BRIEFING #1: Third-Dimension Thinking

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This is the first of a SIX-PART BRIEFING SERIES to help you bust through barriers you might be confronted with as a performance improvement professional. 

Each BRIEFING will build upon the previous BRIEFING(s).  Stick with them, grab the parts that make sense to you, and then take action.  Do so, and you will become a much more powerful force of influence in your world.







BRIEFING #1: Third-Dimension Thinking™

In his efforts to woo John Sculley away from his position as President of PepsiCo, Steve Jobs asked, “John, do you want to spend the rest of your life selling carbonated sugar water, or…do you want to come with me and change the world?”

And, I’d like to ask you:  Do you want to spend the rest of your career as a simple ‘keeper of the metrics’ or ‘enforcer of the rules’, or do you want to transform your world [culture]?

Changing the world (or transforming your culture) requires Third-Dimension Thinking™.  It demands an awareness that goes way beyond what you find on the shelf (or ‘inside the box’).  Such thought is often counterintuitive.  To the unenlightened, it is far from obvious.  It can even be seen as a threat by the creators of the current ways of doing things.



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An example…

A couple of generations ago, many thought that a focus on safety was counter-productive.  It cost money and slowed things down.  Production was everything.  Workers were…expendable.

Most of us have since come to appreciate these workers as human beings- they’re dads and moms, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters.  We’ve also figured out that improving safety/quality actually SAVES money.  Such a focus is, in fact, the only way to achieve long term productivity (and profitability).

Today, many still consider the recipe for effective management of human beings (i.e., human performance) to include (1) a prescriptive set of rules, (2) documented oversight, and (3) consequences when a directed behavior is not observed.

The reality is, the [best] level of effort you’ll ever get using this recipe is…compliance.  (And if you want an example of the magnificent levels to which most people ‘follow the rules’ in a compliance environment, consider where you set your own cruise control when driving under ideal conditions and the posted speed limit is 65 mph…).

In compliance mode,

(1) meeting expectations is the best level of effort you’ll ever get out of the average worker [I’ll bet you never set your cruise control  below the posted speed limit],

(2) expectations will generally only be fully met when the ‘management police’ are present [if there were no traffic cops, how fast would you drive?], and

(3) it’s natural for people to ‘get away with’ as much as they can [this is why you limit your speed to 5-8 mph above the posted speed limit].

Now- think about the results your organization is currently getting.  If they are less than optimum, chances are you’re running in compliance mode (and if you simply keep doing more of what you’ve been doing, you’ll undoubtedly get more of what you’ve already got).

Globalism, deregulation, and technology have wrought overwhelming levels of competition and complexity to virtually all industries.  Those choosing to hang onto ‘old-school’ thinking and doing will ultimately be overrun. However, if you are one of the small percentage who ‘gets it’, the demands of this age are offering you greater opportunities to change your world than could have even been imagined just a few short years ago.

If you truly want to rock your world, you must enter the “third dimension”…

As an entry into what the “third-dimension” is all about, consider this quote by Bernard Baruch:

“The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people.”

“Spontaneous cooperation” only exists when people want to do the thing (vice being prescripted and policed).  When a person does something because she (or he) wants to, it’s called discretionary effort.  And it’s only through discretionary effort that you will ever have spontaneous cooperation. So then, how can you develop discretionary effortin your arena of influence?

Begin by digesting these four fundamentals of next-level human performance:

One:         You can’t “fix” people.

Internalized attitudes, which lead to behaviors, cannot be ‘fixed’ through use of databases, metrics, or ‘decrees from on high’.  In reality, people don’t need to be ‘fixed’!  What’s needed is leadership, enablement, and support.

Two:        Your organization is perfectly aligned to get exactly the results it is currently getting.

Your organization has done an excellent job getting to exactly where it is today.  If you are spending substantial energy ‘fighting fires’, you have a culture problem.  Culture determines results.

Three:    Workers can only sustain levels of performance supported by the organization.

The brightest of lights will dim (and eventually extinguish) if not fueled with support.  Most organizations have done a darn good job over the years of stomping out the flames of enthusiasm and creativity.

Four:        You manage things.  You must lead people.

The old paradigm of, “Do this because I said so (because I’m the boss)!” will NEVER take you to next-level performance.  Leadership involves opening a door and inviting people to step through it.

Your next-level human performance goals should be to achieve Viral Accountability™ and Zero Events.  Your first step is to recognize your need to begin thinking in the third dimension.

These four fundamentals of next-level human performance should get your thoughts moving in the right direction.

In BRIEFING #2, I’ll be covering the economics of “doing it right” (the return on investment (ROI) of moving from third-dimension thinking™ to third-dimension doing).

For freedom from error,


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Leave A Reply (8 comments so far)

  1. Jim Griff
    6 years ago

    Outstanding!!! I think your Brief is exactly on track and also that you examples drive home the fact. I am a true believer in what you have written here.

    Keep these coming as it help reset my expecations of what we should be receiving and providing to our employees, managers, and company.


  2. Steve Rainwater
    6 years ago

    Could not agree more, difficulty lies in shifting thinking. As Niccolo Machiavelli put it:

    “And one should bear in mind that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to adminster than to introduce a new order to things; for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old order as his enemies; and he has only lukewarm allies in those who might profit from the new. This lukewarmness partly stems from fear of their adversaries, who have the law on their side, and partly from the skepticism of men, who do not truly believe in things unless they have personal experience in them.”

    The “lukewarm skeptics” are your front line supervisors. They will lead your organization to one place or the other. In my experience, Tim’s strength is his ability to win them as converts.

  3. Avis Williamson
    6 years ago

    Agree totally, especially the reference to managing things and leading people. I no longer claim to manage safety, but to lead people to safety. If we accept that humans can do wonderful things we also have to accept that humans can do really silly things – whether the silly thing is to forget what you’re doing, get distracted, forget how to do something, or design a process that can’t be implemented safely.

  4. Glen Mitchell
    6 years ago

    This is right along with my long held philosophy that you cannot force excellence.

  5. Herman Van Roost
    6 years ago


    I am now in a strategy function but continue to enjoy this great stuff. You cannot imagine how much of it is needed by many organizations, because the compliance mode strangely seems to come back all the time, it doesn’t get eradicated.
    You take it by the important angle of safety, but it goes much further of course.

    Thanks and success

    Herman Van Roost
    Total Refining & Chemicals

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