“I just received the following note from one of our Inner Circle members. Below the note is my response.”
Every once in a while I revisit Jacques conceptualization of the stratums of role and capability and I keep hiccupping on his idea of time-span ranges. I recall we discussed this a while ago but it really didn’t resolve in my own mind anyway. I’d appreciate thoughts from the RO experts on this list and others as you see fit. I’d either like to put a firm nail in its coffin or get a sense for how I am not quite seeing the forest so to speak.
Here is my perspective…time-span range is mostly bunk. As best as I can tell it is a remnant of the strategic planning paradigm that remains in the core of many MBA programs. There are a set of tasks that do stretch into mulit-year spans of time of course. For example, I can think of lots of big infrastructure projects with multi-year requirements like the modernization of the Panama Canal.
Other than a set of tasks that have a high degree of certainty and high degree of agreement, the vast majority of tasks on a CEO/leader’s plate land in the realm of high uncertainty and low agreement. (see Ralph Stacey’s matrix below which I like a lot). Or use the overused VUCA construct.
In these environments, I can’t think of a problem that is helped much by engaging it from a time span frame other than to construct wide ranging scenarios of potential futures. Ratchet up or down 100s of assumptions and you can construct ANY future you want to imagine. Or dozens or hundreds of varying futures.
So a CEO’s capability is about what? That they projected accurately and engage in problems about infinite and unknown distant futures where the likelihood that their organization will be in existence is close to 0%. What am I not seeing?
My sense… this is not how the most competent higher end stratum thinkers think, in my humble opinion of course. Like a GE CEO thinking about 50 year problems? Huh? Can anyone give me a concrete example of one other than simple things like a timber resource company projecting supply 30-50 years from now based on current inventory. That’s stratum 2 or 3 calculation.
Most organizations are being slammed this way and that in wickedly complex environments in real time. It is a fairly common occurance to face issues in the environment that can put a company out of business on a fairly frequent basis, or require a radical reframing of the organization’s strategy. (see the failure rate of organizations for data on this).
The notion of engaging problems with a longer time span frame violates the inherent dynamics of complex adaptive systems….that being no one can see around the next corner. The work is to engage the present and understand what is possible now with the deepest sense of opportunity and context for the problems an organization, community, state, country, etc. is facing. Sensing into what is actually possible and the capacity to align resources to that possibility is the true mark of higher end stratum work. Ratchet up the complexity and you’ll need higher stratum of capability to actually hold enough context in real time to shape effective action now.
From wikipedia’s write up on VUCU:
“In general, the premises of VUCA tend to shape an organization’s capacity to:
- Anticipate the Issues that Shape Conditions
- Understand the Consequences of Issues and Actions
- Appreciate the Interdependence of Variables
- Prepare for Alternative Realities and Challenges
- Interpret and Address Relevant Opportunities”
I could see these aspects being part of a system to understand stratum of role or capability of a leader to hold/address these aspects of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. How time span fits into this is tertiary at best.
For me, time span brings about two trains of thought not necessarily on the same tracks:
1) time span is very valuable to us as a linear concept because people do process their experience in terms of time–habitually–it seems.
This linear time is important in identifying routine and recurring tasks especially in the first four stratus where there seems to be a systematic world working.
[Although Common, et al, have made the old 11, the new 12, by adding a level of hierarchical complexity near the bottom of the scale.]
There is also another time span which confounds linear time which I’ll refer to as “nom-linear” and you describe that pretty well as not fitting per Se in the time span formula, at least one that’s not cloudy.;)
For me, like God, my thinking has been round the horn on time span, referring to the idea that conception to car took 5 years and now it takes 18 months in a worst case….
However, when I work with CEOs, I can, after some time, see their capability to deal with time span as the number of lower order actions that they can coordinate and its this idea that as “working time span” lengthens, the number of variables increases and the number of coordinating issues that have to emerge in order to improve risk avoidance…and yes the idea of wild cards are becoming much more prevalent to thwart anyone’s actions anywhere, but nonetheless, time span is still running there and you can see it running.
You can tell if a L4 is working beyond a budget/planning year and you can sure see the difference in what an L4 is organizing and coordinating different from an L5 or an L3…who often grows uncomfortable when no budget planning cycle is in place to guide them.
In your case Jim, you see the world through your time span and thus you realize that any stakes in the ground are merely arbitrary snapshots of fleeting reality and thus the ire of time span irking you, but in the bounded reality of work, which there can’t be any other, we assume this arbitrary reality and superimpose working time span to help us identify order of sort.
Over here, in never, never land, you see the lack of time span coupled with the confounding nature of low complexity: high complexity as a crapshoot on any given day of disorder and yet floating over that disorder is an order and it’s clearly time-related.
It’s almost as if, you are not allowed any more time to manage than the variables which are bounded by that time span can hold, or hold you.
It’s as if…time span chooses you because you can’t handle anymore variables than what are present in that boundary or span.
Over and over, the recurring nightmare of…if they would just consider tomorrow, but they can’t because if they did, their current capability couldn’t organize and coordinate anymore variables and that is our story lived daily.
So STRUCTURE of time, or time span is in fact a central organizing principle which can be used to structure strategy to get work done.
Now if you go back to Senge, et al, and THE DANCE OF CHANGE, you realize their research showed that fully 80% of all change efforts FAILED to achieve their intended goals, and the remaining 20% that did, had no valid explanation!
So, if we put together the concept of time span and the ability to achieve success…that seems another matter, almost luck is a better chance or monkeys throwing darts!
Yet, since everything seems to be in flux anyway with reasoning rationalized after the fact, I’ll include time span in my toolkit along with vertical, oblique and lateral capability as a way to dimensionalize my thinking about KSEs;)