Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 37;   September 14, 2005: FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference

FedEx, Flocks, and Frames of Reference

by

Your point of view — or reference frame — affects what you see, and how you experience the world around you. By choosing a reference frame consciously, you can see things differently, and open a universe of new choices.

You've probably seen the FedEx logo, and by now, maybe you know that in the negative space between the E and the x is a rightward-pointing arrow. The arrow is there by intention, says Lindon Leader, who designed the logo. But if you know the Roman alphabet, you probably don't see the arrow unless you already know it's there.

FedEx logoThe difficulty of seeing it comes from the frame of reference that readers habitually use when they see writing or printing. They look at the letters, not the spaces between them. People who are unfamiliar with Roman letters have much less difficulty seeing the arrow.

And when we see flocks of birds, we see the flocks, rather than the individual birds, and not the spaces between the birds. This habitual choice of reference frame is perhaps part of what makes many of the etchings of M.C. Escher so fascinating. He calls upon us to look at the individual birds in the flocks, and at the spaces between the birds.

When we choose our frame of reference consciously, we can see many things that would otherwise escape our notice. Consider the business meeting. For many, the reference frame of choice is the content of the discussion and how we're doing personally in the often-competitive tussle to control it.

Sometimes meetings need
contributions beyond
mere content
A useful alternative frame is that of the group. In that frame, we can ask, "How's the group doing?" Here are questions we can ask in that frame.

Energy level
Are people engaged? Do they arrive on time and stay through till the end? Is there a good amount of laughter? Or are they disengaged? Are they fiddling with their Blackberries? Doodling?
Coherence
Does the group maintain focus? Can they stay on topic, or are they whipsawing from one irrelevant point to another? Can they converge to conclusions, or do they often fail to reach decisions?
Contribution rate
Do people offer contributions at a reasonable rate? Or do they interrupt, over-talking each other or raising their voices? Or do they sit silently when someone poses a question, too fearful to risk offering a comment?
Viewpoint multiplicity
Does the group welcome diverse perspectives? Does it seek fresh views proactively when they aren't in evidence?
Polarization
Has the group evolved into a set of "political parties" whose composition and positions are rigidly consistent? Are they unable to reach joint decisions? Can you reliably predict who will ally with whom on a given question? Is one individual a designated pariah?

To make meetings more productive, groups sometimes need contributions that reach beyond mere content. If you change your frame of reference, and you notice what contributions the group really needs, you might find new ways to contribute to the meeting, to help lead it towards true achievement. Go to top Top  Next issue: My Boss Is Driving Me Nuts  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenvaSOBTJMGfcuEOqMner@ChackwJMHaBetQLZgLvBoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Bowling pins for ten-pin bowlingPygmalion Side Effects: Bowling a Strike
Elise slowly walked back to her office, beaten. Her supervisor, Alton, had just given Elise her performance review — her third consecutive "meets expectations." No point now to her strategy of giving 120% to turn it all around. She is living a part of the Pygmalion Effect, and she's about to experience the Pygmalion Side Effects.
A bookshelfSmart Bookshelves
If you like to browse in bookstores, you probably know the thrill of new ideas and new perspectives. When I find a book worth reading, I want to own it, and that's how it gets to my shelf. Here are some tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
Wildflowers in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National ForestsRenewal
Renewal is a time to step out of your usual routine and re-energize. We find renewal in weekends, vacations, days off, even in a special evening or hour in the midst of our usual pattern. Renewal provides perspective. It's a climb to the mountaintop to see if we're heading in the right direction.
The Town of Wescott, Wisconsin is recognized as Tree City 2005Retention
When the job market eases for job seekers, we often see increases in job shifting, as people who've been biding their time make the jump. Typically, they're the people we most want to keep. How can we reduce this source of turnover?
A cup of coffeeHow to Procrastinate
You probably know many techniques for procrastinating, and use them regularly, but vociferously deny doing so. That's what makes this such a delicate subject that I've been delaying writing this article. Well, those days are over.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879, famed abolitionist and ex-slaveComing June 20: Managing Dissent Risk
In group decision making, dissent risk is the risk that dissents about important decisions will be rejected without due consideration. As a result, group decision quality can suffer, and some groups will actually eject dissenters. How can we manage dissent risk? Available here and by RSS on June 20.
Puppies waiting intently for a shot at the treatAnd on June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenQTIvmWCRwUkPhHfCner@ChaceGHrndyWdZuqiuTGoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
On 14The Race to the Pole: An Application of Agile Development December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product development. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.