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  • The Creator-Manager Dilemma


    In my work, I play two major roles. One is as an innovator, creating new ideas and products. But I am also a manager. Thinking about these roles has made me aware of a dilemma facing creators, and the companies that employ them.

    Working styles
    There are as many work styles and cognitive preferences as there are people, but there are some clear categories into which they fall. One major division is what I call “brain vs. brawn”. Do you engage in abstract conceptual thinking (brain), or do you prefer to do things (brawn)? Are you a “brainiac” or a “brawniac” based on your thinking style and work style — or a mix of both?

    Braniacs are more abstract and strategic in their thinking, and look at the big picture. They think about the medium to long term, and enjoy pursuing and achieving what are often ambitious and challenging goals. They enjoy difficult conceptual problems, and are often the ones with breakthrough ideas.

    Brawniacs, on the other hand, focus more on operational issues. They take care of the details. They enjoy completing a list of tasks, and their short-term focus gets those tasks done quickly and efficiently.

    Creators and managers
    As you may already have guessed, brawniacs make excellent managers. They are good at identifying and solving operational issues, paying attention to detail, ensuring that things are working smoothly, and producing results, at least in the short term. They are good at these things because they enjoy them.

    In contrast, due to their conceptual cognitive preferences, brainiacs enjoy both thinking and creating new things. They don’t like dealing with the nuts and bolts. They are not managers, and they are unlikely to enjoy being managers, as it forces them to do things they don’t enjoy. Brainiacs can become great strategic leaders, but they will be, at best, competent managers.

    The dilemma
    Consider a hard-working, talented brainiac. The quality of her work brings her to the attention of higher management, who decide to “reward” her with a promotion to a managerial position. While she may enjoy the additional authority and status — not to mention an enhanced paycheck — she may soon come to regard her “reward” as a curse rather than a blessing. Now she has to direct and monitor the efforts of others, instead of doing the conceptual, analytical, and creative work she enjoys. She has to focus on short-term goals, and get her team to meet them. She spends much of her time in meetings. She has to pay attention to details, not only in her own work, but also in that of her team. She is likely to become frustrated and annoyed, perhaps even depressed, because as a manager, she can no longer do the conceptual, analytical or creative work that she enjoys and is good at.

    This is the dilemma: in most organizations, brainiacs need to become managers if they are to advance their careers. They don’t enjoy being managers, and would add significantly more value to the organization if they did the work they are best at. This is a problem not only for the brainiac; it is also a problem for the organization, even for society at large. Requiring creators to become managers to rise in an organization is a misuse of talent, and risks losing valuable ideas from a creator-turned-manager who no longer has time to create.

    The solution
    Because they cannot execute their preferred work style and cannot play out their preferred conceptual thinking style, many disillusioned creator-managers wind up leaving their managerial jobs and becoming free agents, or starting new ventures where they can do the strategic, creative work they love, and hire others to take care of the operational details. In this way, many organizations lose top talent, and with them the investment they have made in them.

    How can an organization resolve this problem? In industries such as software, some firms have dual career tracks. Employees can advance either as managers (e.g., managing a team of programmers) or as creators (e.g., writing software). Both the manager track and the creator track offer equal rewards, and those rewards are based on the value the individual adds to the organization, rather than, say, how many people work for them.

    Are we likely to see many organizations adopt dual career tracks to resolve the creator-manager dilemma? Probably not. Measuring the value added by individuals is in general very difficult. But more importantly, even though a dual career track program may be desirable from the perspective of the shareholders of a firm, the managers of that firm are unlikely to implement it, as they would see it as threatening their own status and rewards.

    If you’re a brawniac — a pragmatic doer and talented manager — be happy: you can do the managing that you love and that fits your cognitive preferences, and get both honored and paid well. But if you’re a brainiac, a conceptual thinker and creator stuck in a managerial role that doesn’t fit to your preferred thinking style and work style, think about whether you should stay for the money or cash out and start doing what you love and what is more in line with your cognitive preferences. That’s what I did, and it was the best decision I ever made.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis

  • The Brainiac-Brawniac Scheduling Conflict


    In the article “creator-manager dilemma”, we discussed categorizing people based on their preferred work style as “brainiacs”, who like abstract conceptual thinking, and “brawniacs”, who like getting things done. Good managers are typically brawniacs, as they are good at the nuts and bolts of business, and produce short-term results. Brainiacs, on the other hand, may become great strategic leaders, but will rarely be more than competent as managers, as they prefer strategic and abstract thinking. In most organizations, this leads to a dilemma for brainiacs. In order to advance in their careers, brainiacs need to become managers. This forces them to stop doing work they enjoy and are good at, and instead do work they dislike and at which they rarely excel.

