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Hiring for Creative Abrasion

written by MO.com Subject Matter Resource Dana Williams

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” –George S Patton

Small business strategy should always include a roadmap for innovation. Your people will engineer the products and the processes that make you competitive. By creating teams that are not just diverse in terms of ethnicity, but also in emotional intelligence or thinking styles, you can accelerate the lifecycle of invention. Of course, you can’t make people adopt different thinking styles, but you can arrange thinking styles in such a way that your group’s productivity benefits from the different perspectives. When different thinking styles rub against each other, the creative sparks will fly. This is the idea behind creative abrasion.

Identifying thinking Styles

First let’s understand what a thinking style really means. A thinking style is an unconscious way a person processes dilemmas and interrelates with those around them. When faced with a problem, a person will usually approach it by thinking in the way he/she is most comfortable. Each style has particular advantages, and no style is better than the other.

The Myers Briggs type indicator breaks down thinking styles into 4 categories, each with opposing tendencies. Note that most people exhibit all 8 of these in some form or fashion.

Extroverts versus Introverts: These types tend to process information externally versus internally.

Sensing versus Intuitive: These people tend to be prefer data that is concrete (relatable to the five senses) versus abstract or conceptual ideas.

Thinking versus Feeling: These people prefer logical processes and order versus emotional cues or value based decision making.

Judging versus Perceiving: These types prefer closure over ambiguity.

In addition though, there is an alternative way at looking at thinking styles. According to the ancient study of Ayurveda, known as the science of life, there are 3 main doshas or mind-body principles that govern our style of thinking and behaving:

Vata types tend to always be on the go, with an energetic and creative mind. Vatas love excitement and new experiences. They are quick to anger but also to forgive.

Pitta types have a strong appetite for both information and experience. Pittas have a powerful intellect and a strong ability to concentrate. They are precise, sharp-witted, direct, and often outspoken.

Kapha types are people who tend to naturally be solid, reliable, and contented souls. Kaphas are naturally calm, thoughtful, and loving. They have an inherent ability to enjoy life and are comfortable with routine.

Conditions for Success

Develop a deep awareness of your own thinking style and begin to develop an appreciation for others. Select members of the group whose differing qualities play against each other—making sure that the “friction” advances rather than weakens the quality of ideas coming from the group. For example, build teams that have a variety of thinking styles, but assign project tasks to a pair that have opposing styles. Veteran subject matters experts will benefit from working with someone who unabashedly employs a beginner’s mind, unfettered by the prevailing wisdom.

Think holistically. It isn’t enough to hire one person who has a unique perspective. A lone ranger soon feels singled out and relegated. To get the full benefit of diverging styles, you need to begin by pulling in a critical mass of newbies with fresh perspectives. Afterwards, however, you need to proactively ensure that new members are thoroughly integrated into the existing teams. Start by explaining why you brought in new blood and why it is valuable to stir the pot with different perspectives and skills.

Fostering friction

In a creative team, friction can be a good thing: it hones ideas and improves creative inertia. But, as a leader, you must closely watch discussions. There is a fine line between positive and negative creative conflict. Make no mistake about it, creative abrasion does have its risks. When you put divergent thinking styles together in one room, the result will not be harmoniously congruent—otherwise, what fun would that be? Expect to have clashes—that way, you won’t be surprised when they occur. But you must be attentive, consistently asking yourself if the conflict is creative or not. When conflicts become too personal, morale drops and productivity will certainly suffer. It is highly recommended to have a process or outlet in place that lets members express concerns, or perhaps, just blow off steam.

Establish concise group norms, based upon your company values. This won’t prevent all personal conflict from happening, but they are very useful to turn to when there is a gridlock. Being able to refer team members back to the agreed-upon ways of behaving can help you restore a sense of order. To guarantee the free flow of ideas, adopt guidelines that:

• Demand respect for all members at all times

• Commit to active listening

• Nurture individual expression

• Praise deliberate risk taking

• Encourage a playful atmosphere

• Celebrate wins

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