How hanging out with a Hare, Owl, Turtle and Squirrel helps me get more work done.
I first learned about HOTS personality profiling in the book One-Minute Millionaire, and I have seen it written about online since. I find this profiling works effectively when building teams with my student groups, but I have recently applied the principles to my life as well.
The way it works is similar to any other personality test, but instead of introvert/extrovert and so on, it references four animals in its acronym. The animals are: Hare, Owl, Turtle, and Squirrel and refer principally to the four personality types you should look for when building a team.
The Hare is filled with multiple ideas; some may say “Harebrained Schemes”. They hop around from idea to idea, excited more by possibilities than execution.
The Owl is wise and measured, and while they may also generate ideas, they are best placed beside the Hare to recognise and catch the ideas as they spring forth. Most team leaders should be Owls. They identify and support great ideas, but can also see the big picture and component parts needed for execution.
Next in the team is the Turtle. These are the people who troubleshoot harebrained ideas and cautiously suggest most of them are impractical. They are needed to turn ideas into plans because they can see the problems ahead of time and suggest possible solutions. A Hare would describe a Turtle as negative. A Turtle would describe themselves as realistic. They may be slow to change their mind, but when they do it is because they have measured all the options. If a Turtle supports a Hare’s idea, you know you’re on a winner.
The last animal in our kookie menagerie is the Squirrel. They love taking action. Give them a list of tasks and they are the happiest animal in the forest. Getting things done is what drives a Squirrel, get them to think big picture and they tend to disappear. We need detail-oriented Squirrels to keep machines running and make sure the bills get paid.
The way I pitch this to my students is that they can identify with more than one animal if they like, and most of them do, but in a group situation they have to embrace their spirit animal 100%. If you are majority Squirrel, in a group situation you must be 100% Squirrel.
The strategy when running the group is to get the Hare and Owl together without Turtle and Squirrel. Hare’s can be sensitive, and the Turtle’s practical attitude tends to deflate the energy levels needed for creative ideation. The Owl is more able to be supportive and feed the Hare’s idea-generating ego. At the brainstorming stage, you need to encourage a lot of hopping around from idea to idea. Brainstorming sessions are disastrous if a Turtle is allowed input too early. Idea-generation sessions should be Hare and Owl only.
Once the idea generation or divergent process is facilitated, the Hare is sent out into the fields to chase flying carrots and the Owl brings the Turtle into the room for a convergent session. The best ideas are presented to the Turtle, and they are asked to flag any issues, devise solutions and identify the best idea to move forward. The Owl and Turtle then strategise an action plan and give the list of tasks to the Squirrel to execute. Boom. HOTS teamwork in action.
The problem arises when you are a one-person team or three of you in the group are Hares. Ideas without execution are a waste of time. Just ask Scott Belsky, but a group of doers without vision is just as grave a situation (think builders and architects).
In recent years, I have found myself feeling schizophrenic as I navigate life within a University. On a daily basis, I am expected to ideate, execute, manage, facilitate, answer emails, solve problems and all of this on my own and in groups. As you can imagine, I was feeling scattered and burnt out. I couldn’t go on this way until I lined my inner spirit animals in a row and realised that if I applied the HOTS principle to my day, I could be all of these animals, just not all at the same time.
So here is how perfect HOTS day works for me. In the morning, I wake up a Hare. I’m bursting with ideas, and I need to write them down. Instead of tapping into my problems first thing, which is a Turtle task (i.e., emails) I keep the Turtle at bay until after lunch to allow my inner Hare a chance to frolic freely in the morning. As often as possible, I head to a coffee shop with a notebook before talking to anybody and let my inner Hare run free. Like Alice in Wonderland says “I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast”.
Once the Harebrained ideas are out of my head and on to the page, I get my Owl brain to sort through and decide what to act on. This part of the day is for organising. I plan my schedule, structure projects and similar types of tasks. I also write during this period.
Usually, by lunchtime, my creative brain is exhausted, and it is time to solve problems and engage with other people. This is where the Turtle comes in. I try and schedule my meetings, face-to-face discussions and email clearing for Turtle time, after lunch.
All my Squirrel tasks are scheduled for the last part of the day. The Owl has already written my to-do list; the Turtle has added a few problem-solving chores, and so the last few hours of the day are spent working through the list. All thinking is over. Time to get things done.
Each animal phase lasts around two hours, depending on the day, but I find batching task types and monitoring my energy levels enables me to focus and get as much out of my day as I can. My natural tendency overall is towards Owl, which is no doubt why I am writing this all down for you, but I think in this day and age unless you are a factory worker making widgets, you are required to be creative, organised, practical and productive all in the same day. Maybe try applying the HOTS principle and see how you go?
Pro tip: I find each animal hangs out in a different location. Hare loves coffee shops; the Owl loves the library, and the Turtle and Squirrel hang out in front of my computer. Try changing up your location for each animal and see if that helps you get into the HOTS zone.