Tuesday, June 3, 2008

We don't need to build the Bentley... or do we?

It's been a while since I've been inspired. Some recent experiences have pushed me to the keyboard once again.

Lately, I've been seeing a common myopia (HAH! SEEING! MYOPIA! That's a joke son! Don't you get it? I'm too fast for you! You'll never learn nothing with your nose in a blog boy!) . The people who typically surround me are overachievers and we all seem to share a passion for excellence in what we do. This is not so strange. What is strange and interesting is that when we ask for something from others and have certain constraints (like time or money) we seem to lose some ability to empathize with the passion for excellence from the other party.

In a past life, we called it "building the Bentley syndrome" - the endemic need in groups of overachievers that nothing but their best work was remotely acceptable. In trying to lead teams of overachievers, I am constantly faced with this problem... and I think I have made some sort of break-through.

I've tried the "redefine" approach where "best" is subjective and requires a balance of all constraints to little avail.

I am loathe to try the "dictatorial" approach where my option is the only option. I feel that this option is doomed with people who bristle at authority.

Well, maybe break-through is a little strong. Gained some new insight is more appropriate. Maybe what people need is a little understanding and empathy. All the people around me want to create "remarkable" solutions and feel that shortcuts and delivering to managed expectations is not very remarkable. When challenged on their approach the replies basically come to this - it
is always easy to do something poorly. I agree with this sentiment - but my new retort will be, I understand your need to do your best work. I empathize with the need to shine. Please understand that even work that is half-assed by your standards will more than likely be better than anything the client has dreamed. Please empathize with the fact that the quality of work you are capable of delivering when you are not tying up every loose end will definitely exceed what the client is willing to pay for. Sometimes, if we deliver crisply, we leave clients wanting more. And over time, that delivery focus will lead to trust and partnership. That shared trust and context will allow us to do our best work and get paid appropriately for it.

Understanding & Empathy - Like em.


Kari said...

Stephen, I had no idea how intellectual you are! I am totally enjoying your blog!

anomalogue said...

Have you had better luck with this approach? It seems well-intentioned, but still not touching on the essential concerns of the perfectionist--especially not an introverted perfectionist, the most obstinate kind.

An extraverted perfectionist wants perfect outcomes according to the given problem, or wants to display his talents (as you put it, to "shine") and have them recognized. An introverted perfectionist, on the other hand, is generally performing to some very specific inward standard and is unlikely to respond positively to the appeals you are making here. In fact, if you characterize these appeals as acts of understanding or empathy you are likely to compound the frustration of the introverted perfectionist, and if you do not pick up on and respond to the frustrations, you risk being dismissed as presumptuous. You've got to be sure to really listen and not assume entering the situation that you have it figured out.

Introverts, in general, are pretty damn irrational under the surface. To authentically understand and to accurately empathize (to "feel in"), you at least need to grasp what it feels like to care intensely about something completely apart from utility, or really, from any justification. And admitting that you cannot really know what it is that is driving the introvert, but demonstrating respect for it by attempting to somehow find what that irrational drive essentially "wants to do" and harnessing it to solving the client's actual problem instead of something incidental to the problem (watch closely, you'll see that this is not uncommon) you'll win the trust of perfectionists. An introverted perfectionist is looking for his own kind of problem in things and he lives to solve this kind of problem. If he is unable to do this--if not legitimately, then illegitimately--a perfectionist introvert will feel like he is dead.

An extravert who finds a place in the world for an introvert where the introvert can do what he feels he was born to do and be valued for it will win the most intense gratitude and loyalty from the introvert. An extravert who lacks sensitivity to the vulnerability of introverts will trigger the introvert's self-defense mechanisms.

In the end, an extravert who understands introversion, and an introvert who learns to extravert (apply his introverted drives in the "outer world") will both find they are able to meet their inward and outward objectives together and create vital, living organizations with genuine soul capable of doing miraculous things n individual could dream of.

Let me know if you want to talk about this further. There's a lot of power in this line of thought.