How to Draw and Judge Quadrant Diagrams

The quadrant diagram has achieved  the status of an intellectual farce. If you, as a presenter, do not make an  ironic joke when you throw one on the screen, you will automatically lose a lot of credibility. For some very good reasons though, the diagram is an indispensable one for the presenter’s toolkit. As a listener, if you have a default dismissive attitude towards the thing, you will have to sit out far too many important conversations with a cynical, superior smile. So here’s a quick tutorial on quadrant diagrams. I’ll tell you both how to make them, and how to evaluate them. Here’s a made-up one to get the basics clear. You basically take two spectra (or watersheds) relevant to a complex issue, simplify each down to a black/white dichotomy, and label the four quadrants you produce, like so:


This particular one is nonsense, and falls apart at the slightest poking (we’ll poke later in the article), and I made it up for fun. Let us discuss three real examples from business books before we develop a critical theory and design principles. The three I will use are from The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, Making It All Work by David Allen, and Listening to the Future by Dan Rasmus and Rob Salkowitz.

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Coworking: “I’m Outta Here” by Jones, Sundsted and Bacigalupo

I’m Outta Here: How coworking is making the office obsolete by Drew Jones, Todd Sundstead and Tony Bacigalupo is a curious counter-cultural book about the emerging future-of-work movement called “coworking.” Ostensibly, the movement is about practical workday logistics for the new rootless worker, whether he/she is a virtual traditional employee or a free agent, looking for ways to avoid going nuts working alone at home. The movement is about building ‘Spaces’ like this one, CitizenSpace in San Francisco (Creative Commons picture, taken from their website):


Dig beyond this surface value proposition though,  and there is a very definite philosophy at work within the movement. A philosophy anchored by an uneasy mix of primary-colored, bubblgum communitarian values, economic bets, and ideas about the business of making a living and living a life. The philosophy has a lot of potential, but also some limiting self-perceptions which could end up being fatal flaws. Can it cross the chasm, and go from being a marginal counter-cultural trend to a mainstream model of work? At the moment, I would offer 3:1 odds against, barring some critical re-engineering of the movement’s DNA.

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The Slash Effect

My reading tends to be very random-access; sometimes it takes me years before I figure out the most rewarding perspective with which to read a book. I bought and began browsing Marci Alboher’s (@heymarci) oddball career-guide,  One Person/Multiple Careers several months ago, when she blogged about in the New York Times. But though something about the book was intriguing me, it wasn’t till about a month ago that I found the right perspective. So here is a review/summary, with a couple of editorial thoughts for you to ponder.

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The Cloudworker, Layoffs and The Disposable American

(warning, this post is much longer than usual, so here is a PDF version)

It has been bitterly cold here in the Washington, DC metro area for the last two days. Experiencing cold as ‘bitter’ is as much a cultural and emotional reaction as it is a physical one. This is my first winter in the DC area, which likes to think of itself as the ‘South,’ creating expectations for itself that nature unsympathetically shatters. An appropriate setting for trying to write a sober article on cloudworkers, their relation to layoffs and Louis Uchitelle’s 2006 book, The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences. If the cold is bitter today, my attitude towards one of my pet subjects, the future of work, is bittersweet. On the one hand, I am receiving a steady trickle of news of layoffs affecting friends around the world. On the other hand, my own modest efforts at punditry on the subject of work are heading in cheerful, hopeful directions. My friends at, just announced the results of their December contest. Here is my favorite entry, by Second Prize winner Dave Raymond, a musician who chose to represent his cloudworking lifestyle with this stark picture of being on the road.


His note on the picture: “I have no desk, I have no office, I have no schedule, I have no home.  I have a small family that is far away, and a few friends that I see rarely. I travel the United States all year, and collect inspiration to make the next reason to continue traveling.” Terse and unaffected romanticism worthy of the landscape that inspired Walt Whitman and Jack Kerouac, and ideally representing the paradox of cloudworking: individualism that is at once radical and socially situated. The picture is a perfect American cloudworker backdrop: Big Sky, green grass and a hint of modernity in the electric cables. Perfectly proportioned.

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Allenism, Taylorism and the Day I Rode the Thundercloud

Today, January 7th, was a brutal bitch of a day, and it was a great day. Every grim reality of the cloudworker lifestyle, the dark side of everything from mobility and laptops to eating on the run and elite car-rental status, hit me with full force. Both my New Year’s resolutions were hammered by gale-force winds. The business of life hit many potholes, and the game of work threatened to fall apart on me. But I not only survived, I actually made it a better-than-average day. I made it all work. Truly, it was the day I rode the thundercloud (I stole the phrase from a really old Reader’s Digest article I read as a kid).

And that’s why as my first post of 2009, I will offer up a meditation on the life-work of David Allen, he of Getting Things Done (GTD) fame, and his new book, Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and Business of Life. I’ll tell you all about the role of Allen in the emerging landscape of the future of work.

