Be the filter, not the grounds

Advice for those who must manage through uncertainty

How can you lead if you don’t have a clear vision? How can you move forward if you don’t know the direction to go? This can be a hard problem for many leaders, and can create a lot of frustration and self-doubt.

Near the end of her book, How to Make Sense of Any Mess, Abby Covert offers advice that can help leaders, particularly those who must manage through uncertainty about the best path forward. The advice? Be the filter, not the grounds.

When making a cup of coffee, the filter’s job is to get the grit out before a user drinks the coffee. Sensemaking is like removing the grit from the ideas we’re trying to give to users. *** Be the one not bringing the ideas. Instead, be the filter that other people’s ideas go through to become drinkable.

Her central argument is that the role of an Information Architect is to make sense of things, to bring clarity. And although she wrote for the audience of Information Architects, this advice has broad application.

Too often, leaders and managers are expected to “carry the vision” for their teams. They have to lead from the front, after choosing a vision, pulling the team along.

Covert flips the script: let gravity do its work, and simply be the filter that clarifies. Allow the team to “be the grounds” and focus your effort at removing the grit and let the flavor emerge.

If you find you or your team without the clarity they need, and you’re unsure about the path forward, perhaps it’s time to change your metaphor. Rather than lead from the front and push a vision, be a filter and let the water and grounds steep a bit.

Have you read Abby Covert’s book? Have you used information architecture to lead teams? Have you found ways to lead by “being the filter”? Let me know! And if you are interested in suggestions like these about management, products, and product management, please subscribe to my email list to get updates and information.