People fascinate me.
We spend so much time trying to understand them, to build systems to organise them, and - unfortunately - too much time arguing about which one is right, or trying to get those people to use one they don’t buy into.
Over the years, I’ve become something of a student of this stuff, because of that fascination. A student of the workings of my own mind, because quite often it tries to get me to do things I know aren’t helpful, or it does something so wonderful that I want to find a way to make it happen more often. A student of the people that surround me, because quite often they can surprise me… in ways that are positive and not-so-positive.
This fascination - this study of people - gained a sense of urgency when I became a father. Suddenly, I was no longer the only recipient of my consequences. I had to be able to grow, support, guide, and direct the mind of a brand new human being. I found that I became a LOT more interested in how that process happens!
So, given this fascination, I have encountered a handful of helpful conceptual frameworks for understanding the behaviour and intentions of the people around me (and of course, my own), and I’d like to share some of them with you today.
Before we dive in, here are some ways you can take advantage of them:
At minimum, these are all applicable to the grand project of getting to know yourself, but you can also use them to figure out what may be making a colleague, superior, or direct report tick.
They’re great tools to use during 1:1 conversations, whether you’re the coach or the person receiving the coaching.
They’re helpful for team retrospectives, where you unpack the way in which things unfolded, rather than the results themselves.
If you’re a parent, or in a committed relationship, one of these may be just the thing you needed to unlock a… “character-building” situation you may find yourself in :-)
I’m a 10/10 introvert.
That’s according to Susan Cain’s Quiet Introvert/Extrovert test. It wasn’t surprising that I’m on this side of this continuum, but the degree to which I am actually so surprised me.
When I shared this news with a colleague, he was surprised - because he had only ever encountered my “pseudo-extrovert” persona, that I put on like a suit of clothing whenever it was time to be social.
Given my audience, it’s quite likely that you’re more introvert than extrovert too, and that you have an extrovert persona which you wear when needed.
Very often, the root cause of a ‘disturbance in the force’ with someone on your team can simply be that all their energy is being used in an excessively social setting. E.g. An open-plan office with no quiet-time rules, or scheduled focus time, can lead otherwise stable people to a frustrated madness.
This spectrum is one of the reasons why one size does not fit all, and why you need to negotiate a comfortable work setup for each person.
- Where are you on this spectrum?
- What about your working environment or team setup can you change to better support your nature, or the nature of those in your team?
This one’s golden. I’ve had so many productive coaching conversations thanks to this. And, I’ve become a lot more conscious of my own needs, and been able to meet them with far less fuss.
Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive, in which he unpacks what we currently understand about motivating human beings.
Here's a great 10 min video overview:
The heart of the matter is that there are basically two kinds of motivation - extrinsic (namely, Carrot and Stick), and intrinsic (Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose).
Although it’s vital that you get those first two right, the idea is that you can only ‘get’ so much using them. If you want truly phenomenal performance (for yourself, or for someone in your team), you need to focus on the last three.
This model is so useful, because each person is motivated by different things, to differing extents, and this framework makes no assumptions about what any person should have in either. I’ve used these 5 motoivators with great success in helping someone break out of a slump, resolve anxiety, or find growth areas to focus on.
If you use this model, be aware that each person has a different mix, and that this mix changes as people grow.
For instance, junior engineers typically have a major Mastery theme, but a modest Autonomy theme. As they grow into self-managing engineers, their Autonomy gradually rises to the level of their Mastery.
Some more experienced hands may have a more modest Mastery theme, and are more concerned with applying their talents according to a very clear Purpose, and with a high degree of Autonomy.
Personally, I both need and have a high degree of Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose. It’s my sweet spot, one I feel tremendously fortunate to occupy!
- What motivates you?
- Are your basic comforts and constraints suitable?
- If you’re struggling with something in your work life, see if you can map it to one of these motivators. Note that just as you may have too little of something, you may also have too much!
This is the one that underpins it all, for me. One of the intrinsic motivators above is Mastery - which I summarise as “learning and the application of that learning” - and it is a major theme of my personality.
Carol Dweck wrote a small book with a huge idea in it about Mindsets, which has unlocked an endless supply of Mastery for me: the Growth Mindset.
Fundamentally, it’s the idea that the story is never finished. Change is always possible. Improvement is always possible. The Japanese embody it with "Kaizen". Having told so many people about this already, I’ve come to summarise it with the pithy phrase “curiosity over identity,” which describes the way I use it in daily life.
I have no doubt that one day, I’m going to be able to trigger an instant eye-roll in my children with the phrase ‘growth mindset’, because they’re going to hear it a LOT :-)
Whether intended or not, the Clojure community champions this ideal - both in the way that it shamelessly uses good ideas from other communities, but also in the way that we entertain new ideas without judgment.
Of course, it’s not possible to operate without some fixed mindsets - and that’s OK. The point is, you choose them consciously, and you are able to unfix them if necessary. Another pithy summary could be "Strong opinions, loosely held.”
Over, and over, whenever someone is unhappy, or causing unhappiness for the people around them, I’ve found that it is because one or more unexamined fixed mindsets are in play.
If you’re having a tough time agreeing on something, or feel a dissatisfaction with the state of your environment or your team, look inward. Find your fixed mindsets about those things. See if you actually want those opinions - sometimes, they were put there long before you were able to choose them for yourself.
- Where are your fixed mindsets?
- What could you begin improving in your life today if you decided to get curious about it, instead of re-telling yourself the same tired story about it?
What’s crucial to note about all of these frameworks is that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ - there is only appropriate/inappropriate, suitable/unsuitable, skilful/unskilful (thanks, Buddhism!). If it’s not helping (and you’re pretty sure you’ve not misapplied it), find another way.
The truth is, like all models, they are approximations. They’re not truly describing you or the people around you, or their behaviours or attitudes. I don’t think we can ever truly do that. But, they are useful. And using them turns getting to know yourself, and the people around you, into a fascinating experience.
If you’re aware that something isn’t working in your team, or in your role, I encourage you to assess your preferences within each of these frameworks, and find where the mismatches are with the environment you’re in.
Then, use those differences to start a new conversation about how things can change, and to pick a tangible next action or two.
As I’ve found over and over, it’s often just the act of expressing things in terms of one or another of these models that brings enough fresh energy and perspective to the situation. As Carl Jung says, "To ask the right question is already half the solution of a problem.”
After all, we’re all creative problem-solvers - often, all we need is the right perspective, and our natural inclinations tend to take care of the rest!
A fixed mindset I know that I have is an intense dislike of advertising.
However, I’ve recently decided to share all my learning with the community as a consultant, and so, I’m having to advertise myself. This is proving to be quite a challenge!
I’m accepting that I have to make folks aware of what I’m offering. So, the fun is in finding a way to do this that doesn’t trigger my own highly developed advertising filter!
So - here goes:
I offer consulting on the wise use of the Clojure stack, but if you’d like me to help your team out with the sort of thing I’ve described above, I’d be most happy to do so. I may be of particular help if any of these models is new to you or your team.
Phew. I think I did OK. Growth mindset, right?
If nothing else, I hope that I have inspired you to re-examine your relationships - with yourself, and with the fine folks you’ve chosen to spend a great deal of your precious, irreplaceable time with - and find ways to deepen those bonds, and enjoy your time together more fully.
If I have inspired you, (or if I haven’t), I would love to know about it.