I gave a talk at the Philly Emerging Technologies for the Enterprise earlier this week about managing the project portfolio. I was talking about people who start thinking at the 50,000 foot level (like me) and people who start thinking at the blades of grass level. We both move up and down, it’s just where we start.
I attempted (ahem) to give an example of how managers feel when they feel compelled to ask people to multitask. I said, “like in the Star Trek movie, where Luke and Leia are stuck in the trash compactor and the walls are closing in on them…”
There was a ripple in the audience, and I briefly wondered what it was, but no one said anything. A day later, one of the people who was in the audience came up to me and explained he was a blade-of-grass level person. “I knew you meant Star Wars, and you had gotten confused, but everyone else was nodding their heads (a typical 50,000 foot person reaction), so I didn’t say anything.”
Oh, that is so typical of us big-picture people. We say one thing (Star Trek), mean something else (Star Wars), it’s close enough (a science fiction movie). At least I then described the specific situation, so everyone caught up. Except, I’d left the blades-of-grass people still confused. They were still stuck on Star Trek vs. Star Wars, and correctly so.
On a real project team, one of those people would have said, “JR, do you mean Star Wars?” I would have said, “Oh, yes, thank you.” We would have gone on from there. Disaster averted. But the people in my talk were polite. (WHY??? They didn’t know me. Grumble. I have to get out more.)
This is why you need personality diversity, especially on complex projects. Imagine if you had only 50,000 foot people on a complex project. We would all be nodding our heads, imagining different science fiction movies. We need blades of grass people to ground us in reality, to say, “Do you mean ____?” I can sometimes play that role on projects, but it’s against my preferences, so I tire easily. The blades of grass people can play the 50,000 foot people too, and it’s against their preference, so they tire easily.
Consider personality type, if you can, as part of your hiring strategy. Don’t discriminate against or for, but if you can take advantage of another personality type in your hiring, do so. You won’t be sorry. And me, I have to practice my examples more!