After ten years in the design field, you learn a couple things. If I had to narrow down all my experience and pass on just one tidbit of knowledge, it would be the fact that in order for a project to succeed, you must focus more on the people involved than the timeline, budget, and project specifications. In order for a project to be successful, it takes everyone moving in the same direction. I know that sounds obvious. Everyone must be on the same page – have one voice – work as a unified group. We’ve heard it all before, but to say it is one thing; to do it is quite often a different matter. It’s often my job to bring together two things more opposite than oil and water. I have to make marketing and IT into chocolate and peanut butter. The two great tastes that taste great together. In order for a website to truly be successful, it needs good marketing to draw people in. It needs great content to keep them around and it needs great backend applications that allow the users to easily complete a transaction - be it purchasing an item, downloading content, or requesting more info. Whatever the end goal, that process must be seamless and intuitive to the user. That means that IT and marketing MUST work hand in hand. The user must not see where one department ends and another starts.
The free spirited, live-life-as-it-comes person will approach a problem much differently than the calculating person who must have everything planned out. It seems obvious. But what people fail to realize is that not everyone thinks like they do. People today tend to view ‘different’ as a negative. We want everyone to be the same and the suggestion of ‘different’ is a slippery slope to ‘not equal’ which leads to ‘not as good as.’ Not true. It has nothing to do with talent which people often wrongly associate with self-worth. Well, we’re all different, so we are not equal and no, I’m not as good at some things as other people. So what. I’m no Tiger Woods on the golf course. Big deal. That doesn’t make less of a person. That doesn’t make me bad, I just suck at golf. But I can write code better than Tiger. This isn’t a case of who’s right and who’s wrong. Different can just be different. It’s just the understanding that people “think different” and therefore approach problems or challenged differently. One way may be better than another, but that does not negate all aspects of the lesser way.
If you ask a "creatively" inclined person what the name "Old El Paso Salsa" evokes emotionally, they'll easily give you an answer. It comes naturally to them. If you ask an "analytically" inclined person the same question, they'll simply blink at you in confusion (and probably think it's a foolish question). I'm not saying either group is better or worse. They are simply different. We need both. It's just a matter of recognizing the type of person and knowing what type of job to give them. Trying to force an analytical person into a creative role will only make them frustrated. Best case scenario, they "try and fix the problem" by applying methodologies that they understand to a foreign problem. You would end up with a micro managed brand name that explicitly and fully states what the product is in a very unimaginative and straightforward manner. You’d get "Farmers' Best International Fresh Mango Pineapple Salsa with Lime" and a tagline of "no preservatives". It says what the product is, but it doesn't evoke any reaction or emotion from the customer. You can’t blame the “analytical” thinker. They did their best. If you put someone in a role they are not suited for, they will fail. The person well suited for the job could have done it 5 times faster, cheaper, and easier. But we often do this in business. We plug people into roles they are not suited for and then wonder why the end product wasn’t so good. Put them in a role they are good at. Get them in there to ground everything the “creatives” are doing. They are there to make sure that the “creatives” are considering all the parameters of the project.
You need a combination of these things, but they must be balanced according to the criteria established by the project. There is a time and a place for each and the important thing is to know when and how much weight to put on everyone’s different role.
Put the “analytic” in the room during a “creative” brainstorm session and it’s a train wreck waiting to happen. The “creatives” are firing off ideas in the “safe” environment of a thought shower where no idea is a bad idea. If an “analytical” is there shooting down ideas as they come, the creativity will dry up faster than a noon-day sprinkle in the desert.
It’s simply a matter of knowing everyone’s strengths and what they bring to the table. Play to their strengths and know throughout the process how much weight to put on everyone’s opinion. In the brainstorming meeting the “analyticals'” opinion carries 2% weight. In the meeting where the “creatives’'” are presenting their ideas, the “analyticals'” opinion carries 85% weight. The conference room isn’t a missionary trip to convert the unfaithful to your way of thinking. So don’t try. It’s a mistake to think you can change the way someone thinks. You can change their opinion on a topic, but you can’t change how they think through a problem. Understand that and also have some insight into their approach, even if it doesn’t work for you. At least you know where they are coming from. It’s not about touchy-feely understanding how Bob really feels on the inside. It’s about getting the job done as saving some time. If you have a clue where Bob is coming from, you can disagree, but understand his thought process and move forward together to improve the idea – and no one feels insulted, disgruntled, or unmotivated.
The bottom line for success is to go with the flow. That is not to suggest being lax or flippant. But be open and patient. Understand that others have a different opinion and different way to solve a problem. Play to their strengths and don’t try and make them something they are not. We need to know when speak up and when to keep our mouths shut. We need to know our role in the company universe and know when our opinion matters and when it doesn’t. Yes, I said it. Sometimes our opinion doesn’t matter. Our point may be very valid – just not right now. It’s called a pen. Write it down and bring it up at the appropriate time. Because it’s truly about making the project a success and in order to do that, everyone must have ownership in it. To get respect, you have to give respect. To be heard, you must listen. Know you’re role and understand that sometimes it’s about you and sometimes it’s not…and that’s okay.