Here’s the short, illustrated version. In 1911, Frederick Taylor invented the management model of Taylorism, which became the operating system of the The Cathedral, where the Organization Man was born, with William Whyte becoming his biographer. Six Sigma is the last hurrah of Taylorism. Ninety years later, In 2001, David Allen, with Getting Things Done, created Allenism. A model of work that is well on its way to becoming the operating system for the antithesis of the Cathedral, The Bazaar, home of the Cloudworker, whose biographer is undoubtedly Dan Pink (I just came up with the word, Dan’s written three books about cloudworkers). Eric S. Raymond, who wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar about the open source movement, billed himself an accidental revolutionary. I am more modest. I’ll call myself the accidental wannabe-word-coiner, and hope that ‘cloudworker’ at least merits a footnote in the history of work. Anyway, here’s my picture explanation of Allenism vs. Taylorism:

You doubt that GTD is the future of work? The original GTD book has been seeing increasing sales every year since publication and is currently at an astronomical #53 on Amazon. With MIAW, a tipping point has been reached. The future of work is now here.

But to understand it, we have to zoom down from these century-level dynamics, what Allen would call the 50,000 foot level, to the runway level: 8:00 AM, the morning of 1/7/09, Wednesday, hump day, when the thundercloud hit me.

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Brain Rules by John Medina

If you read only two books about the brain, Medina’s Brain Rules should probably be your second one (thanks Kapsio, for the recommendation), after Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. If you’ve been reading this blog for more than a few months, you might remember a post I did nearly a year ago called The Broken Brain Books. Let me repeat the quote from Steven Johnson’s Mind Wide Open that I used to start that post:

…while it is interesting to find out [the] exact addresses [of brain functions], that information is ultimately unsatisfying. Call it the “neuromap fallacy.” If neuroscience turns out to be mostly good at telling us the location of the “food craving center” or the “jealousy” center,” then it will be of limited relevance to ordinary people seeking a new kind of self-awareness — because learning where jealousy lives in your head doesn’t make you understand the emotion any more clearly. Those neuromaps will be of great interest to scientists of course, and doctors. But to the layperson, they will be little more than trivia.

By this critique (which I wholeheartedly agree with), most ‘brain’ books are a big waste of trees. Medina, thankfully, avoids this trap, and doesn’t even mention fMRIs till fairly late into the book, and when he does, he steps away lightly from pointless fMRI-pornography. That leaves us with 12 brain rules, each of which gets a chapter. The chapter on short-term memory for instance, is titled “repeat to remember.” Well Duh! you might say. Fortunately, there are deeper insights buried within. Despite appearances, the book isn’t an exercise in providing unnecessary proofs for folk-tautologies.

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Mastering the Hype Cycle by Fenn and Raskino

You know you’ve got an interesting idea on your hands if it helps you build a fairly compelling case that the Amish are more sophisticated meta-innovators than Fortune 100 CEOs. Mastering the Hype Cycle by Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino of Gartner, manages to do that about a third of the way through. Now, the Hype Cycle (the Wikipedia entry is pretty decent) is one of those intuitive and obvious-seeming ideas that makes you wonder (with 20-20 hindsight), did that actually have to be invented? (answer: yes it did). It’s been Powerpoint fodder for a few years now, and I’ve used the thing myself, to justify proposals. You can think of it as the older, bigger, badder brother of Godin’s Dip. If you aren’t familiar with it, it is a data-validated curve that looks like the picture below, and captures the typical pattern of hype associated with an innovation as it diffuses through the economy:

Hype Cycle (from Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

Hype Cycle (from Wikipedia, Creative Commons license)

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Crowdsourcing and The Wisdom of the Crowds

When my review copy of Jeff Howe’s Crowdsourcing arrived in the mail, I figured I’d use the opportunity to finally finish my half-read copy of James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (2004) and do a two-in-one review. It took a good deal longer to write than I expected, mainly because I kept getting distracted by other connections I wanted to explore, which threatened to turn this post into an extended and discursive riff on all sorts of other subjects. I finally firmly trimmed off the wayward thoughts and put them into other post drafts, so luckily for you, this is a relatively focused two-for-one book review.

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Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

[This detailed, chapter-by-chapter précis of Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions is a guest post by George Gibson, a colleague of mine at Xerox. George originally posted it on our internal blogs as a series, and I found it so much fun to read, I asked if I could repost it on ribbonfarm. So here you go.]

Chapter 1: The Truth About Relativity

This was clearly the most interesting of the books from my summer reading list. Let me be clear that though I don’t buy all of the points Dan tries to make, I find them all interesting and worthy of thought. With any luck we can begin a real discussion of his ideas and observations in the commentary. That means I’ll attempt (not always successfully) to keep my opinion out of the body of this piece, and reserve that for any commentary that might develop. The real point here is to get you interested enough to read the book yourself.

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Organizing to Disrupt

Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma has helped frame an entire decade of thinking on innovation. His taxonomy of radical/incremental//sustaining/disruptive, despite being very widely misunderstood, has been the filter through which all of the popular innovation literature has been viewed in recent years. Now, more than a decade later, finally companies are figuring out how to systematically organize to disrupt. Three recent books (one blessed by Clay himself) address bits and pieces of this theme, so let’s try to synthesize an overall view of what it takes, and along the way, talk about these three new books (and a bunch of older ones that have play key roles in this story).

First, recall what disruption actually means. I made up a mnemonic graphic, based on the against-the-grain metaphor, to help me remember.

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