    Even when the creator-manager dilemma isn’t a factor, there is a difference in the work style between brainiacs and brawniacs that causes a lot of frustration at work, and that is their differing approaches to time.

    It’s just a short meeting
    Recently, a fellow professor asked me to meet with him and the management team of a company to discuss human talent acquisition and retention. When I said no, my colleague objected, “But it’s just one hour.” Well, yes and no. For me, such a meeting would cost me much more than just one hour, even if the meeting miraculously ended on time. In fact, I would have lost a full day of work had I joined the meeting, because of the way that I, as a brainiac, use time.

    The brain-brawn scheduling conflict
    Brawniacs and brainiacs work on very different time schedules. This is because their tasks require different time commitments:

    • Brawniacs schedule their work in increments of 15 minutes to one hour. The tasks they work on are practical and operational, and can be started, and completed, in a short time, and that time is fairly predictable. Brawniacs tend to schedule as many tasks or meetings in a day as will fit into the available hours. At the end of the day, they feel satisfied if they’ve got many things done or have participated in successful meetings.
    • Brainiacs, however, must schedule their work in increments of at least half a day. Each day, they can focus on only one or two conceptual tasks requiring substantial abstract thought. These tasks —writing an article, coding software, creating a financial model of a company — can not be done quickly and cannot be done in a few minutes here and a few minutes there. They require at least a few hours, and frequently a whole day, of undisturbed, concentrated work. If all goes well, brainiacs may “get into flow” and become so deeply absorbed by the work that they forget about everything else. This, the most productive time for a brainiac, can never happen if their work gets interrupted.

    If you’re a brawniac — a pragmatic doer and talented manager — be glad. The world runs on a brawniac’s schedule. In the U.S. it’s estimated that two out of three people are brawniacs. Even more importantly, most managers are brawniacs, and manage on their own schedule.

    However, if you’re a brainiac — a conceptual thinker and creator — you will inevitably and frequently come in conflict with a brawniac’s schedule due to your preferred work style. Although you need long stretches of time to produce good work, you will be asked to schedule time as if you were a brawniac. That mid-morning meeting may cost the brawniacs only an hour, but you lose at least a half day’s work as a result.

    Solutions
    How can a brainiac, or a brawniac manager of brainiacs, most effectively deal with this conflict? How can the brainiac produce their best work in a world running on the brawniac’s schedule? Here are three ideas for a brainiac to consider:

    1. Learn to say no. When you have conceptual work to do, refuse demands on your time that would destroy your productivity, just as I did to my fellow professor above. The first few times, you’ll have to explain why a half-hour task can destroy a full day of conceptual work. Eventually they will come to understand that your needs are different from theirs, and they should be able to see that allowing you your schedule results in your producing more, and better, work. Find a compromise that gives you the time you need based on your preferred work style, but which also lets you be seen as a committed member of the team.
    2. Schedule meetings at your least productive times. Whenever possible, I schedule meetings in the late afternoon. By then I have usually done the most vital parts of my conceptual work for the day and am happy to deal with people’s needs or operational details.
    3. Be a brawniac for one day each week. Make an agreement with yourself, your superior, and your team members that on one day each week you will work on a brawniac’s schedule. Schedule all your meetings, short operational tasks, service calls, etc., on this day, and do your best to be a brawniac for that day. This will free up the other days for you to work on your brainiac’s schedule, and enjoy four days of undisturbed conceptual work each week.

    Finally, if you’re a brawniac manager of brainiacs, try to give your brainiacs as much advance notice as possible of meetings and the like so they can arrange their work schedules for the least disruption. When possible, schedule meetings late in the day. Your brainiacs will complain less about them, and regardless of their preferred work style, everyone can use the mornings to be productive. And as an added bonus, meetings late in the day are more focused and shorter, because everyone wants to go home.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis

  • What kind of innovator does your business need?

    In an earlier article titled Growing with the flow, I discussed that, like living things, companies develop by passing through distinct phases in their life cycle. What’s also true is that as a company develops from a startup to a multinational corporation, different basic innovator dimensions dominate at different stages of a company’s life. Let me explain.

    The four dimensions of innovators

    Over the past few years, I’ve been developing an innovation-focused personality profiling system, and am currently fine-tuning it for market release in the first quarter of 2014. This system that we call TIPS is based on the idea that your natural work style, thinking style, life style and innovation style depend on the mix of four basic dimensions that drive your mental focus and energy. These four dimensions are: THEORIES, IDEAS, PEOPLE, and SYSTEMS (which together make for the acronym TIPS).

