Allison Titcomb ALTA Consulting LLC

Meaning First, Method Second

by Allison Titcomb on December 23, 2011

Sunset at Saguaro National Park West during BioBlitz 2011

A topic I frequently discuss with clients revolves around the phrase “matching method to purpose.”

I’m a firm believer that it’s important to know first WHY you want to gather data or conduct an evaluation and THEN figure out the best WAY to accomplish it.  Somwhat akin to form follows function.

When I encounter similar notions in personal/professional development books, I reconnect with the idea that evaluation is a critical part of planning and not an end in itself.

The example that led to the title of this blog post comes from Success Built to Last: Creating a Life That Matters[1] which emphasizes integrating meaning and what matters most as keys to redefining success.

Some of the main messages in the book echo other evaluation-related topics:

  • Don’t confuse “Direction” with a “Roadmap” (i.e., where you’re headed and how you’re going to get there)
  • Leaders give us what is needed, not what is expected (e.g., being clear on the difference between “need to know” and “nice to know” when planning data collection strategies)
  • Bold risks measured in small steps—measuring what matters and keeping score (e.g., focus on validity AND reliability of your measures)
  • Letting go of what doesn’t work (e.g., using results to make effective decisions that ultimately strengthen your efforts)

The book speaks of “integrity to meaning— integrity to what matters to you.”  This notion can be applied to evaluation design just as much as personal growth.

Integrity can mean a number of things:

° Honesty

° Truth

° Veracity

° Reliability

° Honor

The point here is to connect in a very intentional and meaningful way the methods you choose to use with the reason or purpose for your work.

What matters most to you?

What key ideas add meaning to your endeavor? 

What might be some integral areas of knowledge, growth or learning that can help you make useful decisions along the way?

Where have you encountered the connection between meaning and method in other areas of your life? 


[1] Jerry Porras, Stewart Emory  & Mark Thompson (2007).  Success Built to Last:  Creating A Life That Matters.  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Wharton School Publishing.

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The Value of Pruning

by Allison Titcomb on July 21, 2011

photo of dragon sculpture at Albuquerque Botanical Gardens

ABQ Botanical Garden Dragon

During a discussion with some like-minded colleagues, we all mentioned feeling at a point in our lives where we needed to sift through our commitments and experiences and “clean house.”  In some ways we meant that literally.  But we also referred to the need to clear out certain aspects of our lives in order to make room for new (sometimes as-yet-unknown) adventures and directions.

I tend to think in images or metaphors as a way of sense-making,  so I offered, “Seems as though we all want to do some pruning.”  There was a long pause of collective quiet and heads nodded in agreement.  The idea resonated at the time and has stuck with me since.  So much so that I realized I had the topic, or theme, for my very first blog!

What pruning means to me

My first, literal, thought is that I’m not partial to the idea of pruning.  I like “wild type” growth of the native plants around my living space.  Although I enjoy visits to “tended gardens,” I am more drawn to shrubby, overgrown spots with safe niche spaces for birds and other wildlife.  When I think of pruning, I imagine severely whacked bare rosebushes or damaged trees that look stark and exposed.  Yet, I know that…

… sometimes the “old” growth prevents areas of new growth from nourishment it needs to flourish.

… the plant might be growing in a way that damages other precious things around it– or that limits maximum shade for our relief from the Arizona sun.

… the new growth that happens after pruning can be lush and beautiful.

Pruning can seem harsh if done abruptly, in haste, with excessive enthusiasm, or without mindful choices about where and to what extent.   So a key to pruning is knowing the purpose and nature of the “job.”  The Sleeping Beauty Thorn Hedge needs a powerful sword and strong arm while the delicate Bonsai Tree requires gentle grooming with micro-fine clippers and a steady hand.

What could use some pruning in our lives?  What can we do without? Who or what can do without us?  What needs to be trimmed to make room for new growth?

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