Thinking Methods



An Introduction

People think about things in different ways

Most people-----, most of the time,----- think about things in onl yone way. Some people occasionally use two ways of thinking. Very, very few people ever approach a situation in more than two ways. Almost no one, whether a one-way or a two- way thinker, understands his or her limitations. All of us think about things the way we do because it is the “right” way.


When we approach problems or decisions, we employ a set of specific strategies, whether we know it or not. Each of us has a preference for a limited set of thinking strategies. Each set of strategies has its strengths and liabilities . Each is useful in a given situation, but each can be catastrophic if overused or used inappropriately. Yet almost all of us learn only one or two sets of strategies, and we go through life using them no matter the situation.


All around us we see people achieving success using strategies very different from our own, but despite the evidence we persist in the ways that we believe work for us. We impose our own limitations, and we find it hard to understand those who persist in their own peculiar methods.


When we succeed in our efforts, we are pleased because our values are confirmed. When we fail, we rationalize and, most often, blame others for our failure or ascribe it to plain bad luck. We seldom take the trouble to learn new ways of thinking . If we were to do so, we would expand our adaptability to problem situations and to the events of daily life.


Why This Book Was Written This is a book about how to make fewer stupid decisions . It is also about us expanding your repertoire of strategies for asking questions, making decisions, solving problems, and getting along better with all those odd people who do things differently from you.


As practitioners in the behavioral sciences, consultants and teachers, we have worked with individuals and groups in all walks of life but particularly in formal organizations. Most of our work can be described in two general ways: helping people ask better questions, in order to make better decisions and solve problems more efficiently; and helping people work together and communicate much more effectively.


It doesn’t seem to matter how much people like each other, or how well they get along together, or how agreeable their personalities are. When it comes to a matter of solving a problem or making a decision, any two people, chosen at random, are not only likely to approach the situation differently, but they seem to be looking at two very different situations. When a problem-solving group is made up of six, twelve, or fifty people, the situation becomes quite bewildering. It’s no wonder so many people say they hate meetings!


Confronted again and again by such observations in our work, we spent a great deal of time pointing out to people that their procedures in problem solving were indeed different. But all they had to do, we used to say, was allow for their differences in procedure and try to negotiate an understanding on their goals, on the end result of whatever it was they were trying to work out. If people would only agree on goals, then the rest of it would follow, because the differences and the conflicts were merely about matters of approach. They were differences in means, not ends.


We were wrong. But we were right, too. We were right in understanding that the problems people experience with each other derive from differences in approach. What we failed to understand, for a long time, was how fundamental such differences are.


We were wrong in our insistence that, “If we can just agree on the goals, everything else will follow.” That statement, we realize now, is itself a statement about an approach and a set of values. It is a statement about a particular thinking strategy, which happens to be the one we now call the strategy of the Idealist.


Thus we began an investigation that led us to the notion that the way people think about things might be the basic key to individual differences, interlinked with, but more fundamental than, differences in personality. We read widely what others have written about thinking and became more convinced that thinking strategically might not be merely something people do in order to solve problems and make decisions, but something they do because that is the way people are constructed.


Our first need was to acquire a framework with which to describe the various Styles of Thinking and a means of measuring and testing individual preferences for them. We then tested the practicality and usefulness of both the ideas and the measuring device with a large number of clients and associates. The testing showed them to be of such value that writing this book seemed almost a necessity.


What You Can Learn from This Book


Once you have read this book, taken the exercises that are included in it, and then practiced some of the steps that we recommend, you should realize a number of useful benefits.

          First, you will understand your own Style of Thinking, the styles of other people who are important to you, and the differences between them. Once you know your own preferences in approach and those of others—and can recognize the many differences—you will have a springboard toward becoming a more adaptable and versatile problem solver, not only in terms of day-to-day situations but in terms of your working relationships with others.

          Second, you will be able to identify your own blind spots. You will learn to recognize the errors into which your preferred Style of Thinking is likely to lead you, and the kinds of situations in which they occur. Once you have this kind of knowledge, it is a relatively easy task to learn to compensate for your blind spots and to avoid errors—not all the time, of course, but more often than you do now.

          Third, you will learn how to use your existing strengths more productiveIy. We are not interested in changing you, or even in changing your basic approach to life and the world. Your existing strengths are vital and essential to you. What you will get from this book are some useful ideas about making your strengths work for you more manageably and effectively.

          Fourth, you will learn a number of practical and accessible methods for augmenting and expanding your Style of Thinking. That is, you will be able to broaden your repertoire. You can acquire new strategies for approaching work and life situations more productively, leading to enhanced individual success and improved relations with others.

          Fifth, you will learn some specific methods for influencing and commun-icating.with others in the most effective way.


How to Know a Synthesist

When You See One

S YNTHESISTS ARE VERY APT TO APPEAR CHALLENGING,  SKEPTICAL, OR SATIRICALLY AMUSED , even when you can see no cause for any of that. They like to express concepts rather than specifics; they can appear out of touch with concrete reality. They are prone to expressing very opposite points of view, especially to what is popular or upon which everyone else seems to agree.

Besides their enjoyment of speculation, Synthesists like to point out the absurdities in a situation. “Look at us. Here we are busily planning next year’s budget, and the whole company might go out of business tomorrow.” Sometimes they just don’t seem to take things as seriously as others of us would like.

Synthesists enjoy speculative, philosophical, intellectual argument, so long as it doesn’t get too somber and the silliness of the act of argument itself it acknowledged. They are apt to use parenthetical expressions, qualifying adjectives and phrases—especially words like “essentially,” “primarily,” ‘‘more or less,’’ and ‘‘relatively.” They engage in digressions that sometimes seem to have no relevance to the matter at hand. But if you listen carefully, they usually have relevance, though you may have to grope for it.

Synthesists dislike talk that seems simplistic, superficially polite, fact-centered, and repetitive, or “mundane.” They may or may not be “deep thinkers,” but they often sound that way. Sometimes they sound as if they think they know the secrets of the universe. The next minute what they are saying sounds just silly. And here is one almost sure clue: When you hear someone expressing a well-argued, philosophical, profound idea, and then the person suddenly breaks off and pokes fun at his or her very own idea, you know you are hearing a Synthesist.

The strategies favored by Synthesists can add an enormous amount to the richness and variety of anyone’s thinking . Synthesists themselves can be exciting people to have around, but for almost nine out of ten of us, our first problem with Synthesist s Synthesists themselves. They are “different.”

Synthesist Grand Strategy: The Dialectic

A good part of that differentness comes from the grand strategy of the Synthesist— the Dialectic. In formal academic terms, the dialectical approach to knowledge rests on these three elements:

Thesis—that which already exists, or which is known, accepted, generally believed.

Antithesis—what is new in the world, just emerging and becoming known, not yet accepted, and which challenges popular belief.

Synthesis—the new, original, “creative” result of the integration of the thesis and antithesis.

The dialectical approach assumes that the thesis and the antithesis are in conflict. It also assumes that conflict is a creative process. In our society, conflict is not most generally accepted in that way, nor is the dialectic itself a generally accepted mode of inquiry.

Thus we can see why Synthesists might appear “different” from the start. While the particular Synthesist of your acquaintance may not be consciously aware that he or she uses an approach formally known as the dialectic, nevertheless that is the very foundation of that person’s way of asking questions and solving problems.




Synthesist Strategy #1:

 Open Argument and Confrontation

The Synthesist isn’t at all averse to direct confrontation, for the purpose of having disagreement acknowledged and dealt with. Even if the Synthesist is personally one of the two sides of the argument, that presents no difficulty. Though it’s usually more fun to be a third party while someone else fights.

Here is an example. Warren is often retained by companies as a trainer for the very purpose of helping to build a coordinated, harmonious executive team. The process that he uses works something like this:

Warren meets separately with individual executives. He gathers confidential information from each one about things that are going well in the company and things that aren’t goingwell. Typically , a good deal of the information is about otherexecutives who are doing things that the person interviewedthinks are nonproductive or worse.

Warren then has a meeting of the whole group. There, he feeds back” the information he gathered during the interviews. The intent is for the group to acknowledge and identify the problems that have emerged from the interviews. With Warren’s help, they then try to find ways to solve some of the problems.

Even though any number of interpersonal conflicts clearly showed up in the interviews, it frequently happens that the group shies away from dealing with them in open forum. Warren, a confirmed Synthesist, is convinced that such “personality” issues are among the most important in an executive team, and that they must be dealt with if the team is to work effectively.

After a time, if the group continues to avoid talking about its interpersonal problems, Warren will try this technique. First, he seats the members of the team in a circle, so they can all see each other. Then he says: “I am going to count out loud to three. When I say ‘Three’ I want each of you to point to the person in this room who gives you the most problems.”

Sometimes, of course, people will still refuse to participate. Hands remain clenched in laps, index fingers twitching. But when the experiment works, it works most dramatically. It is certainly a way to get a conversation started. And that is all that Warren wants to happen.

This rather daring technique stems from a basic Synthesist assumption: that conflict is bound to be present in a given situation, so why not bring it out and deal with it? And because of that assumption, and perhaps their need for achievement, most Synthesists will often become impatient with a drawn-out process, and have at it as soon as possible. Why not? the Synthesist thinks. It’s bound to come out in time.

To others, the approach can seem aggressive or abrasive, even destructive. To the Synthesist, it’s just a matter of common sense, of the way the world is. The strategy consists of voicing all sides of the argument, and in that way confronting it. A vital part of the Synthesist Style of Thinking is to feel the reality of all the conflicting viewpoints.


Asking Dumb-Smart Questions

Keith Peters is a computer expert who markets software and programming to various companies. Let’s tune in, for a moment, to his conversation with a new client, an executive vice-president of an insurance company.

CLIENT:     Well, Mr. Peters, now that you’ve had a chance to look over our data processing system, I assume you’re in a position to say how you migh t help us.

KEITH:       I might be. What did you have in mind by way of help?

CLIENT:     Well, in my opinion, we’re strong in the Claims and Underwriting areas. Our data bases are very good there. What I had in mind was our Actuarial data base. And Investments too. We don’t seem to get timely information in either area. Any ideas?

KEITH:       Sure. You don’t need timely Actuarial information. You need good, accurate projections, that’s all. And you don’t need computer software for that. All you need is a couple more good technical assistants to the Actuary, with a pair of high-speed calculators.

CLIENT:     Oh, really!

KEITH:       Right. And your basic problem with investments is that your Investment Officer isn’t on top of things. All he needs to do is get to work two hours earlier, so that he’s in touch with the East Coast market on time. You have more basic problems than that.

