A pace that feels right and that works well. Try to push faster and resistance increases. Relax and pull slower and interest wanders.
The pace that feels about right is a six week cycle.
So why six weeks? Is it 42 days that is important or it there something about a seven-day week and the number six?
The daily and the weekly cycles are dictated by the Celestial Clockwork. The day is the Earth’s rotation and the week is one quarter if the 28 day Lunar cycle. These are not arbitrary policies – they are celestial physics. Not negotiable.
So where does the Six come from? That does seem to be something to do with people and psychology.
The predictable sequence of emotional states that accompanies significant change? The sequence of Shock-Denial-Anger-Bargaining-Depression-Resolution? It has six stages. Is that just a co-incidence?
The required sequence of steps that structure any improvement-by-design challenge? It has six stages.
Is that just a co-incidence too?
And is seven days a convenient size? It was originally six-days-of-work and one-day-of-rest. The modern 5-and-2 design is a recent invention.
And if each stage requires at least one week to complete and we require six stages then we get a Six Week cycle.
It sounds lie a plausible hypothesis but is that what happens in reality?
There is a lot of empirical evidence to suggest that it does. It seems we feel comfortable working with six-week chunks of time. We plan about six weeks ahead. School terms are divided into about six week chunks. A financial “quarter” is about two chunks. We can fit four of those into a Year with a bit left over. Action learning seems to work well in six week cycles. Courses are very often carved up into six week modules. It feels OK.
So what does this mean for the Improvement Scientist?
First it suggests that doing something every week makes sense. Leaving it all to the last minute does not.
Second it suggests that each week the step required and the emotional reaction is predictable.
Third it suggests that five weeks of facilitative investment are required.
Fourth it suggests that if something throws a spanner into the sequence the we need to add extra weeks.
And it suggests that in the Seventh Week we can rest, reflect, share and prepare for the next Six Week change cycle.
So maybe Douglas Adams was correct – the Answer to Life the Universe and Everything is Forty Two.