    When assessed on their combinations of these fundamental orientations, people fall into 11 types: Theorists, Ideators, Partners, Systematizers, Conceptualizers, Promoters, Organizers, Technocrats, Coaches, Experimenters, and All-rounders. Each of these innovation styles can contribute to a company’s innovation efforts, but different innovation styles come to the forefront at different stages in the corporate life cycle.

    How different dimensions drive and affect a company during its life cycle

    Let’s follow the life of a company to better understand how the need for the various innovator types — and their profiles — changes as it goes from a tiny new venture to a mighty behemoth:

    Phase 1: Great companies start with great IDEAS
    The idea on which a business is founded may be to fill an unmet need. An example of this is YouTube, whose founders Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim noticed the lack of an easy way to share videos on the web. The idea might also be to exploit a new technology or method, as in the case of Polaroid, founded by Edwin H. Land. The more radical, game-changing, and bold the idea, the more risky it is, the more reward it offers, and the more it can change the world. Ideators, the idea creators, often create and lead start-ups through their initial phase.

    Phase 2: Spread the word about the IDEAS to PEOPLE
    The second phase of company growth calls on both the IDEAS and the PEOPLE dimensions. Once a new product has been developed, then it’s time to build a brand and promote both the product and the brand. Among the 11 innovator types, the Promoter is most naturally suited to create convincing campaigns and to spread the word to the market.

    Phase 3: Get PEOPLE for Sales and Delivery
    This third phase is all about PEOPLE. You need to find the right people to sell your brand and product, and ensure satisfactory delivery and customer care. Partners are the innovator type most needed at this stage of a company’s development.

    Phase 4: PEOPLE use SYSTEMS to tame the chaos
    Sooner or later, if your sales team is successful, you will have a new problem: your organization will have problems keeping up with growth and maintaining consistent quality in products, delivery and services. This phase involves mostly the PEOPLE and SYSTEMS dimensions, as management realizes the need for organization at the front end, as well as a need for a more sophisticated back-end organization to ensure consistent service quality and customer care. The Organizer is the innovator type best suited to bring both order and a focus on service to a fast-growing company.

    Phase 5: Build smooth-running SYSTEMS
    As a company matures into a large corporation, the SYSTEMS dimension gains added importance. Senior management focuses on efficiency and productivity. The Systematizer is the right kind of person needed to drive and direct the transformation of a company into an efficient, productive corporation that is self-sustaining and not dependent on any one individual.

    Phase 6: IDEAS improve the SYSTEMS
    Once well-oiled SYSTEMS have been put in place, they can be shaped to improve the company. In order to do this, IDEAS are needed, along with the willingness to experiment and tinker with things to find the right business model, delivery channels, and partnerships to multiply the firm’s value. The Experimenter is the innovator type best able to figure out how to make the company successful in different markets, countries or even industries.

    Phase 7: Reinvent yourself and start a new cycle — or decline and perish
    By this time, your once-tiny startup has become a mature multinational corporation. However, natural systems have another phase in their life cycle: decline and, finally, death. Sooner or later, a new technology, business idea, or venture will emerge which challenges your company’s existence. If your company cannot adapt, renovate or reinvent itself — often because everyone in the company ignores the world-changing events around them — your company will start to decline, and may even perish, the victim of Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”.

     

    What about THEORIES?

    If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that we’ve only mentioned the IDEAS, PEOPLE and SYSTEMS. Where do THEORIES come in? The answer is: Always.

    Theories and information inform your actions at every phase of the cycle. However, the focus of the theories shifts as the other dimensions come to the fore.

    • When IDEAS are most important, you need conceptual or creativity-related theories, such as basic research.
    • When PEOPLE are the focus, your firm needs marketing and human capital-related knowledge.
    • Building strong, flexible SYSTEMS requires a good theoretical grounding in operations, efficiency, and process.

    And those innovator types we haven’t mentioned yet —Theorists, Conceptualizers, Coaches, Technocrats, and All-Rounders? Their role is in creating, disseminating, and applying theories and information throughout all phases of the corporate life cycle.

     
    © Dr. Detlef Reis

  • Understanding the Cycles of Changes Using TIPS (part 1)

    Imagine a time machine brought you a few hundred years back in time to a feudal principality in the agricultural age. Upon your arrival, you’re randomly assigned to join one of three traditional social groups: farmers, clerics or warriors. You have to perform the duties associated with your newly assigned role. If you’re lucky, you feel a natural connection with your class, and perform well in your new role. But what if not? Today and in two weeks time, we’re going to explore the societal classes that preserve the traditional order and those that drive change — and how this struggle between stasis and progress perpetually drives the cycles of change in society and business.