CLIENT:     We have?

KEITH:       You said your Claims data base is sound?

CLIENT:     I did.

KEITH:       It depends on what you want to get out of it. Right now, all you have is a fancy accounting system. I think you need more sophisticated informat ion than you’re getting.

CLIENT:     Can you help with that?

KEITH:       Not yet. You have still a more basic problem.

CLIENT:     What, for heaven’s sake?

KEITH:       Your present data processing staff isn’t capable of designing a basic Claims system, much less new, sophisticated data bases.

CLIENT:     So what do I do?

KEITH:       Beef up the staff, and bring in a heavy training program. After that, we might be able to help you.

CLIENT:     Look, this isn’t what we called you in for.

KEITH:       What’s your basic business?

CLIENT:     Why, selling insurance, of course.

KEITH:       Wrong. Your basic business is moving money. You’re losing a great deal of money in Claims. And you can’t correct that until your systems people are competent enough to give you proper information.

In Keith’s case, of course, whether or not he gets the conract depends on the client. A client who can survive having his basic assumptions called into question, who can tolerate being told that he is looking into the wrong problem, who can adjust to flat-out disagreement, might award the contract to someone like Keith Peters, other things being equal. But for many, it’s a bit hard to take.


Participating from the Sidelines

This strategy demands a special skill, which can be learned, and seems to come more naturally to Synthesists than to other people.

Perhaps it is because Synthesists tend to be “outsiders” (remember, they are only 11 percent of us). Participating from the Sidelines, also known as third-party observation, means to be part of the action, but above it or outside it at the same time. The key questions are: “What’s going on here?” and “What part am I playing in this?”

Arbitrators, judges, statesmen, college presidents, and city managers need to develop Synthesist skills, because strategies such as this one are essential to their roles and their performance.

The third-party tendency can be a source of great discomfort to Synthesists if it is not understood . It is not comfortable, after all, always to feel something of an outsider. But once the tendency is understood, and developed as a skill and a very purposeful strategy, it becomes very powerful.

Therapists, ministers, marriage counselors must cultivate the skill. To the extent that they are comfortable with the Synthesist orientation they are likely to be that much more successful and less emotionally stressed from their connection with the torn lives of others. The strategy requires the ability to observe, to make some inferences about what lies beneath superficial behavior, to feed back what has been observed without judging or condemning, and in that way to help people get fresh insights into what they are doing. It also requires a good deal of strength and emotional stamina, because that kind of feedback isn’t terribly welcome for many people.

We can’t see ourselves in action, after all, as well as someone else can. If we are genuinely interested in knowing how others see us, a skilled Synthesist may be the best person to ask.


Speculation and Fantasy

We said earlier that speculation is a tendency of the Synthesist. It can also be a deliberate strategy, the key question being , “What if... ?“ “What if we let Johnny have his own car, even though he’s never taken care of anything in his life?” “What if we threw out all the computers?” “What if we decided to move to good old Montana and start a magazine?”

The Synthesist regards questions like these as creative. They can open up new horizons, stimulate thinking. Committed Synthesists find that they have to be careful with the strategy. It needs to be used judiciously. In many situations to other people, it can sound silly, irrelevant, frivolous. “We’re dealing with facts here, not speculation!” To some people it can be maddening, anxiety-raising, especially if the Synthesist is the boss.

We once worked with a large regional planning agency, where a new executive director had recently taken over. The executive director, Terry Sandoz, was young, energetic, curious, and given to the speculative habit of saying, “What if .. .. ... ? “ For his staff, Terry proved to be something of a problem. Every time he said “What if... ... ?“ someone ran off to start a new project.

The director of planning would call in one of his division heads. “Terry wants a study done on the feasibility of merging the police and fire departments of Lake Villa and Franklin Woods.” The division head would hold an emergency meeting of his staff. “Hold everything. We have a new project.” Six people would go to work fulltime for a month gathering data, analyzing, writing a report, compiling tables. The report would come back three times from the director of planning,

wanting more details.

Finally the report reaches Terry. “What’s this for?” he asks. The director of planning reminds him that he requested the study. “I did? When?” He is reminded of the date and circumstances.

“For heaven’s sake,” Terry says. “You and I were talking about the general subject of public safety consolidation, and I happened to be looking at a map. All I said was , ‘What if......Lake Villa and Franklin Woods were to consolidate?’ It just jumped out at me from the map. I was only speculating . I didn’t mean a formal study to be done!”

Meanwhile the same sort of thing was going on all over the agency, with staff members complaining that priorities were constantly changing because of Terry’s “demands.” At last, it took a retreat by Terry and his senior staff meeting with a full-scale staff before people began to understand that Terry loved to say “What if . .. ... ?“ He was not issuing commands. Once people began to understand that, some of them even came to enjoy it.


Proposing “Far-Out” Solutions

William J. J. Gordon, in his book Synectics, which is about creative problem solving, shows how “play and irrelevance” can be important elements of an original solution. In one of our favorite passages from his book, a group of problem solvers has been assigned the task of designing a container that will dispense everything from glue to nail polish. To work well: the opening of the container must close tightly and cleanly after each use. Here is the end of the problem- solving conversation:

D: When I was a kid I grew up on a farm. I used to drive a hayrack behind a pair of draft horses. When a horse would take a crap, just his outer..... . I guess  you’d call it a kind of mouth, would open. Then the anal sphincter would dilate and a horseball would come out. Afterwards, everything would close up again. The whole picture would be clean as a whistle.

B: You’re describing a plastic motion.

D: I guess so. . . . Could we simulate the horse’s ass in plastic?

This is a fine example of problem-solving playfulness strategy that Synthesists tend to enjoy thoroughly . But, as with speculation, Synthesists find they have to be most judicious with its use. Most people, when they have a problem to solve, are very serious about it. Synthesists who are too free with their tendencies are apt to find themselves thrown out of the room.


 Negative Analysis

This is a most valuable strategy, one that we believe should be cultivated by more people, especially in organizational decision making. It would save so much time, trouble, and money if, after an important decision has been reached, someone were to say: “What will go wrong if we go ahead with this?”

The trouble is, many people find such questions annoying, if not downright rude and disruptive. Idealists, for instance, want to have everyone rally around their decisions, because now everything is going to be all right and everyone is going to be happy and work together toward implementation . Realists hear such questions as disputations, arbitrarily questioning the facts and threatening the consensus that they value so highly. Analysts, as careful, thoughtful planners, object to such questions as irrelevant: “Haven’t we already covered all the contingencies in our plan?”

Psychologist Jerry Harvey wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review a number of years ago called “The Abilene Paradox.” Here is a summary of his story.

Harvey and his wife were visiting his in-laws at their house in a small town about sixty miles from Abilene. It was a hot summer day, and to keep cool they spent a pleasant afternoon playing dominoes and sipping lemonade on a shaded patio.

Late in the afternoon someone (no one was ever quite sure who) said, “What do you think about going to Abilene for dinner?”

Someone else said, “Why not?”

Another said, “Sounds okay to me.” Before long they were all in the car on their way to Abilene.

It turned out to be a hot, miserable drive to the city. The family had a dinner that wasn’t very good. After another long, hot ride they all arrived home tired and out of sorts.

Whose idea was that, anyway?” someone said.

I thought it was yours.’’

Well, I was only making a suggestion.”

I said yes only because I thought it was something you wanted to do.”

They discovered that no one had really wanted to go to Abilene. But they all went and had a miserable time because no one took the risk of going beneath superficial politeness and assumed agreement to point out why the trip might not be a good idea.

Harvey used this anecdote as an example of what happens to many people, groups, and organizations because of similar behavior. The trip to Abilene was an example of “group-think,” the phenomenon of everyone going along because no one wants to seem “negative.” People keep their thoughts to themselves: “Everyone else seems happy about it—there must be something wrong with me.” Yet, under the circumstances, some form of devil’s advocacy may be exactly what is needed.

Devil’s advocates are not well received by many people. They can sound to others like negativists. Yet the strategy of negative analysis can be of enormous value in helping to prevent bad decisions. It is a special strategy of Synthesists, but very unfortunately one that they often find themselves having to suppress, in order not to be seen as troublemakers.


Let’s return to Keith Peters, the marketing director for a computer software firm. He is a brilliant man, as everyone says who knows him . As a computer expert, he excels at those brilliant flashes of insight which characterize what we know of the creative genius . He can put ideas together in original combinations that would seldom occur to other people. His success in marketing is a result of those skills: in a remarkably short time, he can look over a customer’s data processing system, think about it from several different points of view, and quickly “see” what needs to be done. Clients are most impressed with his ability (though some are scared off by it), and business is thriving.

A few years ago, when Keith was working in Boston, he needed a home far’ his family. He traveled to the suburb of Marblehead, famous for its Colonial houses, fell in love with a great, rambling old home, and bought it. It was just too unusual for Keith to pass up. His house had six bathrooms, and every weekend it seemed another toilet was out of order, another hot-water shower outlet leaked. Those problems were symptomatic of the house as a whole. It was a venerable, romantic, rundown mess . It would have been ideal for a person with the time, motivation, and skill to restore it. But Keith was a busy man during the week, and he treasured his weekends for relaxation and his hobby, sailing. The house at Marblehead turned out to be a disaster for him.

Keith Peters is a Synthesist thinker. It is the Synthesist quality of mind that produces those penetrating and unusual solutions to problems. It is also what makes Keith seem something of an oddball to his friends and some of his clients. Synthesists are capable of truly exciting mental gymnastics, because they are willing to look at things from odd points of view. They can perform astounding achievements because they are open to ideas that to other people might seem “far out” or absurd. In other words, they are willing to take substantial risks in their thinking.

But that same ability causes them sometimes to make personal decisions that bring them grief. That is because of their attraction to the strange, the unusual, and the new, and their lack of attention to the mundane, the ordinary, and the details of things —such as the bathrooms in Marblehead.

Synthesists tend to be people who believe they have important things to say. They find it stressful and even threatening when they feel they aren’t being listened to. Then they are likely to “act out,” often by using their style unproductively —inappropriate humor, irrational playfulness, pointed satire and sarcasm. When a Synthesist comes across as a trouble-maker, it is usually because his or her intellectual pride and authority aren’t being properly stroked. Because Synthesists are so interested in conflict, disagreement, and the process by which such differences take place, they often appear lacking in personal commitment. A common Synthesist liability is a lack of follow-through and attention to the details of carrying out a decision. That is because, once a decision is made, a problem solved, or a conflict resolved, the situation is no longer of interest to Synthesists. They would prefer to go off and find a new conflict. They have a way of remaining uninvolved, of being able to stand back and say, “Isn’t that interesting?” while everyone else is emotionally overloaded.

