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David Robinson asked me “it seems like you have hundreds of frameworks or models that you bring to our discussions. What is your core process that is underneath your mastery of all of the models you use?”
I started to respond as I thought it would be an easy question. Yet, each of the answers that came to mind were somebody else’s model. Not mine. I immediately thought of Boyd’s OODA and then Ackoff’s Idealized Design and then Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints. I’ve mastered these frameworks but I didn’t develop them.
Maybe my model was the combination of models that I’ve mastered over the years. I started listing all the different models I use. I quit when I got to fifty different models.
I spent several days examining different experiences trying to remember the earliest time I used some form of model to more deliberately guide my work.
The closest I could come was a variant of the “See One. Do One. Teach One.” model for mastery.
The earliest experience I could remember using the full model was the summer of 1966 when I worked construction in Hendersonville, NC. I was hired by Godley Construction company to help build a Baptist Church. One of our tasks was to tie the reinforcing steel components for the concrete lintels above what would be 24 large stained glass windows.
The first lintel tied steel that we did took two of us three full days of backbreaking work. The construction supervisor showed us how to do it (See One) and then the two of us did it (Do One). As we started on the second one, I knew there had to be a better way. A part of the better way was sitting while we did the work. I did not realize that sitting on a construction site was something that one never did. After the construction foreman, chewed me out for fifteen minutes, I showed him how much more productive we were. He thought for a few minutes and then said “OK, I will let you do it your way. But if the big boss from Charlotte, NC, comes up to observe I want you to go back to doing it my way.”
My colleague and I settled in and after continuous improvement to our new process we were producing the reinforced steel lintels at 2.5 per day instead of the one every three days. I was really excited that I could transform and augment (TAO) a work flow to increase productivity. However, there was an unintended consequence of my ingenuity. We finished much faster than the project plan called for and there was no more work for me. I was laid off two weeks before the end of the summer work. Oops.
Now that I had one example, I remembered that my experience sounded familiar to the story in one of my favorite childhood books from 1959 – Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine. Danny and his two high school friends decided they would use the “professor’s computer” to do their homework. They thought getting the computer to do their homework would be easy. Little did they know that in order for the computer to do their work they first had to understand the homework (See One. Do One.). Then they had to teach the computer how to do it (Teach One).
The Professor leaned his bull fiddle against a chair and came to see the report card. “Top marks,” he said. “Then why so growlsome looking? Are you unhappy because school is over?”
“What?” said Danny. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
Mrs. Dunn folded her arms. “Daniel Dunn,” she said, in her no-nonsense voice. “Out with it! Something’s wrong.”
Danny kicked at the rug with one toe. “Oh…well you know how hard we worked on the computer so we wouldn’t have to do any homework?”
“Well, Miss Arnold just broke the news to us that we’ve been doing homework all along. In fact— we got special honors for doing more and harder homework than any of the other kids in class!”
Mrs. Dunn began to bubble with mirth. Dr. Grimes came out, raising his eyebrows.
Professor Bullfinch coughed, and said, “I wondered how long it would be before you found that out. Naturally, in order to feed information into the computer you had to know it yourselves. And in order to give the machine the proper instructions for solving problems, you had to know how to solve them yourselves. So, of course, you had to do homework—and plenty of it.”
“Why, simply programming a problem is homework,” Dr. Grimes put in.
“Yes. It just never occurred to me before,” Danny confessed. “Gosh, it — it somehow doesn’t seem fair.”
“It wasn’t really fair for you to expect a machine to do all your work for you, was it?” Mrs. Dunn said, gently. “That’s why I suggested to Miss Arnold that she give you high school homework to do.”
Williams, Jay. Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine . Wildside Press LLC. Kindle Edition.
In the process of teaching the computer to do their homework, they did a Transform and Augment One (TAO) as well.
In 1968 I discovered computers and software programming in my freshman year at Duke University. In parallel to my class work, I took a part time job in a psychophysiology lab at the Duke Medical Center studying the effects of different tranquilizing drugs on heart rate. My job was to take the paper records of heart rate from the Grass Polygraph and manually score the beat by beat heart rate during the many 90 second trial periods of the experiment for each of fifty subjects. This was dull mindless work once I figured out how to do the scoring (See One. Do One.).
The hidden benefit of taking this job was that they were getting a PDP-12 computer to augment and automate this manual work. Given my interest in programming I was selected to go to Digital Equipment Corporation’s Headquarters to learn all about the PDP-12. Once we took delivery of the computer, I quickly programmed the computer to run the experiments AND to analyze the results in real time. I no longer had to do the hard work of manually scoring the heart rate beat by beat. I had done my first digital transformation by programming the computer (Teach One) to do what I had mastered. In the process, we did a Transform and Augment One as well for conducting the entire experiment.
I had found my core process that was uniquely mine – SoDoToTAO – See One Do One Teach One Transform and Augment One.
This SoDoToTAO is so much a part of me that I do it now without thinking about it.
In 2014, I was asked by Gifford Booth of the TAI Group to see if I could design an automation of their executive coaching practice. They did excellent work in coaching executives of Fortune 1000 companies on how to communicate and lead more effectively. They did such a good job that their executive clients asked them to scale their process for all the managers in their companies. However the corporations were not willing to pay executive coaching rates for the thousands of folks that needed the training. The clients asked TAI to figure out how to automate the coaching so that it could be scaled.
I suggested that if I could spend a week Seeing One and Doing One then I could put an automation plan together. During our first week together I experienced the coaching process myself for their introductory course – Power and Presence. I was amazed at how much better a presenter I became after just an hour of coaching. I then observed five different coaches with 20 different client professionals. I realized that TAI had codified their practices in order to train their thirty different executive coaches in the US and Europe. They shared with me their 25 different categories of communication dysfunction and the 20 interventions to improve the dysfunctions.
I took every presentation opportunity to practice what TAI taught me. I captured the doing of the work in the blog post “Wake Up!“. Yet, I realized that in order to get to the Transform and Augment One phase I needed to teach the method. With friends and colleagues who volunteered for the training, I then did several one day sessions teaching what I had learned from TAI. I gave all the caveats that I was not a trained instructor and that if they wanted the full benefit, they needed to attend a TAI seminar. However, teaching the process was exactly what I needed. I got to observe a wide range of professionals with different dysfunctions and select an intervention that would help them improve.
With the SoDoTo experiences, I was now ready for the Transform and Augment One part of the process. I hypothesized that we could do the observing and feedback if we could do 360 video recording of the subjects and then have them see the recordings in a VR headset. We did some quick prototypes but we were about ten years ahead of what the technology could do. It is just now with the Meta Quest Pro headsets that we could implement what we envisioned eight years ago.
More recently, I described the SoDoToTAO that the video highlighting tool, Grain, provided to our user research capabilities (Observe Don’t Ask series Part 5). Now that so much remote work is done through Zoom and Microsoft Teams and it is easy to record sessions with users it is easy to provide feedback to the development team. Grain takes a one hour process to create a single video highlight and transforms it into a two minute process. I raced through the SoDoTo process with teaching myself and others how easy Grain was to use. Once we had everybody using Grain, it was easy to Transform and Augment (TAO) our development feedback loops.
While I was delighted to get to my core process and answer David’s question, I realized that there was still a problem. I could not answer what the trigger was for me to start the SoDoToTAO process in the first place. What caused me to See One and then continue with the mastery process? Somewhere inside of me is a selection process for why a given model, or facilitation technique, or new software tool is worth me mastering.
I still have more homework to research and reflect so that I can answer David’s question more completely.