – yes – two thousand percent!

So AFPS  has been added to the  Improvement Science treasure chest and (because I like to tease and have fun) I have hidden the key in cyberspace at coordinates

Mwah ha ha ha – me hearties!