The strength-liability paradox of the Synthesist can be summed up like this. When Synthesists make a right decision, the result can appear an act of brilliance. When they make a wrong one, it can be catastrophic, because it is so far off the mark.

Or to put it another way: Don’t look to a Synthesist for caution or moderation. They like to do things in a big way or not at all.



How to Know an Idealist

When You See One.

I DEALISTS LOOK AND RESPOND ATTENTIVELY AND RECEPT- IVELY. They show a supportive, open smile. They do a good deal of head-nodding. They give verbal and nonverbal feedback that serves to encourage you to be open with them, to trust them, to see them as helpful and receptive. They may not be aggressive in offering their own ideas and opinions, but they listen and they welcome yours.

Idealists are apt to express their feelings, their values, their ideas about what’s good for people, the community, society. They express concern about goals and the long- range aspects of things.

The tone of Idealists tends to be hopeful and inquiring. They ask a lot of questions, but sometimes their questions sound tentative, even apologetic. They don’t like to step on other people’s toes, or to sound challenging. Above all, they are most uncomfortable with conflict or open argument. They want people to agree, and to be “nice” to each other, and they often will show, in their openness and receptivity, a strong tendency to trust others, sometimes more than is wise.

Idealists enjoy feeling-level discussions about people and their problems, and abstract discussions about philosophy and ethics—so long as the discussion does not become acrimonious. They dislike talk that seems data-bound, too heavily factual, or “dehumanizing.” They hate openly conflictual argument.


Assimilative Thinking

“Wholesomeness,” then, has two meanings in termsof the Idealist. The one we are concerned with here is the one that can be defined as the assimilative approach. It rests on two basic Idealist assumptions.

The first assumption is that the world can be a better place, and people can live well together in it harmoniously, if only they can agree on overall goals. That is, the Idealist believes that disagreement and differences can be assimilated and harmonized.

The second is what we might call the “holistic” assumption. Everything is somehow connected with everything else. In order to understand any problem, we need to look at the total context. It is another form of assimilation, in which we try to look at the relationships of things and events with a broad perspective.

Some form of assimilative thinking seems to characterize most Idealist thinking processes. Hence we can call it the Idealist Grand Strategy. All of the specific Idealist strategies flow from that source.


 Focus on the Whole

Here is a dialogue involving the supervisor of a secretarial pool and two clerks.

SUPERVISOR:     I’d like your opinions about the new invoice form from the Planning Department—the one for consumable supplies. Have you had a chance to look at it? What do you think? 

ADELE:      Well, it looks pretty simple and straightforward to me. It’s no more work for us than the old one. Just the boxes are in a little different arrangement.

SUPERVISOR:     What do you think we need to do?

ADELE:      Not much. A half-hour orientation session for the pool should do it to train them.

SUPERVISOR:     Jerry, what do you think?

JERRY:       Well, there are a couple of things I’m a trifle concerned about.


JERRY:       For one thing, it looks almost identical now to the form for nonconsumables. I’m afraid the order clerks in the departments might find it confusing. Errors could be made, don’t you think?

SUPERVISOR:     I see. Good point.

JERRY:       And while it’s no more work for us, it seems to me that the form requires more information than is really needed. Especially the parts that the clerks in supply have to complete. I’m afraid they’ll feel overloaded.

SUPERVISOR:     Well, that’s fine, Jerry, but is all that really our concern?

JERRY (apologetically): Maybe not. But I’m just thinking about the company as a whole.

Jerry’s point is that in order to understand the pros and cons of the new form, it needs to be looked at in a total context. When Idealists talk this way they are worth listening to. By looking at the whole, thinking about relationships, being concerned about the feelings of others, they can force us to focus on the real impact of our decisions and actions. A simple form can look like merely a simple form to the rest of us. In a complex organization that simple form can have all sorts of large ramifications. In order to understand them, the problem has to be looked at in a broad context.


The Long- Range View

Several years ago, we were asked to help with the merger of two community volunteer groups, who wanted to join together in order to establish an agency that would have more clout and better financing than the two separate agencies of the past. Both were rural groups, that had traditionally and geographically been separated by a range of mountains.

We worked with the two groups to help them set goals, develop policy, and build an organizational structure. Meanwhile the young executive director, who saw a very successful merger as his primary responsibility, was especially careful about one thing. On either side of the mountain was a large county town. Each of the former agencies had its own board, a separate staff, long-standing regional allegiances. The executive director understood that the question of where the new joint agency’s headquarters would be was an important question as well as a potentially explosive one.

In leading the planning meetings of the two boards, our friend carefully kept the groups focused on the long-range issues, and convinced them not to look at the “headquarters” question until the very end of the process. Once the organizational structure was set, by-laws agreed upon, and all the volunteers had actually merged, then the headquarters site was decided on—logically and easily, as it turned out. By then everyone was so committed to the organization and its goals that the head-quarters question had become a relatively unimportant, routine one.

It is exactly over such “practical” questions as that of headquarters in this example, that so many decision-making groups are thrown off the track and prevented from going where they really want to go. The executive director of the merging agencies was primarily concerned about the long-range good of the organization and the total community. He used all his influence and persuasive powers to make that a common focus—and the results were successful.


Setting Goals and Standards

Working with problem-solving and decision-making groups, we constantly observe a pair of phenomena that have been given these names:

          Rush to Structure. This happens when someone in the group takes the initiative and says, “Well, how do we go about this task?” and then he or she gets the group organized, decides the best way to proceed, and works out a plan. What isn’t done is to take the time to decide just what the task is, where the group wants to end up, and what alternative approaches might be available.

          Preemptive Participation. The minute the group gets settled or sometimes even before that), someone says, “Let’s get on with it.” Someone else says, “Here’s what we’ll do,” and then the next thing you know the group is rushing busily ahead—somewhere. It all depends on who says what first. Again, no one takes the time to talk about “What?” “Why?” “How?” Two weeks later, the group pulls up short when some Idealist finally speaks up and says, “Wait a minute, please. Are we going where we really need to go?”

One frequent and enduring problem for Idealists is their reluctance to use their valuable strategies forthrightly. They don’t like conflict and disagreement. They avoid confrontation, thus they avoid the kind of assertiveness in a group that just might prevent Rush to Structure or Preemptive Participation. It is an irony. Idealists want not to be seen as challenging or nonsupportive, so they avoid doing exactly what, in the long run, would be most supportive for the group, which is to help set goals and establish standards.


Receptive Listening

Receptivity comes naturally to Idealists. They understand intuitively that there are many possible solutions to a problem and many satisfactory alternative courses of action in any situation.

It is when Idealists learn to use their natural receptivity as a purposeful strategy that they begin to use their strengths productively. Once that is understood and utilized, a number of skills begin to emerge:

—Idealists tend to be better listeners than the rest of us. They are more open, patient, tolerant of differences. Their natural quality of being nonjudnental can become empathy. They can develop a real ability to understand the views of others, even when they may not agree with them. Because they are receptive and listen well, Idealists can be very good at gathering information . So long as they can remain relatively objective, they can learn, more easily than others, not to screen out data, If they cultivate the skill, they can improve their decision-making powers by drawing upon a broader base of information. Idealists, as managers, supervisors, group leaders, can use their receptive skills to build group involvement, to increase participation. They tend naturally to be drawn to a participative approach, and their strengths tend to be perfect for it. They learn to make sure all the members have a chance to be heard, that all ideas are considered, and that everyone has a voice in decisions.

The problem with all this, for Idealists, is that their very receptivity draws out and encourages conflict and differences of opinion, and that is worrisome for them. But to make up for that, another Idealist strategy proves to be immensely valuable.


Search for Aids to Agreement

Life is a constant process of influencing others. We are forever engaged in trying to get others to agree with us . But “influencing,” for many Idealists, is something of a bad word . It suggests a certain imposition or manipulation (and the latter is a very bad word to Idealists). The most important thing, for Idealists, is to help or to “facilitate” agreement between people. So their strategy consists of looking for aids to agreement.

One of the favorite aids is to draw a picture. The picture might look something like this, on the first try:

Problem Solving

Problem Solving

Then the Idealist leader says something like this: “You see, though we have five differing views, they all have a few things in common. See how they overlap? Now, can we talk about what’s in the area of overlap? What are the areas of the problem where we all agree? Let’s work on that.”

Other aids that Idealists like to use are verbal; expressions such as:

          “It seems to me. . .

          “George, don’t you think that ....?

          “I thought I heard Larry and Karen saying much the same thing, though they may have sounded very different. Here’s what I heard.......”

A special Idealist aid to agreement sounds something like this: “Now I’m sure we will all agree that we have the same basic purpose. Can we talk about that and then get to the specifics?”


Humanizing the Argument

The use of this strategy depends on asking appropriate questions, such as these:

“I understand that your chart shows the city will get the best revenue return by lowering business inventory taxes and increasing the sewer tax, but how will that affect retired people on fixed incomes?” The new dress code policy is certainly logical considering our corporate image. But how will our clerical staff feel about it? They have no public contact. I know there are all kinds of sound economic reasons for cutting down our entertainment budget. But don’t we need to consider family morale?”

We live in a society that places great value on efficiency, economic criteria for public policy decisions, sound, “logical” judgments about how to conduct both private and public business. We have a great need for more of the Idealist’s humanizing arguments to be heard.

Analysts and Realists often find the Idealist’s use of this strategy annoying or downright irrelevant. Especially so when they can clearly see that the situation at hand is objective, clear, and can be logically or factually “calculated out.” Synthesists and Pragmatists sometimes find it simply boring, when overused. For Idealists, on the other hind, Humanizing the Argument is not only right and proper. It is a moral and ethical imperative.


Jane, a social work supervisor with twenty years’ experience in community agencies, tells of a problem she has with her younger caseworkers. The conversation goes something like this:

JANE: I can’t seem to convince them to do the job properly.

WE: They aren’t performing?

JANE: Oh, they work hard. I can’t say they’re not performing.

WE:  But they cause you problems anyway.

JANE: It’s their attitude. They bring up all these ideas about casework that just aren’t right.

WE:  Such as?

JANE: Well, I was trained to practice nondirective counseling methods. Clients should be given the chance to work out their own problems. Caseworkers are there to help them do that.

WE:  But your younger people do it differently.

JANE: Sometimes I can’t believe what I hear . They act like Dutch uncles. They will tell a client what to do.

