Three Sides To Every Story
(How triangles can help you focus and be more productive)
I believe it's officially called the Triad of Change and I definitely didn't invent it. When I was introduced to it there was talk of chakras and I can't really remember if we're meant to focus on the points or the sides of the triangle. However, the version I have come to adopt and drunkenly explain to friends (like at this restaurant) has proved to be useful for many. In fact, it has led to me writing this blog by popular demand!
The purpose of my triangle theory is, of course, threefold:
To help you understand how you should approach a project or life change
To help you understand why you have lost focus
To help you understand how your team works
So What Is It?
We start with a triangle. On one side it says "Perception", another "Structure" and another, "Behaviour". The order doesn't matter and it might help you to draw it out yourself.
In an ideal world, these three forces for focusing your energy would always be present and in perfect balance. But we're not all perfect and most importantly, we're not all the same.
Some of us are like Stephen King and Maya Angelou, writing for a set number of hours a day; others are Dolly or McCartney waking up on a good day with a fully formed hit; then there are the Duke Ellingtons quipping, "I don't need time, what I need is a deadline."
For each of us, one side of the triangle will be our "Dominant", our "Support" and our "Drain". Your Dominant is the part of you that propels you into a project, that gives you energy. Your Support can be a close second and it gives you guidance. Your Drain is the part of a project you often find to be a drag if the other two sides aren't present.
Before we get into all that, let's look at each side of the triangle.
Behaviour (The Grafters)
Behaviour basically means habits. People who have Behaviour as their Dominant are good at routines and discipline whether that means going for a jog every morning or writing a 1000 words before bed. They like to get shit done.
But there can be issues with glamorising the grind. Unless you're reviewing your work (or letting someone else), how do you know if you're progressing? It can be good to work smart rather than just hard.
Behaviour might be your Drain if the thought of doing the same thing every day fills you with dread.
Perception (The Fire Starters)
Mindset is everything to these people. It's a bit like visualisation but much more about feeling. There needs to be a purpose and once they can sense how it will feel when it is achieved, they're off!
Whilst big dreamers can often overcome great odds, they can easily be carried away before seeing out the project if they don't implement the other sides of the triangle.
Perception could be your Drain if stories about muses and lightning bolts of inspiration make you cringe.
Structure (The Navigators)
Some people love the challenge of a deadline or feel enlightened and determined when a clear path appears. Athletes, artists, entrepreneurs have achieved incredible feats by implementing decade long plans. These people may often surround themselves with mentors who keep them accountable and help them set goals.
However, as Rabbie Burns once said, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley". You must remain flexible and do your part of the work too.
Structure might be your Drain if you often use this quote from Douglas Adams: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by!"
Putting It Into Practice
Once you think you know which side is your Dominant, Support and your Drain, you can try to apply it to your projects.
Personally, my triangle looks like this:
1. Dominant = Perception 2. Support = Structure
3. Drain = Behaviour
No project can succeed with just your Dominant side. The theory goes that if you can implement your Support alongside your more natural Dominant side, then the element that is your Drain will follow. All three are necessary to succeed.
For example, if I'm writing a script, I have to be really excited about the idea then have a clear deadline by which to write it so that I actually finish writing it. Sometimes I'll have the idea and start writing but without the structure it's likely it will end up as a file of disjointed scenes.
If a project isn't working it could be that you are forgetting to implement your Support or that you're leading with your Drain.
The important thing to remember is that all combinations are valid and you can work with others who are the opposite so long as you continue to communicate. Providing you are aware of each others' triangles, sometimes it's good to work with people who are different so no one feels forced to take up a side with which they are uncomfortable.
Jennifer Saunders was notorious during the filming of Absolutely Fabulous for getting her scripts to the cast last minute. Dawn French jokingly accused her of being a master procrastinator but her reason was that she loves creating the work and that the physical writing it down feels like "confining it to a coffin". The series couldn't exist without Saunders but then the production could not succeed without scripts!
A few months ago I realised that this conflict of triangles was potentially an issue for me and my director. I remember the moment and it was a perfect example of our sides at work. We'd had a long zoom call and I started showing her a dress and a chartreuse cardigan that I thought I could wear during the show and for the photoshoot. She yelled, lovingly, "stop looking at dresses! You won't be able to wear it unless you write the show!"
It mades total sense and I knew exactly what she meant... to an extent. From her POV I was procrastinating. How could I be thinking about costume? That's way further down the line in the plan! She was also worried I was closing myself in on an idea rather that giving myself freedom to write in different directions.
For me, being Perception led, I saw it as a breakthrough. As someone who has always been a character on stage, to be able to imagine a version of myself on stage was very important. I could also see the print and style knitting together various threads of thought about what the show could be into something tangible. Indeed, "chartreuse" is still one of my director's favourite titles for the show.
"I don't need time, what I need is a deadline." - Duke Ellington
I was feeling like a kid being told off for not doing her homework and she was concerned that we were going to run out of time. So at our next in-person rehearsal I introduced her to the triangle theory. I was worried she was going to dismiss it as me making excuses but instead she fully embraced it - because she's a wonderfully caring and open minded director, friend and person.
She was also able to trust me because I have already created three solo shows. In most of those cases I had started with a big idea, given myself a deadline and then only physically written parts down if I needed to give them to a technician. I tend to write on stage by improvising and recording it.
Of course, I am capable of writing for the sake of writing. I've been paid to write jokes I don't find particularly funny but others enjoy, especially when coming out of more successful comedians' mouths. I get some pleasure out of it but it can feel like a drag.
Again, I want to reiterate that every side of the triangle must be present to succeed. It's just the order we do them in is different for everyone.
It's good to mix it up occasionally. Doing things her way has definitely improved my ability to feel in control of productivity, edit and write applications. (I'm terrible at filling out applications but pretty great in interviews... Maybe that's another perception led personality trait?) I was nowhere near finding an idea for a show last year and it was helpful to try a new way. However, now that I have two potential ideas I'm ready to go full force with my triad.
Most of us can do things the opposite way to what feels natural but it's not sustainable. If you find yourself feeling stuck in a project, check to see if you are going through your Drain.
Making Life Changes
This theory is definitely not limited to the arts. It can be used in all areas of work and particularly when it comes to making life changes. Earlier this year I wrote about Digital Minimalism. I had tried many times to cut back on my social media and phone use but my short detoxes were not sustainable. This is because I was "going through my Drain" by trying to force a change in my habits.
Listening to a number of podcasts and reading Joz Norris's newsletter helped me change my Perception towards quitting tech while still using it to find work. Cal Newport's book continued to help me change my mindset but crucially offered me a Structure to support it. As a result I was able to make a much more effective life change.
I am now looking to cut back on drinking. I've downloaded an app called Reframe, which seems to be about changing perception as well as offering structure so should hopefully help me. Previous apps I've downloaded have been purely about logging drinks or calories and reaching goals and therefore missing that key part for me. I shall report back.
So What Now?
Take a look back at some of the big changes and projects you've achieved in your life. The chances are you can track which sides of the triangle came first, second and third for you. If there were times when it felt difficult or even failed, is it possible that you were reverse engineering your triangle? Sometimes it helps to discuss it with someone who knows you well. It can also be easier to identify triangles in others!
If you're currently feeling stuck or considering embarking on a new chapter in your life or work, why not take a moment to think about the best way to proceed considering your triangle.
Like any life advice I give (or take for that matter), this is not a hard and fast rule. It's merely a suggestion. I'd love to hear if this has helped you or if you're going to give it a try.
Best of luck! Peace, love and triangles.
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