    Introducing the traditional fabrics of society

    For centuries, the three social groups described in our imaginative scenario could be found in most countries:

    • The nobility was the first class. They owned and ruled the land. They paid for a standing force of loyal warriors who defended the lands against external enemies, kept the social order and collected taxes.
    • The noblemen also sponsored the second class: the clergy and scholars, who provided the nobles with knowledge and counsel, and also gave spiritual consolation to commoners to keep them docile.
    • Finally, commoners with many duties and hardly any rights formed the third class. These farmers and craftsmen did all of the menial work and paid taxes to the nobility in lieu of getting security.

    Together, these three groups formed a stable, traditional societal system. In every era, we can find similar social groups — for example, had you traveled back only a hundred years to the industrial age, you would see three similar groups: workers, academics, and policemen or soldiers.

    Fortunately, the feudal days are long gone, and the industrial age has ended, too. We have passed through the information age and are now entering the innovation economy. This raises an interesting question: What forces have led to the demise of each of the traditional societal models that dominated past centuries? Let’s answer that with the help of TIPS, Thinkergy’s innovation people profiling method.

    Introducing the four TIPS bases

    Most established personality profiling instruments exclusively use constructs to profile differences in people’s preferred cognitive styles. TIPS adds a new layer on top of these purely cognitive dimensions: the TIPS bases, which can capture both the dynamic, cyclical nature of business and social change, and people’s responses to these changes.

    TIPS distinguishes four bases: Theories, Ideas, People and Systems. We are all attracted to one or more of these fundamental base orientations. For example, the entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk plays exclusively on the ideas base with his bold new ventures, while investment legend Warren Buffet’s success rests equally on two bases: theories and systems.

    The three traditional social classes mentioned above relate to the three TIPS bases systems (the nobilities and their warrior class), theories (the clergy and scholars), and people (common farmers and workers). But what if you were forced to work in a role that does not align with your natural base?

    Introducing the driving force of change

    Let’s expand on our introductory scenario: Imagine you didn’t go back in time alone, but in a group that included Elon Musk and Warren Buffet, both of whom were randomly assigned to work as farmers. What a waste of talent, you may think. Now, while Warren Buffet may accept his fate, Elon Musk will be a troublemaker. Why is that?

    There is a fourth social group that complements the three traditional ones. Depending on the historical context, we may call this fourth group merchants, voyagers, capitalists, entrepreneurs, creators, inventors, or pioneers. Elon Musk is one of them. The rebellious people belonging to this fourth group love to shake up the traditional way of doing things. In TIPS, these progressives  associate with the fourth base, ideas.
    Ideas people have high energy levels, as if change and progress were programmed into their DNA:

    • They take up new research and technological progress created at the theories base, and use it to create bold ideas and progressive change in the form of new social ideas or new products and ventures.
    • They know how to convince some people from the traditional bases to provide funds for their new ventures, or even better, they have already succeeded before with an earlier venture so that they can fund themselves.
    • Finally, they know how to enchant the people base to join their work force and consume their buy their products, earning them with their labour.

    In short, people aligned to the ideas base recognize opportunities to transform emerging new technologies into innovative products that they then introduce to the markets. They drive the cycles of change.

    Interim conclusion and outlook: In our TIPS Innovation Profiling Workshop, we bring the introductory scenario to life by enacting a game that allows people to experience what it means being assigned one’s right social role — or being stuck in the wrong one.

    So how about you? Do you play on a base that feels home for you? Do you see yourself as more of a smart intellectual, progressive entrepreneur, collegial worker, or rule-enforcing cop? Are you someone who stimulates, creates, enjoys or resists change? Come back in two weeks time, when I give you more insights into how to ride the cycles of change in society and business by looking at the four TIPS bases through another lens: the evolutionary macroeconomic concepts of Joseph Schumpeter.

    And if you’re curious to learn more about our new innovation people profiling method TIPS, then check out this video — and contact us if you want to be informed of the launch of our new online profiling platform in a few weeks from now.

    © Dr. Detlef Reis 2016. This article was published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on 29 September 2016.

  • How do you prefer to think, work, interact and live? (Part 1)

    Wouldn’t it be great if you understood what made everyone on your team tick — including yourself? That's why we've created a people-oriented innovation profiling method that I call TIPS. It’s based on my observation that people orient themselves towards one or two of these four dimensions: Theories and knowledge (T); Ideas (I); People (P); and Systems and processes (S).