WE:  Do they do it all the time?

JANE: Oh no. Just now and then.

WE:  Do they get results?

JANE: Well, yes. For the short run, anyhow. But I do wonder sometimes about the long-range effect on the client.

WE    (persisting): But the results they get are generally satisfactory? They meet agency standards?

JANE: Mm—yes. I can’t really criticize them for that. But I just wish they would do it the right way.

Jane was trained in an idealistic, supportive casework method. Her younger employees sometimes take a more pragmatic or realistic, direct approach. Jane’s training and her preferred way of thinking about casework (and probably about many other things in her life) make it difficult for her to acknowledge that anyone could succeed as a caseworker using another set of strategies.

At the heart of Jane’s problem is a commitment not only to a certain method and approach, but to a set of basic values. The method and the values go hand in hand. In effect, they define Jane as a professional. She is uncomfortable when others use methods different from her own, because that is a violation of her value system. To the extent that others succeed while using such methods, Jane’s discomfort is much increased.

Notice, tha t is true of all of us. The importance of the individual value system as one determinant of behavior and attitude is not peculiar to Idealists, such as Jane. What is peculiar is the weight given by Idealists to their values, to value judgments, to moral questions, and ethical principles.

Because of all that, Idealists are more prone than others to experiencing dilemmas. They often find themselves in situations where either of two choices is equally unsatisfactory. Because Idealists want to do the “right” thing, in terms of their high standards and values, and because they are so receptive to differing views about how things should be done, they tend to suffer about decisions more than the rest of us do. Their decision processes are internal and subjective. They aren’t likely to ask objective questions, such as “What works?” or “What’s been proved?” Instead, they are constantly asking, “What’s right?”

That is why Idealists, overusing their strengths, are so often called “bleeding hearts” by other people. Take the director of nursing in a community hospital, Marcia G., who agonizes because she knows some patients aren’t getting the best possible care. She is deeply disappointed because some of her nurses are more interested in pay and hours than in the patients. They aren’t idealistic enough, the way nurses ought to be.

Marcia lectures her nurses in a motherly way, she pleads with them, she appeals to their high standards, but to no avail. Told by outside observers that there are some simple things she might do by way of a better scheduling and supervisory system that would save money and give her nurses more time to devote to patients, Marcia rejects the suggestion.

“System” is irrelevant to her, if not a bad word. What is important is people. They ought to work hard. They ought to be motivated. Doesn’t Marcia herself work twelve hours a day, six days a week ? She does that because it is right to give and to be dedicated. If others did as she does, everything would be just fine.

Idealists reject other approaches for different reasons. They reject the Pragmatist approach because it seems so superficial and expedient. They reject the Analyst approach because it is dehumanizing. They reject the Realist approach because it is hardheaded. They find the Synthesist approach uncomfortable and just plain “not nice,” because it is based on conflict and because Synthesist solutions don’t really “solve” anything. The Idealist wants everyone to be satisfied.

Idealists, being supportive, receptive people, often seem self-effacing too. Frequently, while he or she works hard to facilitate agreement among other people, the Idealist’s own views are either absent or tentative. That is a typical Idealist problem. When they leave themselves out of the action in their desire to facilitate agreement, sometimes the decision that is reached turns out to be the “wrong” one; one which doesn’t meet the Idealist’s own high standards. When that happens, Idealists suffer.

Sometimes Idealists nurse their resentment and disappointment indefinitely, rather than go against the group. If the result of the decision goes awry later, they may have a strong tendency to say , “I told you so.” Then, of course, they want to be helpful and supportive toward getting things back on the right track.

All of these characteristics make up the “wholesome” ways of Idealists. Idealist ways are wholesome in the best sense, because they are based on high standards, on moral and ethical values. And Idealists are wholesome in the sense that they look at what they believe is the “whole” of the situation. They find it difficult to understand people who don’t operate in the same way.

The most serious Idealist liability derives precisely from the Idealist’s greatest strength—reliance on high standards. A typical Idealist blind spot is an inability to recognize just how high those standards are. Sometimes Idealists’ standards are set so high that they themselves can’t live up to them, not to mention other people. So Idealists tend to suffer two related pangs—guilt over disappointment in themselves, and hurt feelings over disappointment in others.

Idealists are wholesome people, and we need to nurture them, just as they feel a need to nurture us. Like anything wholesome, they are good for us, in the proper proportions. And in the case of Idealists themselves, their valuable strategies also need to be used in the right proportions.



How to Know a Pragmatist

When You See One

Like the Idealist, the Pragmatist often has an open, sociable appearance, but in a way that is more mercurial, less intense, and perhaps more spirited than that of the Idealist. Pragmatists often show a good deal of humor, a quickness to agree with others’ ideas. “I’ll buy that,” they say. “That sounds pretty good to me.”

They enjoy light social interplay. They tend to be enthusiastic and agreeable; though sometimes they overdo it to the point where they sound insincere. They like to be liked, but in that respect they tend to take themselves and the relationship not quite so seriously as do other people. “Well, if she doesn’t like me, I’ll just try someone else.”

Pragmatists enjoy lively give-and-take, brainstorming, clever conversation, and lighthearted scheming, especially on tactical issues. Like Synthesists, they enjoy playing with ideas, though usually at a less philosophical, more down-to-earth level. They dislike talk that seems dry, dull, or humorless. They clash with Synthesists over talk that seems too conceptual, abstract, or speculative. They grow easily bored with discussion that seems too analytical or nit-picking.

In short, Pragmatists are often good people to have around you.

Their enthusiasm and experimentalism tend to liven things. In problem-solving and decision-making situations their skills can be immensely valuable, if they can be properly utilized. What that means is: Pragmatists have to be given room, loose reins, and to be kept interested. Once you have allowed Pragmatists to become bored, you have lost them.


The Contingency Approach

What is the contingency approach? Very simply, it is an overall strategy based on two closely related principles: “Whatever works”; and “It all depends on the situation.” What others—especially Analysts and Idealists —find hard to understand is that the contingency approach is not simply random behavior, a most reactive process of response and adaptation, but a deliberate, purposeful strategy when it is exercised by Pragmatists who know what they are doing. It all depends. Whatever works. One thing at a time.”

The contingency approach is the Pragmatist’s “theory.” It is also a “contextual” theory. That is, the contingency approach says that a problem or a decision is looked at in the context of the situation at hand.

Where the theory falls down is in this respect: only the individual, the actor, can determine what the context of the situation is. It is purely a matter of judgment at the moment. The Pragmatist assumes that there are no rules for the process of judging the nature of the situation or its context. One does not look at the real big picture, the grand design, or the logical structure of the situation. One simply apprehends and experiences.

To that, Analysts and Idealists are apt to say, “Well, how then do you ever know anything?”

To which the Pragmatist is likely to respond, with an amused grin, “You don’t ever know.” And that, for Pragmatists, is part of the joy and challenge of life.

We can call the contingency approach, then, the Grand Strategy of the Pragmatist. Other Pragmatist strategies are very much in tune with that overall notion. Let’s look now at a few of them.


Moving One Step at a Time

The technical name for this strategy is incrementalism. It is also known as the piecemeal approach. It comes from one of the most basic Pragmatist assumptions —that the world is itself a piecemeal affair . Though we may talk about goals and

whole systems and long-range plans, the fact is, for the Pragmatist, that such things are only words and phrases, at best general guidelines. The way things really do happen is one step at a time.

Two important areas of human activity come to mind when we think of incrementalism: international diplomacy and economic development in less-developed countries.

While they may often have some kind of grand design in mind, successful diplomats treat such images only as hypotheses or “what-ifs.” While the goal may be, for instance, peace in the Middle East, such apparently aimless activity as “shuttle diplomacy” seeks to get a tentative agreement here, a compromise there. To the extent that each step-by-step agreement or compromise can help to achieve a goal, to the diplomat that’s just fine. But one can be satisfied with an increment. Next time around, perhaps another one. Accomplished diplomats must have a strong pragmatic bias. Otherwise they are likely to become, at best, highly frustrated.

Orderly, planned, long-range economic development can take place only where there is already a strong economic base, a stable infrastructure. Until those foundations are established, a developing country has to build itself incrementally: a dam here, a factory there, a hospital over there—when they can be afforded. Leaders in less-developed countries have to be accomplished and deliberate Pragmatists in order to survive.

Curiously, though we Americans have always thought ourselves as pragmatic, much of our technical assistance to developing countries has been based on Analyst and Idealist assumptions and strategies, which almost always have failed. It is only in recent years that we have discovered the piecemeal nature of economic development in such places. For instance, we have funded the construction of large, great factories in India and East Africa, without paying attention to basic needs for the training and even the nutrition of those who might operate the plants. We have encouraged and supported massive programs of birth control without understanding that basic religious and social attitudes toward child-bearing need to be changed before birth control programs can work.

The Peace Corps and VISTA, for instance, seem to be founded on a great Pragmatist, “whatever works,” piecemeal philosophy. We suspect that those volunteers who don’t make it are those who can’t handle the ambiguity of their work.


Experiment and Innovation

Ambiguity is an important word to remember when we talk about Pragmatists. Of all the five Styles of Thinking taken singly, that of the Pragmatist has the highest tolerance for ambiguity. That is, Pragmatists have less need than the rest of us to know exactly where they are going, to understand just precisely what is happening around them, or to have a sense of predictability about events.

It is exactly their high tolerance for ambiguity that leads Pragmatists to be interested in experiment and innovation, to try things out in order to see what will happen. The strategy, after all, is a means for coping with ambiguity. Once you have just completed a successful experiment, and it works, then you know something you didn’t know before. If you can’t know anything for sure, or in advance, as the Pragmatists are likely to believe, the strategy makes perfect sense.

Innovation means, most simply, to do something new and better than before with the materials at hand—whether those materials are things, people, or ideas . The innovator introduces a change by making something new and different. With such an interest and tendency, the Pragmatist resembles the Synthesist. The difference is this: Synthesists have a tendency to look for change for its own sake, from boredom with the status quo and to satisfy their “creative” needs. Pragmatists look for change for practical (or “pragmatic”) reasons. The Synthesist wants something new and profound. The Pragmatist simply wants a payoff.


Looking for Quick Payoff

It is probably this Pragmatist strategy that has the most usefulness in organizations and groups. Pragmatists, understanding and using the strategy purposefully, can have incredible value to an organization, when the strategy is used appropriately, and when it is seen by others as “okay.” The basis of the Quick Payoff strategy is an acknowledgment that the environment is constantly changing, so that it is very necessary to adapt to it.

