My way is the wrong way. Always.

Reflecting more on Jeanne Liedtka’s insights from Museum Leadership training in October. She joined two seemingly unrelated concepts, and they’re giving me a new frame for considering leadership and teamwork.

Disc profiling

‘…a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioural differences’

We all did a questionnaire before the course, and received our results during the week. I discovered — like i didn’t already know! — that I’m high in ‘Dominance’ and ‘Influence’. This means my motivations are to get things done, and work through influencing others. I like collaborating, i like change and i’m happy with risks. And some people are more highly motivated by calm, or minimising risk: the ‘Steadfast’ and ‘Conscientious’ types. Leaders don’t have the privilege of their preferences — they have to work with, and enable, all. And organisations and teams need them all.

Design Thinking

I’m not going to try to describe it here. But as a working method that focuses on user needs, small-scale early prototyping, and methodical collaboration, it is highly enabling of different work styles when applied correctly — and here comes the link Jeanne made for me.

Doing it ‘my way’ means it’s the wrong way — and it doesn’t matter how clever or creative you are you are

Two DISC profiles are very common in organisations — high DI and high C. Let’s call them Diaz and Cody.

Diaz is biased to action, to get on with it, make radical change. Cody is motivated to keep everything steady. Diaz is starting fires; Cody is fireproofing everything.

These are both awesome personalities: necessary — they are to be treasured and valued. Imagine an organisation that only ever did crazy new things, or one that never changed.

But within a project team, these two get stuck. Cody looks at Diaz, they’re crazy, they must be stopped. Diaz looks at Cody, no way, mate, we’re doing this cool new thing. You will have seen this dynamic in any organisation.

Jeanne taught me to look deeper. Cody will do the new thing, for sure. They just need to know it is safe. They need data. Diaz doesn’t want to endanger the organisation. They just need action.

Design thinking breaks this logjam. Diaz can say, let me do this tiny thing. It’s only some pics pasted onto foamboard, i’ll just chat to people in the cafe. I’ll get you some data, it’ll be two hundred dollars and a couple of hours. And then Cody can say OK, you proved it’s worthwhile. Let’s take three thousand dollars and do a bigger test.

Prototyping has made an action for Diaz, and some reassurance for Cody.

But there are two real lessons here. First, neither of them have lost. Their basic emotional desires are met: both are are exerting their best selves and receiving a reward that satisfies them.

But also, the resolution came from centring users in the process. The users were the source of data that enabled movement— the impasse wasn’t solved with rhetoric, or the deployment of positional authority.

So now, when I feel like i’m reaching an impasse with someone like Cody, i will not be thinking of how to do the thing anyway. I’ll be wondering what is the minimum viable product approach — and actually saying outright i hear your caution, what data would persuade you this is the right path to follow? and then design an experiment to find that data.

There are many links here with the idea of bureaucratic radicalism i wrote about a few years ago; honouring slow and steady change to foster long-term improvement, rather than just getting flashbang project fireworks.

As a leader, I can do this and I can encourage others; create a climate where the differences are respected and the insight of users (audiences) are sought and then deployed to make decisions. I can resist the urgent persuasion of Diaz to get on with it, and resist becoming frustrated with Cody for what looks like obstruction.

Not my way, not your way, not even our way. Ask the users; then we can do it their way.