We all ask questions– what, where, who, how, why, etc. We know this. What we don’t always recognize is that we also pose a fundamental question behind the questions. This is one reason that five people can consider the same situation considering the (mostly) same variables and generate five distinct solutions. Some of these people will wonder why the others don’t see what they see. The Q Model helps explain why that is.
The Q Model is a method that measures bandwidth capacities for people and positions then maps them to organizations or other domains of expertise (such as endurance athletics for those readers so inclined). The model, which I referenced previously in the post on long term planning, is Stan Smith’s hierarchical model that draws on Elliott Jacques Requisite Organization principles.
Beyond my lessons from working with Stan, I’ve also learned a great deal about requisite organization from Glen Mehltretter and Michelle Carter of Peoplefit. Michelle Carter writes a great blog on the topic called Mission Minded Management. Forrest Christian is another stunning mind who blogs on this and related topics. I learn a lot from people smarter than me.
Back to the Q Model and what it’s all about.
Everyone has a fundamental question that underlies the questions we all ask when interacting with our environment. This is the question behind the questions, which we call the Q Stage or Q Level. We’re still ironing out the terminology, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll use the term Q Level for the remainder of the post.
An individual’s fundamental Q Level is a function of that individual’s capacity for dealing with complexity. Complexity is influenced by:
- The number of variables being considered
- The ambiguity of the variables being considered
- The necessary time delay to issue resolution
This hierarchy of Q Levels go in the following order of increasing complexity:
- What we’re going to do? Short term plans that range from a daily task checklist to goal acheivements several months down the road. Following provided specifications.
- How we’re going to do what we’re going to do if things go smoothly and in anticipation of common obstacles? Developing procedures and standard decision points.
- Assignment of who does what procedure and when. This is like a single system project with a distinct beginning & end in an area of expertise.
- Which system out of a number of interacting systems do we attend to or apply resources to? Includes monitoring the multiple systems to determine when systems should receive resources simultaneously or in a particular order to ensure best outcome.
- The Why behind our choices and goals. The purpose or concept or a program that shapes the parameters and resource allocation among the multitude of interacting systems.
- Whether this ‘why’ is best or that ‘why’ considering external trends and additional context? Making decisions between policies or concepts that best advance the individual, business or other entity.
- Where is this discipline headed? What vision do we have for the outcome over a longer horizon for ourselves, business or other entity?
Each successive Q Level embeds all the preceding Q Levels. For example, implementing a Who-based approach will address How- and What-based issues. It can’t not. Likewise, a Where-based approach is the integration of all 6 other questions, with the Where being the driving force. This is true in organizational hierarchies. This is true in personal development plans.
Tasks can be defined by Q Levels. A job role or position can be defined by the most complex Q Level tasks that the role is responsible for. This is true within huge corporations to independent consultants and everything in between.
Q Levels are inherent and develop within people. When you consider an individual through a snapshot in time, you can identify a person’s current peak Q Level capacity. Barring a trauma so severe that it halts or reverses the trend, individuals will grow their Q Level capacity over their lifetime. According to some theories, this growth follows a fairly predictable curvi-linear trajectory.
Flow and working at one’s peak Q Level. It is most rewarding and personally satisfying for an individual to have a match between their Q Level capacity and the peak Q Level capacity required from the work they do. These conditions will help you more regularly achieve a state of flow, or, in the very least, protect you from chronic, excruciating boredom.
Cycles of exertion and recovery. Just as you don’t want to do key training sessions (hard stuff that really stretches you and makes you more tired than usual) every day, you don’t want to spend every waking hour pontificating at your peak Q Level. Cycles of stretching your limits followed by recovery apply here as well as they do to any endurance sport training program.
Q Level capacity is domain specific. Within an individual, Q Level capacity varies across domains of expertise. This domain specificity means that a person can have a capacity in one area of expertise, such as organizationally, and a completely different capacity in the domain of endurance sport. In practice, this means you will find organizationally brilliant CEO’s that set short-sighted training and racing goals as well as coaches with sport-specific brilliance and little business know-how. Regarding the question of how many domains exist and what they are exactly, I leave for others to decide.
Individuals as hierarchies of personal development. Any individual has varying Q Level capacities in different domains of expertise. Since the domain with the highest Q Level at one’s disposal drives translation of other domains, personal development decisions can be driven by the domain where an individual’s peak Q Level capacity resides. Said another way, consider the individual with a Where-based organizational capacity, Whether-based interpersonal capacity and Why-based athletic capacity. In this case, personal direction will come from the organizational domain, which drives interpersonal decisions, which then drives athletic decisions. Or so goes my hair-brained theory on the topic.
So back to the question of why different people see a different problem even when they are addressing the same issue. Consider that every individual
- has a particular Q Level capacity for the specific domain at hand,
- has a particular order of Q Level capacities for different domains, and
- prioritizes the specific domain at hand in a particular order based on their personal Q Level capacities.
Diverse variable and problem definitions are inevitable. In collaborative situations like this, the individual(s) with the highest Q Level capacity for the specific domain at hand will often assume the lead and set context for everyone else. It doesn’t always happen, but often. Look around you and you’ll see it happen all the time.