Thursday, June 22, 2006

Opposites Should Attract at Work...

I've been thinking a bit more about the Dale Wolf's article on Marketing by Vision or by Research.

Actually, the article started me thinking more about my relationship with Dale. In previous assignments, Dale and I have worked very closely together, but right now, we are on separate tracks so we occassionally run into each other, but not on a regular basis.

Dale and I have very different styles of working, but we both have the ability to step back from our preferred style in order to work together. Occassionally when I need an outside opinion, I give Dale a call and ask him to act as a sounding board / brain storming partner. And occassionally Dale does the same.

Why? We don't naturally work the same way. Dale is very much a marketing geek, and I'm very much a technologist (subliminal positioning was intentional).

So, When our projects get stuck, why do we call each other. After some thought, I think the answer is that we are opposites, but have established a trust relationship.

My style is research focused, but I try to keep a tight rein on the amount of research. When research is no longer moving forward efficiently, I switch over to creative approaches to make leaps forward, before starting on the next wave of research. This style tends towards steady progress towards the goal, with measurable process and few, relatively brief periods of stagnation.

Dale's style is a just the opposite. He lives for the creative part of the process, and uses research as a background for his creative work. Research is not aimed at providing specific progress towards the goal, but rather is general background material that fules his creative fires. This style results in long periods of no obserable progress followed by large leaps forward (well hopefully forward). It also results in a need to perform massive amounts of research, and makes it difficult to focus research because the bit that provides the creative spark can come from almost anywhere.

Both of these styles end up with 70-80% of the time spent in research, but the purpose and nature of the research is very different. Dale may in fact spend more time on research than I do, even though he would classify himself as in the Creative category.

Enough introspective analysis. Why do we call each other? I think that the answer is that the two styles of research are representative of two differnt styles of thinking. When I really get stuck, to misquote Monty Python "I need something really different" and for me, the answer is often Dale. Dale may not be able to help, but he almost always gets me outside the box I'm stuck in.

I suspect Dale's reasons are often the opposite. He can get stuck needing that creative leap, and so overwhlemed with background informatoin that he can't pull it together. Adding a more structured viewpoint (my own tendancy) may not lead anywhere direclty, but it can narrow the focus and add direction making the creative leap more likely.

The morale of this long story? If you are in a leadership position, cultivate relationships with people whose thinking style and approach to problems is the opposite of yours. It may be uncomfortable, especially at first, but later on that relationship may provide the missing ingredient in your project at the most critical time.

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