4D Product Management

Context: We need to think and work multidimensionally

We share in common parlance a broad analogy about thinking in multiple dimensions. Certainly those in math and science are engaged in a constant effort to develop models that expand on the basic three-dimensional physical and structural model that is coming to at you-existence. Benoit Mandelbrot and his brethren opened new possible realms of dimensionality. Likewise we can conjure functional Tesseracts of both literal and deeply metaphorical effect toward some ultimate as-yet-imagined possible application. But inside the cognitive realm we can create all different types of models and processes engaging in imaginary dimensions. I’d argue it’s becoming a fundamental capacity for humans to be able to cognitively manipulate dimensions.

We have seen this important notion of humans being able to manipulate dimensions devolve somewhat. Some have developed a “Five dimensions of productivity methodology”, it’s unfortunate to see how the idea comes to be treated lightly. Thinking of five dimensions–thinking in five dimensions–that gives rise to a new way to think about 4 dimensions, and that’s vital. We can work in 4 dimensions, and our capability to do so has been under appreciated.

We need to think in 4-D to generate the necessary and requisite – and missing – models for navigating, designing, and developing in the world we now know. There is a lot of room to run, I’d assert, in the development of the problem statements, analogies, toys and playgear – all types of 4-D modelling capabilities. The starting point needs to be in how we think about the end-to-end product development cycle: How do we leverage 4-D thinking in its infancy to produce a 4-D capable Product Manager? 

It was the proposal of this metaphoric five dimensions of effectiveness that led to an insight about what is needed to have a 4-D interface – what is the element of incorporating time as a structural component – that provided me with a fundamental insight about traveling in a 4-D space with a proper 4-D controller. It affords the capability to generate and propagate these new dimensional overlays; to train and model capabilities using a temporal synchronization backbone. That certainly represents progress beyond the analogic space that a 2-D desktop metaphor affords. There are certainly device and integration models that will emerge and enable this upward orientation outside of the narrowing effect of the roughing off of dimensional capacities (both physical and cognitive) and imagine the kinds of interactive “complex primitives” that could arise from the template of 4-D ideation. 

We stand at the frontier of a new way of thinking about leveling up human cognition and kinesthetics. The root of the idea is to expand into interface design principles of 4-D. We can design and develop research programs appropriate to testing and collecting the impact of expanding the physical and cognitive space in which humans can interaction in both virtual and real-world physical spaces. We can certainly imagine scaling the artifacts and approaches that will emerge to enable functioning in a richer dimensional fabric.

The thesis here concerns product management. How does one navigate effectively in the context of the legacy environment to sufficiently carve out a new model of the fundamental metaphor of interface and interaction – operating effectively as the executive accountable for development and delivery? This requires iteratively incorporating discoveries in the design realm into principles for directing development patterns. The pivot points need to be jointed-pinions in space against a rich temporal modeling matrix. It requires new flexes and torsions in perspective – done in a generative manner – that will carry the day. This is the possibility of 4-D Product Management.

A Fundamentally New Approach

It’s unnecessary at this point to delineate in detail the impacts that the explosion of data available and the means by which it can be manipulated. And as quickly as the explosion of data and its impacts into everyone’s lives, it’s important to bear in mind that most who think about it deeply still see an accelerating, hockey-stick growth pattern. Yet our capacity to derive advantage and productivity doesn’t seem to match the relative explosiveness. What’s the disconnect?

Taking the case of pursuing 4-D development as a real-time process, let’s try to imagine how using this model can flesh out the core thesis about expanding the dimensional range of thinking. One one hand there is the literal generation of new dimensions – this is a problem that has been well-solved up to a point – molecular scientists have virtual toolkits that enable interactive exploration and experimentation. This is a solid manifestation of using 3-D metaphors to construct 3-D artifacts in the real working world. These are analogs for physical processes, and the overall dimensionality is about 2.5-D, if you think about it, the the time dimension sitting in the background, isolated from interactivity. This summarizes the state-of-the-art of dimensional interface modelling. The process for these scientists is roughly akin to a group focused on a massive puzzle with elevation features. Or imagine a modern battlefield sprinkled with nanodust sensors reporting constructed visual streams and other battlefield telemetry as well as metadata about individual troops, as well as units from the squad to the battalion. Presently all these sophisticated mirror worlds (as David Gelernter tagged them) are manipulated in an X-Y plane, using mice and laptop screens as the medium of control. All the cognitive energy focuses narrowly down a tunnel of compromised thought patterns. And yet we’re blind to the effects and equally blind that there could be something more.

There is a vocabulary of development and network training routines to be developed around expanding the dimensional palette. It seems on the face of it to be an area that’s acutely under-explored and under-appreciated. There’s obvious need to explore past the limits imposed by the current reigning models for gesture and interaction design, These funnel thinking down adaptive patterns that are plainly and provably insufficient. The first step, though, is to recognize the elemental nature of a 4-D platform for 4-D management thinking. 

