“The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between objects.”
-Daniel J. Levitin, This is Your Brain on Music
As I was reading Levitin’s book this evening I came across the quote above and had to pause. Levitin does an excellent job of explaining musical concepts like pitch, timbre, tempo and harmony in an easily accessible way. He was making the point that the art in music can be just as easily found in the absence of things as in the presence of the aforementioned properties. The moment between each note being just as much a part of the music as the actual notes themselves.
It made me wonder where “the space between objects” could be found in our teams and our processes. I think there are a few different ways you could interpret that sort of space in terms of how we work with teams. With any methodology that you practice, there are well established notes that you play. There is a cadence or rhythm to the standup meetings. You find a tone or pitch of the conversation. And sometimes, if you get really lucky, you just might find harmony.
So what would we find in that space between the notes? If I’m assessing a value stream, then you could describe the work steps as the notes and the delay between steps as the waste or absence of value adding work – the empty space, if you will. Can a value stream have a rhythm and a meter? In other words, although you can reduce waste, perhaps even eliminate some of it, you never get rid of all of the waste. The speed with which work flows through the process increases, and you have a faster tempo.
Another way of considering the space between notes would be to observe that all of our work gets done at a different pace depending on what we are trying to accomplish. There are times when the pace is slow, when we are learning and struggling with new ideas. And there are times when the pace is fast, and life goes all “Heavy Metal” on us. What varies is the slack that you give yourself when you work. I find that when I want to come up with ideas, I need a fair amount of slack, or unscheduled time. I need to doodle and noodle and put spit wads on the ceiling. I need space to think or perhaps more importantly, to NOT think. On the other hand, when the work is coming fast and furious, I know that I’m very likely going to have a hard time creating anything new, let alone remembering what I had for lunch.
The real work lies in the space between our ceremonies. What sort of tune are you playing?