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Input, Processing, Output (IPO): A Multi-dimensional Balancing Act

I often view life through a computer metaphor, and think about my range of actions in the world as some blend of input, processing, and output.  This is due, no doubt, to previous career chapters in which I was a computer science student and then a computer science teacher ... and then a computer science student again.  A recent post by Kathy Sierra, "A Crash Course in Learning Theory", prompted me to revisit this metaphor on multiple dimensions.


But first a review.  When I was first learning -- and teaching -- introductory computer science (about 20 years ago), we started with a diagram (such as the one above, from, and explained the basic operations and functional units of the computer in terms of input (keyboards and cardreaders), processing (central processing unit, which includes storage) and output (a video display unit or printer).  This "IPO" framework was also useful in learning and teaching introductory programming, where problems can be specified in terms of their input and output, and the challenge is how to design processing steps to transform the former into the latter.

When I start mapping the IPO model onto [other] dimensions of my life, I see that many of my dilemmas come down to choices of how much time and energy to devote to each of these three modalities.  With respect to blogging, how much time do I spend reading other blogs and/or opening up to other sources of inspiration and ideas?  How much time do I spend processing these ideas, mapping them onto my own insights, experiences and goals, or otherwise transforming them in interesting or useful ways?  How much time do I spend composing posts on my own blog, or comments on others' blogs?  The fact that blogging is often a conversation, means that this cycle may repeat within any given thread.

In my business, I face similar challenges with respect to balancing my time and effort.  How much time do I spend seeking out new ideas or opportunities, e.g., new features, new products or services, new customers (in the broadest possible sense of "customer") or new ways of going to market?  How much time do I spend processing those ideas and opportunities, framing or transforming them in ways that make them applicable to my business?  And how much time do I spend expressing these ideas, through writing code, creating marketing literature, or more generally, adding value and/or articulating value propositions?

I don't believe I have any particularly useful insights into how best to allocate efforts in either of these dimensions (or any others), I just try to make good choices on a case-by-case basis, increasingly trusting my intuition to guide me.  This notion of good choices, and prioritizing time and effort, reminds of Stephen R. Covey's book, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People", wherein he talks about a variation of the IPO model, using the psychological terminology of "stimulus / response":

Between stimulus and response there is a space.
In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response.
In these choices lie our growth and our happiness.

Steven Paglierani provides a nice visual diagram (and associated commentary) to capture this:


Here's to freedom, power, growth and happiness!

[Update, 2006-01-29: Dan Oestreich recently shared some whole-hearted reflections on the importance of providing enough time and space for input or stimulus: slowing down, and being more open to inspiration, before rushing to process and generate output.  Dan wrote that post before I wrote this one, and although I regularly read Dan's blog, I had not checked in for a while, and so I was not able to take advantage of processing Dan's input before generating my output ... providing yet another example of the delicate balance of input, processing and output in the blogosphere ... and of my ongoing willingness to wakefully make mistakes :-) ].

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