So much of what we consider constraints in the current info environmental evaporate in the face of some acute thinking about how to merge data charted from x,y, and z coordinates and mesh them with a t component that can be manipulated as a whole in a way that requires a new level of cognitive modeling to hold this 4-D platform primitive as a whole. This fundamental capacity- of enabling thought to be captured and exchanged in four coherent dimensions – this is a novel direction for expanding creative and managerial capacity. Applying these methods and developing language primitives expands the vocabulary to enable real change – new territory in the enablement of people – singly and in groups. We can achieve a new set of dynamics in terms of how we interact and inter-operate in work and social domains. 


The approach here is to apply multi-dimensional thinking to expand self-awareness and metacognition. It’s the fundamental capacity – the gift – of metacognition that sets the stage for enabling new dimensions in product management – in the leadership and ultimate accountability for products. How do we move and apply 4-D thinking (and tools and facilitative methods) to each step in the product cycle – whether the source is weak signals from the market of a lab breakthrough – how do we adopt and adapt in this new framework? The process involves engaging with the uncomfortable enormity of the fog of data and discernment we face in the modern element- at which time we are all saddled with 2-D prediction models and navigation metaphors. Even when we add a third dimension in a compelling visual matrix, we’re still invariably constrained by X-Y gestural tools. 

Virtual Reality tools have been around for generations at this point. There are certainly a growing body of point solutions outside of the gaming context. But where it is difficult to discern progress in in the application of real multi-dimensional thinking with meta-cognition applied to the process of discerning what kind of a model is a 4-D thought model and orpaive framework?  Enabling a product manager – the effective chief executive accountable for all elements of the product and its market journey –  to be able to engage with and coordinate action, engage cooperative interaction and facilitate collaborative dialogue – each having a 4-D semantic network that maps rich metadata and physical and visual cues that  engage us in a distinct experiential state that provokes an capacity for discerning patterns and generating nuance in an expanded palette of possible, manageable outcomes. It is a new language for operating in activities that require oversight, idation, rapid task and context switching, and operating profitably and sustainably in an economic space that places a premium on generating novel models on demand. 

 There are two fundamental capacities expanded here:

  1. The ability to  conduct rich physical and semantic understanding that can be shared and propagated through a network . This expands product management capability into new strate.
  2. Enablement of a fertile palette for designing interactive activities aimed at building both personal skills in the areas of data management to tools that enable groups to interact in an expanded dimensional palette. Collaboration mediated through technology will take on a new cast once a sufficient body of people are trained-up in these notions

Creating a fine-grained temporal track that sits as a reference behind collected x,y,z, and eye-gaze plane data is the necessary design point to achieve this 4-D product management vision. We need to first fix our attention on this vision before addressing the specifics; bear in mind there are models that enable artifacts that support further development.  In the interim we can use the four-front meta-model as a means to develop the primitive vocabulary that will best drive development and stimulate and provoke the hard questions that need to be addressed in order for this new model to emerge and evolve.

 Now what?

 The notion of building tools that enable effective human processing and interaction in four dimensions is confounding. On one hand, as noted earlier, we have adopted a vocabulary of dimensionality that pervades our thinking and speaking, particularly in the context of systems for organizing human effort. Dimensionality has also developed into marketing parlance, which provides a further challenge in terms of surfacing some previously unconsidered applications of “dimensional thinking” that actually enables expansion of human fundamental capacities. Given the complexity of the world that is developing in terms of sheer availability of data as well as the call for an evolution of the systems that enable human interaction for common outcomes (collaboration) then we need to imagine how we can apply a set of simple principles that will enable more fruitful interactions. 

Once a vocabulary of physical verbs is assembled and disseminated, we can start a real revolution in terms of operating with a distinctly dialed-up set of capacities. Early adoption will require a degree of neuroplasticity and expanded metacognition and proprioception. Once a degree of mastery emerges, it will be then possible to facilitate a larger group which will serve as the development and facilitation body. From there, the entire 4-D Product Management model will come to fruition. The development of this practitioner body will drive development of tools and artifacts appropriate to drive and operationalize the development of 4-D thinking tools. A broader, more richly realized horizon of possible results, navigating in a more real-time and expanded manner — all this will come into existence by virtue of humans breaking free from the tyranny of 2-D

It is impossible to underestimate the advancement that moving from de facto 2-D processing to real 4-D capabilities represents. Opening this window and operating at a higher dimensional level clearly provides an expanded palette for thinking and acting. An effective and willful transition to this mode of operating can be guided and facilitated by developing and refining a small set of key distinctions which can be derived by conducting brief processes with those interested in opening their 4-D perspective on their enterprise. These sutras  draw upon a much richer fabric of explication and experimentation that will be available in a 4-D and will be the fulcrum point on which a new dimension of thought and action will arise from the background. The ability to grasp, manipulate and share in this new dimension will provoke and promulgate a new level of human performance. 

As a result of this,  we now envision three stages of development here:

  1. First is the establishment and formalization of the body of knowledge and body of practice it will develop around the concept of multidimensional thinking.
  2. The second stage will entail interim processes and experiments 
  3. Finally, in the third stage we arrive at the establishment of artifacts to support and guide development and adoption.

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