Here are Del and June Robertson. They are nearing fifty, and have always dreamed of having a retirement home of their own in northern Wisconsin. (Just a little north of Black River Falls.) Once a month for years they have driven from their home in a Chicago suburb to the Rhinelander-Eagle River area to look at real estate. Every year, for their vacation, they rent a different nearby cottage for a sizable sum. Yet, they never seem to discover the “right” place.

As Idealist-Analysts, Del and June pursue a steady, prudent course toward a goal that keeps receding into the horizon. While they have almost $30,000 in savings, inflation keeps driving the cost of property higher at twice the rate they are saving. Their retirement home account grows but its buying power evaporates as they just search for the right place.

If only Del and June were Pragmatists. They would invest that money in property that isn’t quite “right,” improve it, and turn it over. Step by step, proceeding that way, they might come closer to their ideal, and turn a profit while doing so. As Pragmatists, Del and June would pay more attention to the Quick Payoff, and could be better off for doing so.


Tactical Thinking.

Picture a smoke-filled room. We are in a city of fifty thousand citizens, where a group of people from the same part of town have come together to plan a political campaign . They want to elect a slate of candidates to the city council, so that certain programs which they all support will get funded. Here is a portion of the conversation that ensued.

ED:   Maybe Smith, and Ellis. Maybe Gonzales.

JEAN: And perhaps Truesdale, though I’m not sure.

RAY: Well, with one of our own people on the council, that makes five. And that’s a majority.

BILL: How do we go about it, Ray?

RAY: Which of those people do any of us know? (Silence.) Okay, who do we know who knows any of them?

SHIRLEY:  My best friend lives next door to Councillor Truesdale, though I’ve never met him.

ED:   My sister-in-law is a cousin of Councillor Smith’s husband. And both of them are close to Ellis.

BILL: Hey! Come to think of it, my dentist plays golf with Gonzales every week.

RAY: It sounds as if we might be on our way. Let’s start making the contacts and getting to know those people.

It is in just such a way that many real-life political changes have taken place. Ray understands perfectly that politics is “the art of the possible.” His pragmatist approach has helped this group lower its sights from the level of grand strategy and wishful thinking to what is do-able, considering the group’s resources. His tactical thinking has brought them to a point where they can do something specific.

Tactical Thinking is first cousin to the strategy of One Step at a Time. It is an important part of the art of the Pragmatist.


The Marketing Approach

A word of caution to the Idealists. The next time you hear someone say “But will it sell?” when you are preoccupied with all of the social benefits of the idea that is under discussion, don’t dismiss the question as superficial or cynical, much as you may be tempted to do so. Listen to that Pragmatist talking. He or she may have something very important to say.

The conscious cultivation of the Marketing Approach is rarely more practical than in the matter of applying for a grant, a frequent activity these days among some individuals and community groups. Typically, a group applies for a grant from the government or a foundation with the most laudable of aims. The purpose for which the money is to be used is a most noble one. The group may be able to articulate its objectives clearly, and may show evidence of good planning and fiscal management skills.

But then the group asks for the moon, and rests its case on the intrinsic goodness of the cause. “If they can’t see how worthwhile a proposal this is, then we den’t want their money.” It is likely to be an “all or nothing” approach.

          What is needed are some good Pragmatist questions:

          —Who is our audience?

          —What kinds of things are being funded these days?

—If we can’t get all the money we want, how much are we willing to settle for?

          —What’s the best way to package our proposal?

          —Who do we know who can help us sell it?

So many plans and good ideas go awry because they fail to sell. So many well- meaning people find their projects going down the drain because no one will buy them. The “all or nothing” strategy rarely works in the real world, which after all, like it or not, is to a large extent a market. As those who have cultivated the strategy know, the Marketing Approach can not only be useful toward achieving more important goals, it can even be fun.


Contingency Planning

Skillful Pragmatists are seldom caught in the trap that is so familiar to many of us—seeing their projects fail, and experiencing despair because with the project everything else seems to have gone down, too. Pragmatists seldom go bankrupt, because they don’t put all their eggs in one basket. In their incremental, most experimental, playful way, Pragmatists like to have any number of projects going at once . If two or three of them fail, it’s not overall disaster, and there is always something else to do that is interesting.

Similarly, a typical Pragmatist question is, “If this goes wrong, then what do we do?” But this “analyzing” strategy is quite different from that of the Analyst. For the Analyst the question is, “If something goes wrong at this point, how do we correct it to get back on track?” For the Pragmatist the question becomes, “If something goes wrong at this point, what other tracks might we take?” The Pragmatist is not concerned with the “one best way.” He or she knows there isn’t

such a thing.

One of the greatest strengths of contingency planning, as practiced by Pragmatists, is a willingness to cut losses. Unlike the rest of us, who doggedly plod ahead with our projects because so much time and effort has already been invested, the Pragmatist is always prepared for the basic contingency: “Well, that didn’t work out. Let’s try something else.”

PRAGMATIST STRENGTHS AND LIABILITIES. Peter S. is the city manager of a medium-sized city on the West Coast. He has been in that position for eight years. Seen by many others in his field as an energetic, intelligent, and unorthodox fellow, he has acquired a national reputation as an innovator in city management. Peter is considered to have advanced ideas, to be knowledgeable academically, but more impressively, he has actually tried to practice many advanced notions. He has experimented in his city—sometimes successfully, sometimes not—with any number of new organizational management methods and techniques.

While he is admired by “progressive” people in his city, Peter’s reputation within the organization is decidedly a mixed one. A number of the city council members are displeased with him. They see him as restless, unpredictable, impulsive, and hard to control. There is a sizable element of the city staff in which there is active dislike, not so much of Peter himself as of his management practices.

Peter is said to keep people off balance, to lack structure or visible direction, to be inconsistent between authoritarianism and participation, to engage in “seat of the pants” management. Some people express exasperation with Peter’s insistence on “it all depends” as his guiding principle. They see it as a non-principle. Almost all of the senior managers who were in office when Peter took over have either left the city or have taken an early retirement, in reaction to Peter’s management approach.

Here is another example of a Pragmatist in action. By his late forties, Richard Noonan had experienced considerable success as vice president and treasurer of a large manufacturing concern. He had also been active for years as a trustee of the small liberal arts college from which he had graduated.

Noonan was an expert in finance, with particular skills in managing investment programs. He had made a great deal of money for his company by the shrewd investment of funds for high return and short-range payoff, within the framework of a flexible overall investment plan.

When he decided to retire early from the company, Noonan tried to become a consultant to privately endowed colleges. He offered to manage their investment programs for them, in order to improve their generally shaky financial condition. There was no doubt that Noonan had something to offer his potential clients which could be of great value to them. What went wrong had to do with his approach. Here are his words:

          “These boards of trustees are all very conservative and idealistic.

           They think only about the long run, their obligation to society,

           the quality of their curriculum, and all that sort of thing. They

          are afraid of experimenting, of playing with their investment

           portfolios so as to get a quick return. In my opinion, that is exactly

           what they need, and of course it’s what I’ve been trying to sell

           them. I urge them to diversify and experiment, but they simply

           won’t listen to me.”

After two years of frustration, Noonan gave up his practice and returned to a fulltime job. The most competent of experts in his field, he had failed to adapt to the thinking of his potential clients. His experimental, quick-payoff approach scared off the very people he wanted to serve . He was unable or unwilling to adjust his style to people who valued idealism, long-range stability, and endurance.

A major liability of Pragmatists, then, derives from their very adaptability, and their paradoxical failure to see that others aren’t as adaptable as they are. Others need structure, a plan, predictability, long-range goals. Pragmatists, the very most adaptable of people, often fail to adapt productively to others, thus losing the payoff of their greatest strength.


How to Know an Analyst When You See One

For many of us, the initial impression made by an Analysts can pose a real problem. They tend to appear cool, studious, perhaps distant, and hard to read. Conversing with Analysts can be difficult, especially if you happen to be trying to sell them something. There may be a lack of feedback, as if they are hearing you out (they are!). Idealists particularly, with their constant need to communicate and be in touch, find that characteristic disconcerting.

          Analysts are easy to identify in casual conversation. Listen:

                    “It stands to reason

                    “If you look at it logically..

          And of course:

                    “If we just go about it scientifically . .


Analysts are apt to express general rules, more or less precise “theories” about things. They describe things systematically and carefully. Analysts are those people who will often tell you more about something than you really wanted to know.


Their tone is likely to be dry, disciplined, and careful. Under stress, they are apt to sound set and stubborn. When you push Analysts too far, they will simply withdraw. They may not leave the room and go home to their stamp collections; they simply withdraw on the spot. It is as if a curtain drops behind their eyeballs — a Great Stone Face waiting it out until there is someone sensible to talk to.


Analysts enjoy structured, rational examInations of substantive issues. Other things being equal, for instance, they are more likely to enjoy a formal lecture on some subject of importance than something like group encounter. They use long, discursive, well-formulated sentences. They dislike talk that seems irrational, aimless, or too speculative and “far out.” They tend to dislike irrelevant humor.


The great cross that Analysts have to bear is that, to others, they often seem most unemotional and lacking in a sense of humor. On that score we would say that Analysts are probably more private and selective with their emotions than other people, but not necessarily less emotional . And the Analyst’s sense of humor can be delightful. It is apt to be subtle, dry, and witty in a special way. The Analyst’s sense of humor is often hard to get to, but the work involved can be more than worthwhile. Lovers of Lewis Carroll and “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” for instance, know that. Analyst humor is often based on rational premises but carried to their utmost logical absurdity.


Many connoisseurs have strong Analyst proclivities. They approach nothing lightly, but thoroughly and studiously. Thus, it would take a knowledgeable Analyst to inform us of the relative worth of a hundred fine wines, and to let us know that “technically,” rosé is only to be drunk with peanut butter sandwiches.



Search for the One Best Way


Let’s look briefly at the steps by which Analysts usually pursue their search:

1. Gather data, in order to:

2. Define the problem thoroughly and accurately, followed by:

3. Search for alternative solutions, which are to be evaluated against:

4. A set of specific decision or selection criteria, leading to:

5. Selection of the best alternative, after which decision we:

6. Implement the solution; which does not end the process, because finally we must:

7. Evaluate the outcome of the solution to make sure it was really the one best alternative.


And if our solution does not, in fact, turn out to be the best one, we start the process all over again.



The method is clear-cut, it is founded on formal logic, and it is “analytical” in the true sense. That is, it seeks to break the situation down into its component parts, to define a problem by isolating it, and to make it manageable in that manner.


