Picking The Optimal Team Members
We're talking about identifying the things that matter, how to get at them, but you're now trying to work on a problem mountain. How do you pick the right group? Again, from Keith Yamashita, again, one of the most wonderful people ever, can't say enough. He has a method that he calls casting, that I think if, if there's one thing that you can keep in mind when it comes to building teams, it should be this. Two step casting method. Two questions that you ask when you're forming a team. The first is, "Is what we're working on a novel "and super important problem, or not?" "Is this well-trod territory, "or is this new territory we're trying to break?" "Are we just tryin' to staff the assembly line?" "Are we tryin' to build a new assembly line?" So, the level of novelty of the problem. Now, the more novel the problem, the more cognitive diversity you want to set yourself up better for reaching a breakthrough. Now, the less novel the problem, there's still a good reason to have all sorts of...
kinds of diversity because you can always improve the process that you're working on, but it matters a little less. Now, step two of this is casting, so we already about Tom Hanks and Denzel. If you thought of your team building exercise, no matter what the project, as a movie, then this analogy can be really helpful. You're casting a movie. You're the director. Do you pick the 20 actors with the best GPAs from Harvard to be in your movie? No, probably not. It's probably not gonna be a good movie. Do you pick all the actors that you had in the last movie? Unless you're doing Zoolander 2, the answer's usually no. You want the combination of actors, actresses that will provide the most interesting movie. You want the combination of people that are gonna stretch each other, that are gonna cause each other to be better, that are gonna bring out the best in everyone. You don't want a gang of people who are all similar. And yet, so often in business, or in sports, we just look for people who are maybe younger versions of ourselves, you know? Or people that remind us of ourselves, that think so much like us, or we run down the resume and we say, "Harvard, 4.0, count it!" That doesn't get at any of these other things, these perspectives, these heuristics, how you roll. If you have the 4.0 from Harvard who studied business, rather than getting five more of those, maybe get someone who came from the Midwest and studied business. You already have that set of perspective and heuristics that Harvard Business School provides. Not to say that two people who went to Harvard Business School can't be different, but you've got that dimension covered. So when you're doing this team picking, think of it as casting. The other analogy that I like is cooking. You're cooking a recipe that you've just cooked a million times and you know it's good, you use the same ingredients. You're tryin' to make a better recipe, you're gonna need different ingredients, or a different combination of those ingredients. You're gonna need to stretch those ingredients in different ways. Rather than, you can't make a better cake with the same cake recipe, so that's the analogy that I think can apply to everything. There's also, you can kind of imagine in your head drawing a matrix where one dimension is heuristics, different strategies for approaching problems, and one dimension is perspectives, and whatever your team is, whatever skills you've recruited them for, you can kinda map out what people fit into. Whether they have different differences along these things, and if you find that you have a whole bunch of people with similar heuristics with different perspectives, maybe you need to get some people with different heuristics. Or, usually what happens, they have a whole bunch of people with the same perspective, but are bringing different approaches. And when you see that, when you actually kinda map it out, then you can realize, "Hey, we have an excuse here "to bring in some people who are different, "or maybe to shake up the team." So, how do you do that? How do you identify, besides the super powers exercise, how do you identify these kinds of things that are gonna lead people, who on the surface, you might not know if they have different perspectives and heuristics, and my favorite method for doing this is by unearthing peoples' stories. So, story telling, well, first of all, as a journalist, someone who grew up reading tons and tons and tons of books, any chance I get to talk about the power of stories, I'll do it. And we'll talk a little bit more about that later in this class. But, stories are not just good for making people care about something, not just good for jogging peoples' minds, they're good for finding out about people. So, in a hiring process, for example, the questions we usually ask people have to do with the aptitude for the job. What's the right answer to this? How would you approach that? Right? You would kinda get at someone's heuristics that way, but you don't really uncover the richness of their mental mosaic unless you find out more about who they are through their stories. And, there's a tendency that some people have, when they hear this, to ask questions that end up being illegal. You can't do that. You want people to volunteer their stories. You don't say, "How many kids do you have, "and are you plannin' on havin' more?" Like, you can't do that, but you can ask people questions that get them to open up with their own personal stories, and this has a couple of benefits. If you don't mind, I'll actually try a couple of questions on you. How about you? What's a time in your life when you changed your mind about something really significant.