    The preferences you orient yourself toward determine which of 11 innovator types you match most closely. In addition to this, there are four other variables that describe your preferences, and which will help you understand thinking, working, interacting and lifestyles — both yours and those of your team and organization.

    Understanding what drives behaviors at work

    The four TIPS Preferences with their three different expressions represent fundamental differences in people’s thinking style, work style and lifestyle preferences based on their preferred TIPS preferences. The preferences are: Figure vs Fantasy; Brain vs Brawn; Fact vs Feeling; and last but not least, Form vs Flow.

    It is important to note that each preference comes in three expressions: e.g., the three expressions of the fourth preference “Figure vs Fantasy” are: (a) Figure, (b) Figure & Fantasy, (c) Fantasy. These different expressions signify the major differences of people’s preferred style of thinking, working, interacting and living.

    Moreover, the different preference expressions can also help to better understand and manage the conflict potential of people according to their TIPS Innovation Profile. We explain the essence of each preference in the following paragraphs.

    How do you prefer to think?

    The Nobel Prize-winning neuropsychologist Roger Sperry tested the functioning of each of the two hemispheres of the neo-cortex (the powerful “outer shell” of the human brain) independently of the other in split-brain patients.

    In his resulting split-brain theory, Sperry noted important differences between the two cognitive functioning of the two hemispheres: the left hemisphere is said to be more analytic, rational and logical in nature, while the right hemisphere is more creative, holistic and intuitive.

    According to their thinking preferences, people are categorized in one of three groups: those who prefer to engage in cognitive activities related to analytical thinking (such as rational reasoning, numerical calculations, analysis, among others); those who enjoy practicing creative thinking (such as using your imagination, creating ideas, or creating metaphors); and those who feel comfortable in both analytical and creative thinking (integrated whole-brain thinkers).

    In Thinkergy’s TIPS Innovation Profile, we capture this notion with a preference called Figure vs Fantasy, which tracks whether people are more left-brain or right-brain-directed thinkers. If you’re a leader or manager, this preference helps you to identify who in your team is an analytical “number cruncher” (Figure); who is a more creative “dreamer” (Fantasy); and who is an integrated whole-brain thinker (Figure & Fantasy).

    What is interesting to note that left brain-directed thinkers tend to follow a linear-sequential, step-by-step approach in their thinking and aim to produce a specific solution, while right brain-directed thinkers prefer following a heuristic, more radiant and holistic cognitive approach that is more vague and open-ended.

    Moreover, Figure persons tend to be more critical thinkers who look to find the underlying problem when confronted with a challenge, while Fantasy persons prefer to take a positive, optimistic look on everything and look for the hidden opportunity in every challenge.

    Questions: How about you? Do you prefer to predominantly engage in analytical thinking? Or do you enjoy creative thinking and know how to use your imagination? Or do you see yourself as an integrated whole-brain thinker who feels at home both approaches?

    How do you prefer to work?

    While working on his theory of psychological types, the famous Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung noticed that some people preferred to focus their attention on details, while others tended to have “their head in the clouds” and to focus on more abstract matters.

    The second TIPS preference, Brain vs Brawn, checks the see whether people prefer to work as abstract conceptual creators (Brain) or as practical doers (Brawn). Of course, as with our first preference, there are also people who don’t mind working both on the details and on more abstract concepts, and who excel at flexibly switching between the small and big pictures (Brain & Brawn).

    Brawniacs put their work focus more on operational matters and tend to focus on the small picture (or pictures), while brainiacs enjoy looking at the big picture and prefer to work more on strategic issues. The former get satisfaction from completing a task due to their pronounced orientation toward short-term results, while the latter get it from achieving a goal (typically more medium- to long-term in nature).

    What is interesting about this TIPS preference is that brawniacs like to manage and execute, while brainiacs prefer to make and create. This helps you to understand why in most mature organizations, the practical doers and not the abstract thinkers tend to rise to the top of the hierarchy. We discussed this phenomenon in two earlier articles (“The creator-manager dilemma” and “The brainiac-brawniac scheduling conflict“).

    A final point worth mentioning: most brawniacs pride themselves as being specialists and love to give lots of explanations about their work, while brainiacs tend to look at themselves as being generalists who prefer to ask many questions.

    Questions: Are you a person who stands firmly with both feet on the ground and likes to take care of the details? Do you prefer to work “up in the cloud” on more conceptual, abstract challenges? Or do you enjoy flexibly shifting between detail-orientation and conceptual work?

    In the next column, we will look at the other two TIPS preferences, which will help you to understand how you — and the people around you — prefer to interact with others and live in this world.

     

    © Dr. Detlef Reis