Where the Analyst Grand Strategy goes wrong is when it is seen as the only method—which, unfortunately, is the most common error that Analysts make . Let us look at the favorite strategies of Analysts to see why that might be so, and to understand the power of those strategies.



Systematic Analysis of Alternatives


To look at this strategy, let us choose a homely example—planning a trip.


Imagine that you have a new job, and you are going to move your household in a rented truck from Syracuse, New York, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You look over the roadmap, and see that there are three apparently reasonable routes that you could choose:


The most direct route seems to be toward the southwest, on a series of secondary roads.

You could drive west to Buffalo, then southwest to Erie, south from there to Pittsburgh, with the whole trip done on freeways.

You could drive south to Harrisburg, also on a freeway, then catch the Pennsylvania Turnpike directly west into Pittsburgh.


All three routes seem logical, so in order to choose between them you must gather more data. Your next step is to compute the actual roadmap mileage for each alternative.


You are somewhat surprised to find that what had appeared the most direct route —the first alternative—turns out to be almost as many road miles as the other two. Those secondary roads wind all over the hills of western New York and Pennsylvania. You further consider the fact that you will be driving a heavy truck, with which you haven’t had much experience. Driving on those narrow roads will be hazardous at worst, exhausting at best. So you reject the first alternative.  You compare the remaining choices, and find that the mileage is almost the same for each. You are attracted to the southern route, via Harrisburg, because it appears less congested than the western route which just bypasses the big cities of Buffalo and Erie. But, for more information, you call the state highway police, and they inform you that, at the time your trip is planned, the freeway between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre will be closed, resulting in a long detour. Further, you discover that the Pennsylvania Turnpike toll for your big truck will be quite large. Finally, your wife remembers that she has a cousin in Fredonia, New York, with whom you could stay at no cost, halfway along the Buffalo-Erie route. Your choice is made. Not, however, by hunch or impulse of the moment, certainly not in a hurry.


When you arrive in Pittsburgh safe and relatively fresh after two trouble-free days, you pride yourself that an analysis had in fact given you the one best way to go. For you know that, simple as the process was, most people wouldn’t have bothered with it. The Realists and Pragmatists would simply have loaded their trucks, glanced at the map, and started driving—into who knows what perils and difficulties.


So the strategy is immensely useful, when the situation can be calculated in a logical, analytical way. When that isn’t so —especially in those cases where people hold different values, different views of the situation—the One Best Way strategy may not be the one best strategy to use.



The Search for More Data


This is an admirable strategy, one that could be of great value to others if they could learn to cultivate it. It is really quite a simple approach, but Pragmatists and Realists, for instance, often find it too time-consuming. It seems to them like little more than a delaying tactic to getting on with the job.


Here is an example. We are sitting in on a meeting of several marketing experts in an electronics firm.

ELEANOR: All right, we’re in agreement. The big push will be on the new microcomputer.

LOU:Right. And have we agreed that the primary target will be medium-sized firms on the West Coast?

JACK: Uh-huh. We’ll get right onto the copy preparation with the advertising people. I’m thinking of full-page ads in the West Coast edition of Business Week.

ELEANOR: It’s a heck of a market. I have visions of selling like hotcakes. What’s your opinion, Elias?

ELIAS: Well—I have a couple of things I’d like us to think about.

JACK: What?

ELIAS: I’m all for the microcomputer. Don’t misunderstand me, I think it’s a great product. But I’m not sure about either the timing or the test market.

ELEANOR: What do you mean?

ELIAS: Let’s assume the ads really work, and suddenly we have all sorts of inquiries and orders. Can we meet the demand?

LOU: Production says we can.

ELIAS: In my opinion, their estimates are fuzzy and overly optimistic . I’d like more data from them before we rush ahead.

ELEANOR: And what about the test market?

ELIAS: Well, why the West Coast? Our competitors are in that market pretty heavily. I’d like some more information about that, too. For instance, there might be real growth markets in places like Phoenix and Albuquerque. The advertising cost wouldn’t be so great, and we might get a better feel for things there. I’d like to see us have preliminary studies there, and maybe in Atlanta too.

ELEANOR: Well, for heaven’s sake, why didn’t you say all this earlier, before we got so far down the road!

ELIAS: I’ve been sort of listening and thinking about it. Sometimes it takes awhile, you know.


There is no doubt that a person with Elias’ Analyst tendencies and talents is a fine addition to this group. In fact, time may prove that he is indispensable to it . It is especially in enthusiastic, motivated, fast-moving groups that Analyst strategies are often needed. Someone like Elias, with his expressed need for more data, can provide a brake on movement that might otherwise be impetuous if not disastrous.


The difficulty for Analysts in such a situation is that, instead of being an appropriate and welcome brake, their strategy can look like a damper to others. When everyone is keyed up and ready to move, who wants to hear some wet blanket say, “Wait a minute. Do we really know enough about what we’re doing?”


Like Idealists pleading for more attention to goals and high standards, Analysts often need to be more assertive in their request that we pay attention to details and constraints. They can both sound like voices crying in the wilderness, and they need to be listened to.



Conservative Focusing


We have borrowed the name for this strategy from Robert V. Seymour whose work contributed much to our understanding of human thinking. Conservative Focusing is a technical name for something that Analysts do almost as a matter of habit or instinct. Expressed simply, it means to isolate one variable at a time when looking at a problem. If that variable turns out to be the cause of the problem, then we have solved it . If not, we go back, isolate another variable, and start over.


For instance, suppose the electric dryer has stopped working for no apparent reason. For many of us, our first response will be to acknowledge our ignorance of appliances or electricity or both, throw up our hands, and call the repairman, at anywhere from fifteen to thirty dollars an hour. Not so for Analysts, whether they know anything about electrical appliances or not. One variable at a time, they proceed to analyze the problem.


Is there a fuse blown in the house system? That can be checked quickly. If not, is the appliance plugged in properly? Is the outlet working? Both of those items can be easily verified. Is all the wiring properly connected? We can take off the back plate and check that visually . If that produces nothing, how about the switch? It can be removed, taken down to a repair shop, and checked. What about the heat discs? The careful Analyst discovers there are two of them. They come out and go down to the repair shop. Usually, that is where the cause of the problem lies . A simple sixty-cent piece of equipment saves a thirty-dollar repair bill. Or, if that isn’t the case, then a simple question at this point reveals that the motor must be burned out. Now the Analyst realizes there is big trouble, but at least the situation is clear.


Conservative Focusing is a strategy that could stand many non-Analysts in good stead. But it can be too time-consuming in many situations, and inappropriate in others.



Charting the Situation


When the Executive Director of the East Liverpool United Fund has a problem or a major decision to make, she always draws a chart. First, she defines clearly, to her own satisfaction, exactly what decision she needs to make . Then, down one side of the chart, she lists all her objectives: that is, the things she must accomplish and the things that would be nice or desirable to accomplish by her decision. Then she puts values or weights on each objective—that is, numbers. In this way , her objectives become selection criteria, each of which has a different relative value for her.


Only now does the executive director list her possible solutions—the alternatives that might be available. Then, she evaluates each alternative, in turn, numerically against the value of each objective, adds the scores, and~comes up with a best “winning” choice.


This is one example of many approaches to decision making and problem solving which rely on Charting the Situation. It is a system of which Analysts are particularly fond, because it is a way of structuring a problem, of making all its components visible in order to analyze it, and of reaching an objective solution.


The great value of Charting the Situation is that it forces us to display and array the dimensions of our problem. This is something that intuitive people often fail to do, to their cost. Once the dimensions of a problem are made visible, our focus is improved. We know more about the problem than we knew before. Sometimes the solution simply “jumps out” at us without the need for further analysis.



Constructive Nit-picking


While Synthesists excel at what we have called Negative Analysis, Analysts employ a similar strategy—Constructive Nit-picking. It is a result of their skill in paying attention to details, their desire for thoroughness, their need for careful planning and well-built structure prior to action.


The Synthesist and Analyst strategies, while apparently quite similar, are very different. indeed. The Synthesist asks, “What might go wrong?” at a relatively high level of abstraction . Synthesists, in effect, are often questioning the whole concept under discussion, because they are so aware that a completely different concept might be just as workable.


Analysts come at their form of devil’s advocacy from the opposite perspective. Having determined a One Best Way to proceed, they want to be sure it will work as planned. That is, they want a predictable, sure result, and their concern is that something might go wrong because an important detail has been overlooked. Analysts know that is how plans go awry. It is the little things, the details, that cause problems.


Analyst managers and supervisors often cause anguish to their subordinates by their nit-picking ways. The letter that is sent back three times for rewriting, the blueprint that is off by two scale inches at one corner, the account ledger that now comes close but doesn’t quite balance . “Picky-picky,” the staff complains. “Why do we have to work for a perfectionist?”


Truly, the approach can easily be overdone. But there are situations where it is a vital necessity—someone has to look out for the details. For an example, sometimes there is no surer way to lose a customer than to spell his or her name wrong in a letter. Errors of grammar or spelling in a publicity brochure are certain to present a non-professional appearance. Those of us who pay too little attention to details, but want to accomplish great things in the community or the marketplace are often in dire need of a good nit-picker.



 Deductive Reasoning


Deduction is the act of proceeding from general principles to the understanding of specifics. As a strategy, it is what we spoke of earlier as the Analyst’s “theoret-ical” approach. It is what Analysts naturally do and what often makes them powerful thinkers, leaders, and problem solvers.


Here is an example. George, a district sales supervisor, is complaining to his boss, Harry, the corporate sales manager, about one of his people.

GEORGE:   Denny just isn’t making it as a salesman. He looked so good when we hired him, but he’s nevermet his goals yet.

HARRY:     What seems to go wrong?

GEORGE:   Beats me. He gets out and hustles, he makes a lot of calls, but he has a hard time closing a sale.

HARRY:     Do you know why?

GEORGE:   No, I sure don’t.

HARRY:     What is Denny like as a person?

GEORGE:   Well, he’s a nice guy. I mean a really nice guy. He’s friendly and open and people like him. And he’s always very helpful.

HARRY:     What about the customers that he’s managed to sell. Do they like him?

GEORGE:   Oh yes. Very much. But a few’of them have gone over to the competition.

HARRY:     Why is that? Any clues?

GEORGE:   Maybe. Several of them have said that when salesmen from the competition come in with a new product pitch, Denny has no good counterargument. It’s as if he says something like, “Well, it’s up to you, Mr. Customer.”