That's a really good one, and actually it's somewhat easy. I had a, I grew up in a particular situation, and grew up with political tendencies or perspectives, and got to a certain point in my life where I was in my early 20's and started experiencing just a change in my situation. I was responsible for myself versus somebody else being responsible for me. My politics changed, but then as I grew up again, or more, and had children, and started to kinda see the world around me, as opposed to being very focused on myself, my politics, again, changed. So, it's very easy for me to see like just how growing up and experiencing more of life really changed how I looked at what was important, if that makes sense.
Yeah, well, and politics are so attached to our identities, that's actually a very difficult thing to change your mind on. So you did it twice. Was it kind of like pie, where's it the same in the top and the bottom?
[Woman With Glasses] Yes.
[Woman With Glasses] Yes.
What did your family say when you went through this? (laughing)
So, it's interesting because I was, I'm married and my, growing up with one kinda set of political values, or values, and then being exposed to different ones as you expand your family, and kind of adopting different stories that make sense, and then coming back to, I think, what was kinda core in me has been difficult for, certainly, holidays. (laughs) To say nothing, yeah, it's been challenging, for sure, so, yeah.
Well, thank you for sharing--
[Woman With Glasses] Yeah.
That. What we learned from that, something that you wouldn't normally learn in a job interview, we learned that one, you have the capacity to change your mind about things that are really difficult, which is an admirable trait. We also learned that you care about your family a lot, that you can endure psychologically difficult things, and you let slip that you're married and you have a family now, too. So, now I know that you have a set of perspectives that might be, if we have a group of people that are all single, it could be useful to have you when we're solving problems for users or audiences that aren't all of just like single people, right? Thank you for sharing that. Alright, for you. What's something that, what's the first thing you remember reading that really impacted you?
I, for some reason, don't relate to reading as much, so there's not a whole lot, but the thing that has like really impacted me much is just reading this a non-fiction book about Frances Perkins. So, I know, it's like--
Tell me about Frances Perkins.
She's literally, so she's one of the key people who drove a lot of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's political agenda for, and so she's like someone in the history who's very politically oriented, who drove a lot of like pro-liberal progressive things that we even like kinda switch around, back and forth, even in today's date. And it's, the reason I'm saying, it's recent, it's a book I've read like six years ago, so it's not like something I grew up reading, but reading is not something I relate to as much as watching TVs, or watching plays, or like seeing people act in different ways.
So why did that impact you?
It's impacted me most because it's someone who, a it's female in public service, both are things I want to do eventually. I'm female, want to be in public service, and the interesting thing about it was it's someone who was never trained to be that person. Like, men have role models, people around, like you could like idolize yourself in different ways. This person just decided they cared about something and just went after it and were full of grit, and went after it again and again and again in different ways of their life. So, that about it, her story inspired me the most.
That's awesome. So, we learned a few things from that, too. I probably would not, if we were doing a regular job interview about whatever the job is, I probably would not have unearthed that you have an interest in going into public service, right? And that is, that's incredibly cool, and that's gonna, there's gonna be a lens that you have on whatever we're working on that that could become important. I think there's also something that I caught in there that you understand, it appears, just from that little snippet, what other women in my company are gonna need to look at, in terms of a role model, so that they can move forward and have that positive influence. You sound like the kind of woman that I would like to be leading the women in my company to help us do that together, right? So, this is the kinds of things that, just learning your story and what gets at your core, can really help, so we'll do one more. What's something that you know how to do that most people don't know how to do, and how'd you learn it?
