About 10 years ago I was struggling with the problem of getting clinical engagement with improvement. I had tried all the usual soft systems tools, such as Rich Pictures and Six Hats and while they did work, it was always an uphill struggle and it did not light any fires. I remember reading “Speed of Trust” around that time and it struck me that the underlying problem was a low trust context. What I needed was something that worked even in the toxic emotional swamp of disappointment, frustration, blame and fear. Something simple and robust and effective.
With that that design purpose implanted in my subconscious (where the creative stuff seems to happen) it was not too long before an “ah ha” happened. I remember it well. It was while I was walking the dog in the park one Sunday morning. I was playing with a word that I liked the sound of … the word niggle … and I like 2 x 2 grids … and I habitually think of improvement as a story that runs through time from left-to-right. So, as I was mentally stirring this pot of ideas (i.e. daydreaming) the answer just “popped” up. Trust is an emotion, and if I label the vertical axis of my 2 x 2 grid as “emotion” I get an emotion-time grid and the bottom left corner is labelled Niggle – i.e. the negative feelings that I have in the present. So what could the other three label be? Good feelings I have in the present … Nuggets. Bad feelings I do not want in the future … NoNos. Good feelings I do want in the future … NiceIfs. The 4N Chart was born!
I mulled it over for a few days and it seemed to hang together … so I started trying it out on others … and it seemed to work for them too. And what was really interesting is that after just seeing the 4N Chart in action, they started to use it themselves. One exposure was enough. And the acid test? Did it survive the toxic swamp … Yes! And it even seemed to help to drain the swamp by providing a safe way to share feelings.
Recently I bumped into a friend and colleague who works as an executive coach and who I had not seen for at least 5 years. One of the first things she said to me was “Do you remember showing me the 4N Chart? I use it every time I start work with a new team because it is a quick, simple, effect and safe way to get feelings out on the table.”
So, here is the 4N Chart … and it’s little friend the Niggle-o-Gram. Validation Test: Passed.