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The Story of Us
how understanding your own strengths helps you
A long time ago, I took a long-form Meyers Briggs evaluation as part of a leadership course I was in at Microsoft. For the record, I’m an INTP, but my experience with MBTI (Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator) over the years has been quite similar to the letter to MBTI that Adam Grant wrote here (TL;DR - not enough science).
I found that MBTI was much better for understanding other people than myself, but more and more, I realized that it just wasn’t that good.
Later, Brent (the ‘B’ in AB Testing) suggested I do the StrengthsFinders evaluation. I did it (Strategic | Learner | Achiever | Analytical | Intellection), read the book, and sort of filed it away. It was interesting, felt accurate, but didn’t really help me. As you can tell from my last seventy-eight posts (give or take), I love and value learning. My secret super ability is the ability to learn new things quickly, and it’s how I stay relevant - but I don’t really need to fill out a survey to know that. And sure - I’m good at coming up with plans and figuring out how to get shit done, but i didn’t need a survey for that either. It’s interesting to do these surveys, nod your head, and say, “Yep, that’s me”, but not know what to do with it. So I take these surveys, nod my head, and file them away to be forever forgotten.
I’ve done “a few” others: The Big Five (top category is “openness to experience”, duh), Kolbe A Index (6-3-7-4), Insights (Blue-Red), Hogwarts House (Slytherin), and others I’ve probably forgotten about.
They’re all sort of interesting, and while they all more or less describe me, I don’t know what to do with the results. Many years ago when I had an office at Microsoft, I pinned a few of the documents with results and analysis on my door and labeled it “Owner’s Manual for Alan”. That’s the closest I’ve come to knowing what to do with these things that are supposed to tell me who I am. I realized at some point that I already knew who I was - what I wanted to understand was how I worked.
It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of Patrick Lencioni. His pragmatic advice and models speak to the way I like to work. But, I think I’d like his “Working Genius” model even if I wasn’t such a fan of his prior work. His latest book, The 6 Types of Working Genius is worth the read, but my knowledge of the model grew out of listening to his podcasts every week. It was fantastic to watch the model grow and get bite-sized explanations every week (although for me, it took away from the book a bit knowing the model so well ahead of time).
You can go read Lencioni’s take on this at Working Genius, but I’ll paraphrase here. The idea behind his model is that there are six essential phases needed to go from idea to delivery, and that people are generally really good at two (your “working genius”), have two they don’t really like at all (“working frustrations”), and two sort of in the middle. The non-rocket science message is that if you do the work that you enjoy, you get energy, and the work that frustrates you, drains you. But what makes his model so much different than the others is that (for me, at least), it’s very clear what part of the process I’m good at and should focus on, and how I need to work with others to address my gaps.
Here’s my quick take on the six different geniuses.
Projects often start with wonder. Pondering what is possible and coming up with ideas is essential - but not for me. More on that later.
When we have ideas, we need to invent solutions.
Then, we need people with discernment to ask questions about the solutions. We need to figure out if the idea is feasible, affordable - or even that it solves the right problem.
But once we’ve vetted the idea, we need to get people organized and inspiredaround getting things done. This is the galvanizing phase.
Now that people are working, we need to enable them via encouragement or assistance as needed.
And finally, we need people with tenacity to push things to completion.
My working geniuses are discernment and galvanizing. I am really good at asking questions and making sure ideas are fleshed out. I also like getting people organized around getting stuff done. This stuff is fun for me - and it’s where I spend the bulk of my time as a leader. If this was the end, I’d know about as much as I know from the other models. But there’s more.
As I hinted above, wonder is one of my frustrations. I’ve been in meetings with people pondering what if’s for minutes that felt like hours, and it’s drained the crap out of me. According to my results, enablement is also a frustration for me - but not nearly as draining. For a long time, I wondered why I would get so frustrated when people would spend an entire meeting pondering (when I could be working!!!), but now I know.
It’s well worth pointing out that everyone ends up doing all six working geniuses at some points. Like my ACM model, we all will inevitably end up doing some work that is not our favorite. But knowing what we are good at - as well as what others around us are good at, increases our odds of success. For example, I hate wondering and pondering. I’d rather drink battery acid. But I know that I need to have wonderers around me, because I know that work needs to get done. I don’t mind inventing, but if it’s another team member’s genius, I’m going to leverage them to invent. Then I can step in for the middle stages of asking questions and getting everyone rallied before finding the folks with enablement and tenacity geniuses to get us to the finish line.
What’s really stood out for me with this model is that in addition to telling me a little more about what kind of work motivates vs. drains me, it puts that into the context of an entire project cycle. For me, that’s been a really powerful way to think about how things get done.
Some day, maybe I’ll decide that Lencioni’s model is also more horoscope than science, but for now, I’m a fan.