Gregory Ronczewski is the Director of Product Design at TeamFit platform – view his profile on TeamFit
Top image: The Lascaux Cave, Vezere Valley, France.


“To be a master of metaphor,” Aristotle wrote in his Poetics, “is the greatest thing by far. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others, and it is also a sign of genius.” He concludes that—which is not often recognized—a metaphor is not just an elegant way to make things nicer. Its primary function is to support the learning process. According to Aristotle, to understand well how to find and apply a good metaphor, one needs to be able to make a connection between elements that are not related. Sometimes we can find analogies in unexpected places, be surprised, or “see something” from a new light. For instance, if you find two incompatible and not related concepts and then, perhaps you discover that there is a small common thing that connects both, then you will be able to view them as from one family. Finding relationships. It is always about the relationships.

Why am I writing about metaphor? We are in the process of re-thinking TeamFit, or rather, expanding it to a territory occupied by Competency Models. I just used the word “territory” which of course, is another metaphor. We use metaphor very often; so often, that we are not paying attention to it. Only when you read something that is so incredibly well written you pause and think, and read it again to experience one more time its power. For instance, if you haven’t read Barbarian In The Garden by Zbigniew Herbert, please, look for it. I can assure you, you will never look at Lascaux paintings or medieval architecture in the same way. It is interesting as Herbert was a poet, one of the best Poland had. Combining superb word skills with historical knowledge and the ability to connect things that are often taken for granted makes this book one of a kind. The words are not equal, some are better than other, and Herbert had a way of finding only good ones.

So here we are, designing a piece of software. Do we need a good metaphor and if we do, what is it? We already know that people have a hard time when asked about their skills. At the same time, they usually have no problem describing their role. Past, present or future – a role is a well-understood concept of the relationship that one has with work. Any type of work for that matter. Here is something interesting. Companies define their workforce by wrapping up the skills and behaviours onto roles. Those roles often form a Competency Models. It is a top-down approach, while the individual perception of a role is coming from the bottom. The role is this “common” element that we can use to organize both approaches into one way of thinking. But then, we also have jobs. Is role part of a job? A job may have many roles attached and may require different behaviours expressed by the use of certain skill combinations. It’s complex, fascinating and complex.

How to display a role? And if there is a visual representation, what metaphor—I am sure, there is one—we should use to take advantage of what Aristotle pointed out. To create a moment when someone looking at a role visualization will say: this is the first time I see it this way. It’s new. It’s insightful. It’s refreshing. It’s promising. It’s surprising. It’s unexpected… something like that. So, what should a role look like? Recently, I have been looking at treemapping as a way to visualize a role. Area-based visualization is not new. To create a treemap, you need a tiling algorithm to divide a region into sub-regions of specified areas. According to Wikipedia, those are the required criteria:

• A small aspect ratio—ideally close to one. Regions with a small aspect ratio (i.e, fat objects) are easier to perceive.
• Preserve some sense of the ordering in the input data.
• Change to reflect changes in the underlying data.

There are, however, some problems with the treemap approach. Some skills are used together in a role, but they do not belong to the same family. Perhaps, if we use Aristotle’s method to find just two common elements, then we can treat it as from the same group. A simple list would at least achieve the goal of simplification, but I doubt it would produce enough visual insights.

Ray Dalio in his book Principles (he is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the biggest investment firms in the world) writes about a system of “baseball cards” that they assigned to each employee to capture the best ways to organize their teams. It was 2008, and the info on the cards came from psychometric tests that they all took. A few months ago I wrote a post inspired by the Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton’s book Now, Discover Your Strength. Since 1988, Clifton’s StrengthFinder (now called CliftonStrengths 34) is one of the primary sources of data for Gallup. It is interesting how the pieces of the puzzle are lining up to connect the bottom-up desire to understand own skills and strengths, and talents, of course – the part that escapes any classification. And to combine the above with a top-down approach in which an organization seeks to establish a model of preferable behaviours, skills and strategies to make sure everyone is operating in an environment that supports them.

We are conduction a survey on building a Competency Models, if you are interested in the results, please leave your email address, and we will share it with you.