If one is master of one thing and understands one thing well, one has at the same time, insight into and understanding of many things. -Vincent Van Gogh
I want to let you in on a little secret that I figured out. Maybe it isn't a secret, But it is not obvious nor do I hear people writing and talking about it. When you know this process, and start recognizing it happening around you, you become able to get more things done and completed, instead of wasting life starting and stopping. It happens because you will know how to put what you have to do in the right order more often. You learn how to line up the tasks like dominoes and, flick, they all fall the way you want them to.
The 'secret' is that there's one giant method, a master-process, or unseen-hand (wink win) process that guides success. It has to be true because it occurs in drastically different domains. That's my strong thesis.
My weak thesis is that this process is simply a way to think about what happens in the world. As in it is a way to understand business, real estate, software development, and the whole process of creation in general.
What's the difference between the strong in the weak thesis? The strong thesis says there's a process 'out there' in the world. The weak thesis says the process is 'in here' in how we organize the world. Does this difference really make a difference in how effective you can become? Not. One. Bit. Either one works!
Let's get to it. Quick tip, all of this comes from my Imagine Create Execute system. You'll see that name on the slides and at the end of this blog post I'll tell you about the workbook you can buy, download, and use to make you productive beyond your wildest dreams.
I'll start describing the process by describing the framework that organizes it (the levels, pillars, and sequence). Then we'll look at some examples across multiple industries and within business and engineering.
The Levels 3
While a lot of thinking about levels is 2-tiered, we have a 3-tiered structure. I'm call these levels ideas, systems, and actions. The move from universal to abstract to specific. Think of a chair.
Chairs are universally and categorically different from tables and dogs. You can sit on both with varying results. Chairs can abstractly come in a variety of shapes and sizes. And the chair I'm sitting has yellow upholstery and is built out of wood. Universal ideas, abstract systems, and specific actions (or objects).
Different domains call the levels by different names. Business and the military call them strategy, tactics, and operations. In regular life as action verbs we might say think, plan, act. Whatever their names, it's the same pattern.
The Pillars 3
We divide these levels by the 3 natural distinctions that we refer to as space, time, and energy. These are so embedded in all of our thoughts, feelings and actions that we tend to only talk formally about them in science and engineering, we just use them everywhere else.
We use these distinctions daily: do I have the space in my house for this? Do I have the time to go to the store? Do I have the energy to call my bickering relatives? We think about them so commonly, that pointing them out is as weird as labeling parts of a sentence nouns, verbs, and participles. But you'll see that we're going to put these distinctions to good use.
3 levels and 3 rows gives us 9 boxes. I'll show you how this grid can be used to analyze and explain multiple industries including software, real estate, as well as business and engineering. Like I said, it's not important whether we think about these as a thing existing out there in the world vs thinking about them as filters or lenses to view these areas through. Whether it makes sense and can be useful for us is the important thing.
The Hierarchy and the Sequence
We have two hierarchies here. The levels are higher or more important in the hierarchy than the rows. This rule gives us our sequence. The second rule says space > time > energy, or left-to-right. This means we have the idea level containing steps 1-3, the systems level containing steps 4-6, and the actions level containing steps 7-9.
If we wanted to know what comes before what, we just find the number for the box. It's also the case that anything changed in a higher level, cascades down into the lower levels. If you change from wanting Thai food to Ethiopian food, you'll call a different restaurant. If you have a child, you may trade in your two-seater for a mini-van. If you run out of toilet paper, you have to go to the closet to get some more, and if there's none there, you'll have to go to the store.
Construction & Real Estate
By the time a contractor starts pouring cement foundations, the owners have nailed down the design or type of building, gotten zoning approval, site surveys, architectural drawings, engineering schematics, and a whole construction project plan. Once all the contractors leave the site, the interior designer works their magic, the movers fill up the space with the occupant's stuff, and the occupant uses the building to their heart's content.
I architected, engineered, built, secured, and updated over 70 Drupal sites. I know a thing or two about software development. It was from in the trenches of doing so much so well that I was able to figure out the overall flow of things that blossomed into this version of the grid.
What I find wild is the overlap between some of the terminology between the construction and software worlds. But there are some differences too. Both have project managers, engineers, and architects. Construction's interior decorators correspond to programming's graphic designers. Similar words or not, if you understand what role each plays in the overall scheme of things, you'll be far ahead of your competition.
Business & Engineering
While I'm no business titan or guru (yet), modern management and organization was an outgrowth of businesses owned by oil and rail tycoons needing scores of people to manage and administer their companies. You can clearly see the divisions between different types of businesses and within any business itself.
So if you're concerned about your professional career and moving up or across the corporate food chain, you'll see what type of thinking you'll need when you go after your promotion.
Entrepreneurship: Maybe Not So Much
lol! This is the business & engineering diagram applied to entrepreneurship. This is also why businesses fail so often, because it's difficult to build a one-person company!
Inspired mostly by John Zachman's interrogatives and less so by Simon Sinek's Start With Why, I tried to figure out whether I could come up with a set of one-word questions for each of the steps. Apparently I could, so I did.
While 'whence' and 'whither' have fallen out of use, wikipedia's entry on pro-forms say they fit. But if I had my way, the 'what' of the 6th box would be 'will'.
Anyhow, these are the kind(s) of questions you ask. For instance, you might ask 'whether' the time and conditions are right, even though you have a good reason ('why') to do something. And you might ask 'which' way you are going to go or solve a problem given the conditions. And that goes on down the line.
Finally! What do you actually DO? Well, more like how do we describe what we as people do in each stage. Clearly you're not going to turn yourself into a research scientist to figure everything out. And you're not going to learn how to be Bob the builder everywhen (it's a word) your faucet leaks.
But, you'll find that you can use the words in this version of the grid to describe what each person or role in each box or step does.
What's Next / How Do You USE this?
My intent with this post was to give you a crash course in all the industries and ways that this grid can be useful. If you're chomping at the bit hoping I can teach you to get better at each and all of these, you're in luck. I created the Imagine Create Execute workbook just for you. It has worksheets, checklists, a to-do list and a cheatsheet.
The cheatsheet identifies the five most important concerns for each of these steps. Then the workbook asks you a few questions to help you think about each of those five concerns. Next you get into action with a handy checklist. And it even has an enhanced to-do list so you can track that you're doing all of the right things at each step!