Sunday, June 5, 2011

Simply Illuminating, 1.03

[Part 3 of a short series]

I can think of two (2) representations of  “comprehensive management approaches” – two exceptional representations – that remind me of my favorite illuminated manuscripts. In this post I’ll describe and discuss one of ‘em, a poster-sized map published about a year-and-a-half ago. I hope to do the same with regard to an entire (2003) book in a future post.

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In Simply Illuminating, 1.01, I used as an example of a beautiful illuminated manuscript the Saint John’s Bible [SJB]. The first thing I want to do here is lay some groundwork by shining a light on some of its componentry.

The SJB is a seven-volume (still unfinished) work, conceived and powered by a Welsh calligrapher named Donald Jackson and a group of Benedictine monks in Minnesota. Their shared vision for the past fifteen-plus years has been to create a magnificent Bible that would capture the beauty and tradition of centuries of liturgy and carry it into the future. Saint John’s Abbey and University has funded the project to the tune, according to Wikipedia, of $4 million.

The message of The SJB is, of course, God’s word, God’s way. The grand story of salvation. To faithfully and beautifully represent it...requires earthly intermediaries – upfront, for example, to reflect on each of the volumes before they’re created. At Saint John’s University, a committee of artists, medievalists, theologians, biblical scholars and art historians known as the Committee on Illumination and Text decides what to emphasize, how to represent the divine, etc. Its guidelines (known as illumination schema) are next passed to Mr. Jackson’s production team which uses a mixture of techniques and materials – handwriting with quills on calf-skin vellum, gold and platinum leaf and hand-ground pigments, Chinese stick ink, modern technology – to craft the final volumes. (each of which measures 2’ x 3’ [opened] and weighs approximately thirty-five pounds)

I’ve only seen pictures, to this point, of what’s finished. (The Web site is fantastic; you can explore each volume in depth there if you follow this link: Someday I’d like to "experience" the entire SJB in person.

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Okay. So now we have some elements against which we can directly compare -- drumroll please -- the GTD Workflow Map [WM] I alluded to at the outset.

You’ve got to be pretty bold to proclaim that a methodology you’ve devised (a personal management methodology which can also be extended to whole companies) “should be the way we all approach the game of work and the business of life.” David Allen is indeed bold. And passionate. The WM is his baby. About his intentions surrounding the production, he’s quoted as saying:
I spent more than two years crafting and fine-tuning the map, ensuring that it would thoroughly and accurately describe the essential elements of time- and self-management. It's as simple as I could get it, while still embodying the subtleties and complexities that have to be factored in to make it real and useful. And the visual representation we've come up with I think is a highly effective way to make something this meaningful really clear.
The Getting Things Done methodology is itself a (secular) formula for zeroing in on success. As messages go, there’s quite a bit to it. How'd Mr. Allen go about distilling it down to just one arresting graphic? I’m speculating here, but, based on the quote above and knowing he’s a “visual thinker” from way back* it wouldn’t surprise me a lick to learn that he did much of the napkin sketching (preliminary designing) himself. But, for the finished art?

There are companies out there that specialize in information design and infographics. An opportunity like this would be right up their alley. Funnel Inc. (Middleton, WI) is one. And so’s the company he went with...

XPLANE (headquartered in Portland, OR) strikes me as the perfect partner for the project. Like the David Allen Co., it’s results focused. It has an action -- maybe even an activist -- orientation in that it believes passionately in the power of graphics, done well, to motivate. (As in, “We can help trigger the kinds of intellectual and emotional responses that'll lead to individual behavior changes…that'll lead to organizational changes…that'll lead to improved results.") (my take) To perform its magic, the company employs something like its own Committee on Illumination and Text: a team of experts from a range of disciplines including management consulting, information design, process improvement, journalism, social media research and interaction design.

I don't know exactly what value that bunch ended up adding in this particular case. No matter, though. The collaboration succeeded; I think the poster's a winner. By far the nicest pictorial revelation to date of the GTD way:

You'll notice there's no gold leafing. There's no ornamentation for ornamentation's sake. But -- for the team approach, for the thoughtful integration of text and graphics, for the fact that XPLANE + D.A. have created a new art form that complements his writings -- wouldn't you agree it's in the tradition of the illuminated manuscript?

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And, do you like it? The poster's a far cry from the way most management approaches have been (or are) communicated. For David Allen, was commissioning it worth it?

*There were earlier, flow-chart-style iterations of his Workflow Diagram. He also did an intricate drawing, circa 1990, of what he wanted his ideal life and lifestyle to look like (which you can find in his latest book, Making It All Work.)