HARRY:     So he’s not prepared?

GEORGE:   Oh, 1 think he’s prepared. It’s more as if he just doesn’t like to stand up and fight.

HARRY:     George, what do we know about our competition’s sales staff?

GEORGE:   Aggressive as all get-out. They’re in there fighting tooth and nail.

HARRY:     And our own best people?

GEORGE:   Same thing. Sometimes it’s like a war out there.

HARRY:     So what does that tell you about Denny?

GEORGE:   Yeah, I think I see it now. He’s in the wrong job, or at least the wrong market.


The deductive Analyst, like Harry in this example, can help us look at the problem from a different perspective. Analysts do this by trying to bring the focus to the level of theory. The key question is “What do we know about . . . ?“ Instead of looking at an isolated instance, or a specific accident, we are obliged to start from a broader view.


Deductive Reasoning can lead to valuable insights that often can’t be reached by any other method. It is a strategy which needn’t be exclusive to Analysts . It can be learned.


Analyst Strengths and Liabilities


When Frank Daw became President of Tradesman’s Industrial Liability and Casualty Company at the age of sixty-two, he was not at all surprised, It was only logical, he thought. Frank had been moving steadily along the path toward the executive suite ever since he joined the company as a junior accountant some thirty-five years before.


Frank had never done anything but the right thing. Thorough and careful, highly responsible and dependable, Frank had always been the one whom more senior executives, as they rose and moved on, looked to when something needed doing that had to be done perfectly.


There was even a joke in the company along those lines. Frank Daw, it was said, had become president on the strength of his skill in writing reports. For at least thirty years, he had been the final authority on important reports to the insurance commissioner, and on the annual financial statement. If he didn’t prepare the reports himself, he was always the last reviewer. He never missed the smallest discrepancy, and nothing ever went out of his office that wasn’t perfect down to the last decimal point.


When he became president, Frank encountered two problems—though he never saw them as problems himself, only others did.


First, the president before him had been a completely different sort of person. Frank’s predecessor had been known as a ‘mover and shaker,” a lively, outgoing, innovative man who had brought about many changes in the company, who prided himself on his ability to inspire people and motivate them by his own spirited example. In contrast to the former president. Frank seemed dry, very disciplined, even humorless and dull . For some of the other executives and managers, the change was disconcerting.


In terms of their annual budget requests, for example, they discovered that the ground rules had completely changed. In the past, they had been expected to present concise, pithy requests that showed the high spots in their projected programs for the coming year . They had been encouraged to look for new ways of doing things in their departments and offices. Innovative programs had been rewarded.


But under Frank Daw, the managers found, what was expected was a detailed, thorough accounting for past performance, and a logical projection of the future. Their experiments and proposed innovations were dismissed as trivial. “There is only one way,” Frank often said, “to run an insurance company.” And woe to the manager who made an arithmetical error in his or her line-item budget. Frank never missed one.


Frank’s other problem was more serious, though he never really understood it. All during his years of steady advancement in the company, he had never spent a day in the field. Frank had no idea what life was like for the salesman or the safety engineer or the claims adjuster. He had never talked to a customer in his life. He had no conception of the unpredictability of the marketplace.


Instead, from his new vantage point, Frank saw a great deal of disorder and lack of method out in the field. People, he was sure, were doing things in a hit-and- miss manner. One of the first things he asked his staff, after he became the new president, was to prepare a complete manual for the salespeople, one that would “spell out” in detail everything they were supposed to do. He was pleased when a manual in two thick volumes appeared, to be distributed to every salesperson.


When, a few months later, Frank found that sales results hadn’t changed, his staff was unable to tell him why. “They must not be following the procedures,” he said. When he attended a company-wide meeting of sales managers a little later, and they told him that (a) the sales manual was not only not followed but even deliberately ignored, because (b) all the salespeople thought it ridiculous, and furthermore ©) many of the best salespeople were quitting to join other, “less regimented” companies, Frank was surprised and a bit hurt.


At the end of three years as president, precisely on his sixty-fifth birthday, Frank Daw retired. He went home to his lifelong hobbies—raising camellias and also collecting stamps. Belatedly, some of the Tradesman’s Industrial managers looked with nostalgia at Frank’s brief presidency. He had brought a measure of stability and predictability to the company. When he left, Tradesman’s Industrial was in its best financial condition in twenty years.


In Frank Daw, we can see that the Analyst approach has its great strengths and its glaring liabilities. The effectiveness of any Style of Thinking is to a great extent a matter of environment. That is precisely the point exemplified in Frank Daw’s case.


So long as Frank was in his element—accounting, financial statements, data processing—his performance was superb. His talents were just right for the management of such activities. Frank Daw was an exceptionally fine “numbers man.” He thrived where that was called for. But he ran into trouble when he had to deal with more ambiguous endeavors—sales, the management and motivation of people, the hectic market-place—where his attempts to impose “system” and predictability didn’t work. As a committed Analyst, he was unable to find a style or an approach that was appropriate for areas where Analyst strategies were simply the wrong ones.


As we have said before, it is not only the Analyst approach that founders when it is inappropriate to the situation. The same is true of any of the Styles of Thinking. If there is a distinction, it may be this: when the Analyst approach goes wrong through inappropriate application, it is so obviously wrong. And that is because of the nature of Analyst strategies. They are so clear-cut, specific, visible, logical. When they are used in the wrong situation, or without skill, we know it at oncethough Analysts themselves may not.


On the other hand, when Analyst strategies are used appropriately and they work, one hardly notices. That is because, in the appropriate situation, Analyst strategies are so logical and  right.


How to Know a Realist When You See One

Realists tend to have a direct, forceful, frank appearance—not necessarily aggressive, but sometimes that too. They are likely to look you smartly in the eye. They express agreement or disagreement quickly, both verbally and nonverbally. In other words, you usually have a pretty good idea of where you stand with a Realist.

Some favorite Realist expressions are:

                    “It’s obvious to me.

                    “Everybody knows that.

                    “Let’s look at the facts in the situation.

Realists are quick to express their opinions, and they are more apt than the rest of us to “own” them. That is, they stay away from “weasel words,” such as “Don’t you think . . . or “Wouldn’t you agree that . . . ?“ They describe things factually. In order to clarify their meanings they give specific examples, or offer short, very pointed, descriptive anecdotes.

Realists are apt to be forthright and positive. At times they may sound dogmatic or domineering, especially if your view of the facts is different from theirs.

Realists enjoy direct, factual discussions of immediate matters, the more practical and down-to-earth the better. They use succinct, pithy, descriptive statements. They dislike talk that seems too theoretical, sentimental, subjective, impractical, or lông-winded. They like things short, sweet, and concise. Subtlety is not their strong suit. They can’t stand “shaggy dog” stories, but they may like pins and plays on words if they are quickly understandable and have punch. They are often hearty, explosive laugh ers, and the humor they like best is likely to be down-to -earth if not earthy.


Empirical Discovery

Carl Jung talks about four basic functions of the psyche. Of these, the most basic is what is called “Sensing.”                     The first point at which the individual meets the outside world is through the senses. He must first establish “the fact that something is there.”’

What is real in the world is what can be seen, heard, felt, or experienced concretely. The reality of a “fact” is the basic building block of knowledge and understanding for the Realist. Reality cannot be deduced by working from a theory or an abstraction. Reality is induced from observation and experience of facts. That is the empirical approach.

When Ignaz Semmelweis in the mid-1800s made the then startling proposal that it would be a good idea if physicans washed their hands before delivering a baby or performing surgery, he wasn’t proceeding from speculation or a theory. He had spent years observing. He had noticed that infections invariably took place when there were unsanitary conditions during surgery, and didn’t when a doctor took pains to be clean . Semmelweis’ enormously important idea was an empirical discovery.

Most of our knowledge about the world begins with empirical discovery, which leads to a process of trying to make sense of things in a more general way, and eventually to a theory or a concept . The empirical approach is the foundation of much of what we know. It is the Grand Strategy, consciously or unconsciously, of Realists.


Setting Hard Objectives

A group of planners were in a small town in Utah, where the mayor had asked them to do a community survey, in the hope of involving more of the town’s citizens in its activities and decisions. Here is a portion of the conversation that went on in one of the group’s strategy sessions.

MARTIN: (the project leader): I guess there’s no doubt that the town is small enough and we have enough people to do a door-to-door survey.

STEVE: Sure. We can get a map and just divide it up between us.

MARK: When should we do it? Saturday, when most people will be at home?

MARTIN:   Why not? What’s the weather report?

JANE: Martin, what do you suggest as an approach?

MARTIN:   Well, what Steve said makes sense to me. Just divide up the map between us and go door to door.

JERRY: But what is it we’re going to ask?

MARTIN: Pardon?

JERRY: What exactly are we asking people? I mean, here we are going door to door, talking to them. Shouldn’t we all be asking the same questions? And if so, what are they?

JANE: Oh. Good point, Jerry.

JERRY: And do we carry clipboards and take notes, or what?

MARTIN:   I think that should be all right.

MARK: Jerry’s question raises another point. We’re going to have a mountain of notes. How will we deal with that?

MARTIN:   Jerry, you look agitated.

JERRY: I’m feeling agitated. We need to get this thing under control.

MARTiN: Okay. What do you suggest?

JERRY: First, we need to decide exactly what questions we’re going to ask. Second, we need to agree how we’re going to handle the data. Third, when are we going to finish? And finally, what air we going to do with all the information once we’ve got it? I mean, what’s it all going to look like?

MARTIN:   Well, it sounds as if Jerry has given us an agenda.

Indeed, Jerry the Realist gave this group an agenda and a plan of action, by asking hard, factual, here-and-now questions. Like the Analyst insisting on structure and a plan, the Realist’s insistence on defining objectives is an absolute necessity to almost any organizational or group endeavor—unless the endeavor is purely experimental or speculative, and even then a few Realist questions wouldn’t hurt. “What’s it going to look like?” is a typical Realist inquiry.

Strangely enough, that sort of question is all too seldom asked. We are constantly amazed at the number of groups and projects that take off on their merry way without a real sense of direction, without a clear picture of the result . It is exactly the area of concrete objective-setting that is sorely needed, and calls for the application of Realist strengths.


The Resource Inventory

Because Realists rely on the facts, on what is real and immediate, they often excel at the identification of resources. In this they resemble Analysts, in their ability and willingness to look at details and constraints. When we try to get anything done, after all, we are constrained by the resources available, a reality that many of us prefer to ignore.

