Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, there was a department at an internationally known resource for creative problem solving. They offered training, conferences, and publications designed to help people focus on solving problems more effectively. Unfortunately, this department had significant problems when working together. It wasn’t a question of skill; they had extensive education, training and experience in problem solving plus they used their skills and talents all the time with people outside the organization. The problem wasn’t attitude, as these people were genuine friends, regularly socializing — by choice — together. And the problem wasn’t motivation since they believed in and worked hard to forward the organization’s mission. So it must have been their primitive (gator) brains getting in the way, right? Well yes, occasionally (they were after all, human). But, by and large, they did the right things. Yet, they struggled to work together effectively. Until one day, deciding to practice what they preached, the boss brought in a facilitator to do some team-building with the department.

Getting to “and they all lived happily ever after!”

Does this story sound familiar? Are you wondering how to help your groups get to that “happily ever after” part? You’ve probably seen similar symptoms in your work. Certainly, there are many causes, issues, and solutions that could be at play here. One of the issues we frequently see at work registers high on the “Duh!-O-Meter.” With a firm grip on the obvious, we humbly reveal that from the day we are born until we die, “people are different.” Yes, yes. Brilliant, we know.

But let’s face it, at times we all forget just how different people are and just how much tolerance — on OUR part — it requires when we run into people who work in different ways than do we. The frustration builds, tension rises, until that little piano wire in our primitive brain snaps — PIIIIING — and then WE snap and we wonder what the $%@# is wrong with the other person. Worst case: we tell them what’s wrong with them.

There are many ways to look at the differences in people, whether it’s experience, age, culture, gender, education, style, or preference. Given that the New & Improved practice focuses on the people side of innovation, we frequently work to help individuals and groups understand fundamental style preferences relating to their way of working through challenges. Here’s one thing that we know through research: the process of problem solving is universal, has observable discrete steps, and people have preferences for which part of the process they most enjoy and least enjoy. So when those preferences collide, that’s when we have conflict. When the preferences are balanced and leveraged in the group, that’s when we have creative elegance.

Breakthrough Thinking Preferences:


Which one(s) do you like?

The FourSight Breakthrough Thinking Profile, developed by Dr. Gerard Puccio of the International Center for Studies in Creativity, helps people discover their differences in problem solving across four main style preferences. As you read through the styles, consider which one you most enjoy… and which part of the process is enjoyed by that different man/woman with whom you regularly butt heads.

Clarifier: Let’s not make any assumptions!

Clarifiers like to spend time getting a clear understanding of a challenge or issue before leaping into ideas, solutions, or action. They prefer to move forward cautiously, making sure the right challenge is being addressed. Clarifiers enjoy looking at the details: researching, investigating, and digging for information that will help them better understand the crux of the issue. In the worst case, clarifiers may suffer from “analysis paralysis” and never move beyond clarification.

Ideator: I’ve got an idea!

Ideators like to generate broad concepts and ideas. Visionaries by nature, they are most comfortable understanding the big picture and stretching their imaginations. Ideators are drawn to abstract and global issues and less concerned with details. They are flexible thinkers and can see many possible solutions to the same situation. They enjoy proliferating ideas, but at their worst, may jump from one idea to the next, without following through.

Developer: Let’s weigh our options!

Developers like to spend time analyzing potential solutions, breaking them apart and examining their strengths and weaknesses. They delight in transforming a rough idea into a finely crafted solution and thinking through the steps necessary to implement an idea. In their eagerness to analyze, compare, and weigh competing solutions, developers, if they lose focus, may get stuck trying to come up with the “perfect” solution.

Implementer: Come on! Let’s go!

Implementers constantly strive to take action on ideas. They derive the most energy from bringing ideas to fruition and seeing tangible outcomes. Implementers like to get things accomplished and are constantly concerned about getting the next idea to the implementation stage. In their urgency to get the job done, implementers, at their worst, may get impatient and leap to action too quickly.

A note of caution:

Also remember this: Your preference does not necessarily equal your skill. You might hate doing dishes, but have learned to make yourself do it well. Conversely, you might prefer golf to other forms of recreation, but you’re not really very good at it compared to others. It’s an important point, so here it is one more time for slow readers: your preference does not necessarily equal your ability. So these are the four styles, for which all people have varied preferences. You may prefer one much more than the other style, or may prefer two or three to the others. Interestingly, it seems that about 15% of people have no clear preference for one style or the other. They like all four styles equally. With no intended reference to a primitive reptilian brain, they are called, “Integrators.”

“Can’t we all just get along?”

Integrators take a very even approach to the breakthrough thinking process with a profile that shows no particular preferences or dislikes. Integrators’ energies stay rather steady as they focus on the facts, identify the challenge to address, entertain a plethora of ideas, refine those ideas and finally put them into practice. For this reason, they can be very flexible and easily accommodate whatever the task requires. Given their flexibility, they can be very good team players, finding it easy to work with people who have different profiles. In fact, many Integrators are more focused on how the group works together rather than how to solve the problem. Where the other styles focus on process, this group pays attention to people. Accordingly, Integrators must also be cautious not simply to follow others’ leads, particularly when others have strong preferences. Integrators must remember to diagnose the situation for themselves and pursue the most appropriate response.

So who are you?

Did you see yourself described above? You probably saw some of yourself in multiple styles. And may have seen some things you don’t especially like to do. Much more important is to notice differences between you and those people with whom you struggle to work well. Frequently, the style differences cause friction, because while one person really wants to understand the situation better, another person is working on generating ideas for how to move forward, a third person is working on crafting a better solution, while a fourth may be making phone calls to sell it!! While this can be frustrating, it’s also a huge opportunity. Imagine an orchestra made up entirely of cellos. While it may sound nice for a while, and be great for the cello lovers of the world, adding in the richness of violins, wind instruments and percussion provide for more variety plus a better ability to play different types of music, with rich sound and different feelings. Or imagine an (American) football team made up entirely of quarterbacks. If they could keep the opposing teams’ defense away from them, they might have a great offense, but likely they’d be overrun by the 350-pound defenseman! Similarly, a successful innovation team needs to have, and utilize people, with a range of styles to make sure that you’ve got all the basic stages of problem solving covered.

Here’s how the story ends:

Remember our international creative problem solving resource? It turns out that each of the members of the team had styles that were clearly different from the other team members. So, while one of the managers would go running into the boss’s office and simply share his great idea, the boss needed to hear the background data that the manager thought was irrelevant. Or another manager might start talking about how to sell an idea before another team member had even agreed to what the final idea was! That’s where the conflict began.

So by becoming aware of the different focus of the other team members, they were able to predict the needs and wants of the other team members during problem solving. Plus they had the sensitivity necessary to give the benefit of the doubt to the other person moving in a different direction to lead to productive and breakthrough solutions.

Different styles are necessary to innovation. But without tolerance and awareness of other people and their styles, a potential innovation team becomes an innovation nightmare. So instead of saying in frustration, “what a stupid thing to do (or think),” change your question to, “gee, that’s curious, I wonder why a person would do (or think) that?” Then, we can all live happily ever after.

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