Posts Tagged ‘first things first’

Flexible Focus #52: A sense of Significance

by William Reed on May 5, 2011

Urgency vs Importance

Stephen Covey provided the world with a significant dimension of perspective when he proposed the Time Management Grid in his book First Things First (1994), using a 2×2 Matrix juxtaposing Urgency vs Importance. Though it has now become common parlance, it was revolutionary at the time when Covey made this distinction, and plotted it in four Quadrants.

Quadrant 1 is Firefighting, both Urgent and Important. Quadrant 2 is Quality Time, Important but not Urgent. Quadrant 3 is Distraction, Urgent but not Important. Quadrant 4 is Time Wasting, neither Urgent nor Important. To give serious consideration to this matrix is to realize that an unacceptable proportion of your time and life energy is actually being wasted, and that there may be far too little Quality Time in your experience. This insight alone should give you pause, and motivate you to devote more energy to living on the right side of the matrix.

Additional Degrees of Freedom

We have already examined the limitations of the 2×2 Matrix in Flexible Focus #25: Assessing your situation with a Mandala SWOT analysis. A 2×2 Matrix can alert you to an insufficiency, cause you to reevaluate your priorities, or alert you to a missing element in your life. However, life is multi-dimensional, and most things in life do not easily fit into a 2×2 square.

What if you added even just one dimension, and looked at life as a 3×3 matrix, as a Mandala Chart? This alone gives you nine degrees of freedom instead of 4, and if you care to explore it further, the B-style Mandala Chart is 8×8, with 64 degrees of freedom. To anyone who values flexibility and freedom, by any measure 9 degrees of freedom is better than 4, and 64 degrees of freedom is better than 9, unless you prefer simple choices with everything fixed.

Additional freedom brings with it greater appreciation for flow and serendipity, lesser need for control, and a higher tolerance for ambiguity. The important thing is to determine what makes life better, more meaningful, and what serves to answer the bigger question of Why?

In Search of Significance

As shown in the illustration, there are 5 basic questions, which correspond to the five elements of Chinese philosophy, as well as the energy dynamics of our perception: What (Wood, Visual), Who (Fire, Auditory), When (Earth, Kinesthetic), How (Steel, Logical), and Why (Flow, Energetic). There is a sequence here, which is easy to remember if you think that Wood feeds Fire, which burns and returns to Earth, which hardens into Steel, and the whole process Flows.

You see this process at work in companies whenever new ideas are presented. Wood feeds fire, hence the question to ask after What you can do is, Who can help you do it? Unfortunately, many companies respond to new ideas with the cutting edge of steel, How can it be done? How can we afford it? How could it possibly work? Steel cuts wood, and How questions kill ideas as fast as they appear.

Companies and individuals who understand this process move forward and thrive, whereas those who don’t retract, shrink, and shrivel, eventually losing their creative edge. How has its place, but must wait its turn. This is why accountants and engineers should not call all of the shots.

Popular psychology tends to focus just on the first three, Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic, but this is only three of the five dimensions of our consciousness. The 3×3 Mandala has nine squares, adding a degree of subtlety to the five elements. To reach the level of significance, you need to ask quality questions, which are really quite fundamental, but seldom asked in earnest.

So what does a 3×3 Mandala look like, which reaches into the dimension of significance, rather than just urgency vs importance? The 3×3 Mandala of Quality Questions is simplicity itself. In three rows from left to right it reads: HOW TO, WHAT, WHY ME, then HOW, WHY, WHO, then HOW MUCH, WHEN, WHERE. Everything centers on WHY, which is the center and anchor point for your inquiry.

Through a Glass Darkly

Although the Mandala Chart is usually represented as a 3×3 Matrix, a flat board of 9 squares, this is merely a convenience to represent the concept on paper. The Mandala is often represented as a circle, or an all encompassing sphere representing the Universe, and everything contained in it.

In searching for a sense of significance, you might picture the Mandala as a crystal ball in which we can see our future, our present, and our past, albeit in misty or mystical form. The Mandala is a looking glass, and in it we see through a glass darkly, a phrase which originated in the King James Bible, but has been used in film, television, music, and literature, precisely because it reflects our experience. Only by looking deeper can we see more clearly and understand the real significance of our existence.