Raymon R . Bruce, a management consultant and a Realist, is one of the inventors of a career planning process that he calls “The Universe Survey.” It works some-thing like this: In planning your career, the first thing you need to do is conduct a thorough survey of your personal universe. It is helpful to think of it in four categories, or “quadrants.”

1. Your environment (where you are).

2. Your operations (what you do).

3. Your goals (where you want to go).

4. Your resources.

It is in this fourth quadrant that Bruce encourages a most sweeping and imaginative survey. All of us have far more resources than we realize—our tools, our skills, and our tangibles are the principal ones. But we also have friends, relations, connections, friends of friends, people who could become resources if we only made ourselves known to them, and so forth. The most important part of the Universe Survey is an exhaustive inventory of all those real and potential resources.

The objective, visual, “What does it look like?” approach so often found in Realists is captured in Bruce’s instructions for completing the four quadrants of the Universe Survey: Think of a roll of movie film showing some real-life activity. Each frame shows a different picture because things keep changing. You could identify all the important changes very easily by comparing each movie frame with one taken later or another taken previously.......

The Universe Survey is a good example of a tool that fits well with Realist skills.


 Getting to Specifics

A group of people in a West Coast hospital were funded for a year by the federal government to undertake a research project in cancer rehabilitation. The group was made up of social workers, psychologists, nurses, a medical doctor, and a famous psychiatrist. With the exception of the team leader—the psychiatrist, who was an Analyst—the team members proved to be Idealists all.

Their goal, they agreed, was to “find out something” about the differences in treatment between cancer patients who were successfully rehabilitated and those who were not. They set out to interview a large number of patients. The total interviewers compiled an enormous amount of information in notes and tape recordings, all of which was transcribed into numerous volumes of typescript. While the interviewers interviewed, the team leader maintained meticulous charts on the number of patients involved, the various types of cancer included, medical and psychosocial histories, demographic data, and the like.

The project went on, with apparent smoothness, for nine months. Then it was time for the second-year funding application, which meant, first, a visit by a representative of the funding agency. The visit proved to be a disaster for the project team.

The agency representative spent two or three days looking over the work that the team had done, and then called a meeting. She said something like this:

I can see that you have done a great deal of work. You have a staggering amount of data, your records are beautifully kept, and I have no doubt that you’ve learned a lot . But what? It’s impossible to tell where you’re going, what results you expect, or what specifically you hope to accomplish. Without some specifics, there is simply no way you’ll get funded again.”

To which the team leader responded: “Well, you know, this is all a carefully managed exploratory study.”

His protest carried no weight, and second year funding proved to be unobtainable. The group had gone too far and too long without getting to specifics. There were no Realists among its members.

A Realist would have asked the necessary questions long ago, if not at the start of the project. At very least, a Realist would have come up with some useful smart categories that the group could have used to focus their interviews, sort their data, develop research hypotheses. Realists tend to be good at making categories. So are Analysts. The difference is that Realists determine the categories after they’ve seen how the data falls. Analysts think up categories beforehand based upon what the theory says the data will look like.



Reduction” is the technical word for this strategy. It is the attempt to reduce a problem to its simplest form. We hear it all the time in discussions of political or social issues.

                    “It’s a simple case of black versus white.”

                    “The problem is the government is growing too large.”

                    “It’s simply a matter of educating the public.”

                    “Property taxes have got out of hand, that’s the whole problem.”

When you hear statements like these, you are hearing the process of Reduction or Simplification, and you are probably hearing a Realist talking. The problem is to decide when the strategy is useful and when it is inappropriate.

In our own firm—four of us—we have learned something about the productive use of the strategy. Three of us love nothing more than to speculate and conceptualize, theorize and hypothesize, analyze and fantasize. We can always tell when the time has come to get down to business—when our fourth member, Susan, begins to look impatient and then says something like, “Look, what the problem really is, is this. . . .“ She is more often right than not. Whether right or wrong, her strategy is a useful one because it obliges us to focus our attention on the work at hand. It is a way of “keeping us honest.”


 Using Expert Opinion

Realists rely on their senses, on observation and personal experience in a very concrete way, to make sense of things. They rely on objective facts as much as possible in order to solve problems and make decisions. But what if the facts are not clear? What if the problem is obscure, or the decision to be made involves factors that are outside the experience of the Realist?

In such circumstances Realists have little hesitation about relying on expert opinion. “If we don’t understand the problem, then let’s find someone who does.

Realists indeed rely on expert opinion more than people with othe Styles of Thinking. Perhaps they are simply quicker to acknowledge their limitations than others. We think it more likely to be behavior that flows from one of the Realist’s

strongest needs — the need to have control over the situation.

The Realist’s thinking process (conscious or not) goes something like this:

                    So long as the facts are at hand, and so long as I understand them, I am in control of things. Once there are no clear facts, or I don’t understand what I’m seeing, I’m in danger of losing control. Therefore, I had better call on someone who can tell me what the facts really are.

Not knowing something is itself an immediate fact to the Realist, much more quickly and obviously so than it may be to other people.

The Expert Opinion strategy can be most useful and efficient. The problem, of course, is to know how to find out who is truly an “expert.” Or, in other words, if you can’t define the problem yourself and you don’t know what questions to ask, how do you know the right answers when you hear them?

It is a perplexity, which may explain why Realists are more quick both to hire and fire outside experts.


 Incisive Correction

“They cut your hair all wrong. Now you march right back down to the barber shop and tell them to do it properly!”

While we find no significant differences between men and women relative to I Q scores, we believe that there is a lot of Realist in a lot of mothers, especially when children are at a certain age. And in nurses—in fact our data show that to be so.

Consider the mother, with a houseful of children, and the nurse, with a ward full of patients. It is all very well to have rules and ideals about how children and patients ought to behave, but daily living is a process of fixing and correcting here, there, and everywhere, all the time. One proceeds empirically. A patient’s buzzer sounds, or a child screams with anger or pain, and you respond. You fix the problem if you can. You correct it, and you try to do it in such a way that it stays put for a while.

The corrective quality of the Realist is a very strong one. So is a kind of incisiveness, as we have said before. The two together become a strategy which, used appropriately, can be a most powerful one.

A Realist marriage counselor would sound like this. The client, a housewife, says:

I don’t know what to do. He doesn’t pay any attention to me anymore. We never talk . He sits in front of the TV all evening, and goes off to bed without saying good-night. In the morning, he just reads the paper and goes off to work without a word. I don’t know what his problem is, but he acts as though I don’t exist. Life is just plain dull.”

The counselor asks, “Have you ever tried to tell him these things?”

Oh, of course. But it’s like everything else. He won’t listen. He doesn’t pay attention.”

What would you like to do about it?”

Well, if things don’t get better, I’d just like to leave. Walk out.”

Why don’t you tell him that?”


Go home and tell him you’re going to leave if he doesn’t shape up . Your job is to get his attention.

What he does after that is his problem.”

Read the columns of “Dea r Abby” or Ann Landers in the newspaper. Study their responses to people’s problems. Abby and Ann give advice, often spiced with biting humor that is invariably direct, incisive, no-nonsense.

A common difficulty for Realists occurs when they discover that most people don’t really want advice, even when they ask for it. What people really want is sympathy, or for others to say nice things and make them feel good. A great many people have a peculiar tendency suddenly to not hear when someone says something direct and incisive to them.

“Here’s what I would do if I were you,” the Realist says. Whereupon the response: “That isn’t the advice I was looking for.”

Incisive Correction, like other sharp tools, is a strategy to be used carefully and judiciously.

Realist Strengths and Liabilities

Not long ago, we were making a presentation on the I Q to a convention of state budget and fiscal officers—eighty-five people gathered in a hotel in Sun Valley, Idaho. Everyone had taken the questionnaire, and we had gone through a brief description of the Styles of Thinking. In half an hour we had touched on many of the high points. Then we paused, and asked for questions and comments from the audience.

As usual, questions came thick and fast from all over the room, but our attention was drawn to a silent man, who sat about eight rows back on the center aisle. He was a solidly built fellow, with what could only be described as a determined, intent expression. We noticed that ever since we had described the Realist Style of Thinking, this man had been staring at us, firmly, stonily, almost angrily. Obviously, something was on his mind.

As the questions and answers continued, the intensity of the man’s stare increased, he began to look agitated, and at last he could contain himself no longer. In a loud voice he blurted out: “How can you say that Realists believe everybody should agree on the facts? It’s perfectly obvious to any sensible person that people don’t agree most of the time.”

All we could do by way of response was to nod and say, “Yes. You’re right.” The man’s demeanor, his growing agitation, his air of being confronted by a dissonant idea and of trying to sort out the facts before he spoke, all were characteristic of a Realist. Even his phraseology—”It’s perfectly obvious to any sensible person”— was a typically Realist formulation.

Abstract paintings tend to give Realists trouble. It is important for them to be able to name things. A painting is a fact. But a fact without a name, without a specific identity, causes discomfort for Realists . Like Analysts, they have a relatively low tolerance for ambiguity, and for that reason they are not at their best in unstructured situations, where the data or meaning are not clear.

A woman we know, Mary Ann, makes her living as a teacher in adult education. One of her specialties is courses for Women in Management. Mary Ann holds seminars and works with groups of women in organizations, helping them to define their career opportunities and to formulate action plans for their personal development.

Mary Ann’s strength is not in theorizing, or inspiring, or in building detailed plans. Her strength is in getting her clients to ask themselves very specific, “hard” questions:

               “Where exactly do I want to be a year or two from now?”

               “What are my resources for getting there?”

               “What specifically do 1 have to do in order to meet my objectives?”

               “How will I know when I’ve made it?”

Mary Ann is known, fondly, to some of her clients as a “bulldog.” A few of them find her a trifle pushy, and shy away because they don’t like to be pushed—which often means having to get specific and to take responsibility. But most of them find Mary Ann’s technique helpful. Once they learn to really “face the facts,” they find practical ways to achieve their goals.

Because Realists are people of strong opinions, based on perceived facts, they are quick to form opinions of other people. Like all of us, they respect people much like themselves. If you don’t stand up to the Realist, he or she is likely not to respect you. You have become a certain kind of “fact” for the Realist. And once having decided on the nature of the facts, it is hard to get Realists to change their minds . That is probably the greatest liability of the Realist Style of Thinking. They come across to others at times like stubborn, unimaginative blockheads.

The thing to remember, both for your dealing with the Realist, and for the Realist dealing with you, is this: “What you see is what you get.”



Copyright @ 1982. By: Allen F. Harrison and Robert M. Bramson

For information: Anchor Press, Doubleday & Company, Inc.

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