Tag Archives: timespan of discretion

Timespan of Intention

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
Sometimes, I question my assessment of a team member’s capability. At times, I am delightfully surprised, other times, disappointed.

Response:
Timespan assessment of capability is a manager’s judgement. There are clues, but most of the time, managers look in the wrong places. Here is the text from my slide defining Timespan.
Timespan is the length of time a person can effectively work into the future, without direction, using their own discretionary judgement, to achieve a specific goal.

Effectiveness is not a metric, it’s a judgement. Often, goals are stated to allow for some measurement at the end of the day. The problem with the metric, it does not take into account the unanticipated obstacles that get in the way. A sales metric of 100 units does not take into account the stiff competition from a company with superior technology, economic contraction in the marketplace or a new government regulation the influences a reluctant market. Often a successful sale has more to do with the company’s reputation in the market, than the direct effort of a salesperson. The goal (metric) is one important data point in the judgement of effectiveness, but it is not the only data point.

Self-initiated action. Part of effectiveness is to determine, who is doing the problem solving and decision making? Most people can follow a system, but it takes a higher level of capability to create the system.

Discretion is decision making. A decision is not a calculation, it is a judgement. If decisions were calculations, then computers could make all decisions. Many human based decisions are now better calculated with computers (AI), because computers can detect data faster, with more precision. But, a decision is a judgement, a judgement in the face of uncertainty and ambiguity. The longer the timespan of the decision, the more uncertainty exists.

All action is goal directed. Timespan of discretion relates to the decisions that must be made in the pursuit of the goal. Timespan of intention is related to the direction of that behavior. Elliott Jaques was quite interested in that fifth dimension of human behavior, the timespan of intention. All behavior is goal directed behavior.

The Timespan of Dry

“Most people are comfortable with short timespan decisions,” Pablo continued. “Most elements are tangible, known. We can observe, inspect, feel, touch each of the elements. The level of uncertainty, the level of ambiguity is low. And most people are comfortable.”

“I can see that,” I said.

“And, as the level of ambiguity grows, the timespan of the decision gets longer, some people struggle. Some people struggle to the point of paralysis.”

“I have seen that as well,” I replied.

“Look closely,” Pablo lowered his voice. “We can measure the ambiguity, measure the uncertainty of the decision by looking at timespan.”

“How so?” I asked. “How do we calibrate the timespan of a decision?”

“All we have to do is inspect the timespan of intention, it will tell us.”

“Timespan of intention? I am not sure I understand,” I said.

“What is our intention? What is our expectation? What do we want to happen? What is the goal? It is our intention that defines the timespan of the decision. It is our expectation. It is what we want to happen. It is the goal. Very simply, a goal is a ‘what’ by ‘when?’ Built into our intention is timespan.”

“Your example about the cloudy day and the umbrella?” I wanted to see the connection.

“If we want to avoid the possibility of rain today, we might carry an umbrella,” Pablo explained. “If we want to stay dry next week, we might acquire the habit of carrying an umbrella all the time. And, if we want to stay dry next month, while we sleep, we might build a house. And, if we want to stay dry next year, in the face of a hurricane, we better make a decision today to construct a building to withstand a windstorm. And, if we want to stay dry for the next five years in the face of multiple storms that might occur, we better create an enforceable building code rated for Cat 5. The timespan of our decision provides us with a calibrated measurement to indicate the complexity of that decision, in the face of uncertainty, in the face of ambiguity.”