Well, it's something that I don't necessarily look at as like tangible skill, but it, I find it very easily, very easy to put myself in other people's shoes, and to like look at the same thing from multiple perspectives, and I think I learned that by traveling a lot. I had a few years when I just travel like crazy, and observe how different people do different things in different ways, and geography and religion, and all those things that kind of define different personalities. And, trying to understand why they did things in this way that was different than what I hope, what I thought was the right way up until that point. Just made a switch in my brain that there's not one solution to most of the problems. There's like different ways of looking to things, so I just start to kinda develop this skill of like what if I looked at this thing through a different perspective, through a different kind of like, frame it in different way. Will that help reach a better solution? And I find it very easily to do that now, and that helps me a lot in my job as a designer, but it's something that helps me throughout my life, day to day, and I notice that other people are struggling to do that.
I'm so glad that you say this because you bring, you're bringing up two things that we're gonna talk about later in this class. There's one place that you, in your travels, that you would recommend that I go to for that same reason, for learning that there's more than one right way to do things, and all of that, where would you recommend?
Okay, where in Japan should I go? I've wanted to go there for ages actually. (laughing)
Just about anywhere, really. I mean, Toki's awesome, and like huge. But like anywhere you go, you'll find that they have very particular culture and way of doing things and caring about certain things that here we don't really care about those things as much. Like, they're very dedicated to craft, and you see like 80 year old folks just like brewing coffee and that's the only things that they did their entire life and they still wanna perfect themselves, kinda like Jiro Dreams of Sushi. You see a lot of those characters, and their attention to detail, and their, how much they care about like aesthetics, and stuff like, is just very, very different than what we're used to. And, like I went there five times already, and I miss it a lot. And, I still find something new whenever I go there, so I think it's a really amazing place to go visit just because they're so different in their mentality.
Thank you. So, we learned some things about you too. If I'm picking between two or four designers to join my project and some things are relatively equal, and I don't have someone who's been around the world, I'm gonna pick you because you have that, and if I don't have someone who understands the way that people look at things in the East, then that's gonna be something that actually could be very relevant, cognitive adversity for our team. So, thank you. So, now your questions, we have a few minutes before the end of this session. What we've gone through so far, what questions do you have, or do you have any questions for me about any of my experience that might be relevant to us workin' together?
How do you decide the right amount of people to be on that team, right? Like, having it be big enough such that you've got diversity but not so big that you can't really move forward.
That's a great question. Often the smaller the group that's meeting together at once, the better. When we're talking about solving problems, we'll get into some of that in later sessions, but the kind of rules of thumb that you want, you never want a group of people working on something where people are not speaking. If not everyone is sort of sharing the time and contributing to the process, then they may as well not be, they may as well get the email about it. The, in terms of optimal group size, they've done lots of studies on this, so for different things it's gonna vary on what kind of project it is. When we're talking about brainstorming, we'll get into that, also, later, that's one where a group of two is too many people often, but we'll talk about different ways that you can actually optimize bigger groups when you're coming up with ideas. The best way, I think, to run a problem solving process, to actually have one person who's in charge, who's on the hook for the decision, or the solution, and having one-on-one conversations with a diverse array of inputs, a diverse array of people. That's the best way to, if you have the time, to be really thoughtful about it. 'Cause then you can, and we'll talk about this too, you can push further into kind of exploratory territory in this problem solving without the fear of the group dynamic affecting what you can talk about, and how far you can go, and whether there's risk in saying something. So, that's pretty important. There's a lot of cases where you do need lots of people. So, say you're trying to spark a social movement, right? You're tryin' to, you need a lot of people to vote for something, or to pressure bad actors to change, that's where the team coming up with solutions is less of what you're working on than the mobilizing of the effort, right? And so, different kinds of things that you're working on will necessitate different sizes of groups. But, I think being deliberate about that, and usually we err on too many people in the process. There's also, kind of what you're getting at too, the sort of Noah's Ark thing. Do we include one of every kind of person across every dimension that we can? That's not always gonna be relevant. It's not always gonna be useful. But the mistake that I think we make way too often is when we're making decisions about solving a problem that's going to affect a group, you do not include someone from that group in that process, then you're really setting yourself up. So, I think that's where, and it doesn't have to be that person is around the table of people making the decisions, but you need the inputs, and you need to take that seriously. Trying to remember the exact story. I wanna say it's the governor of New Jersey or New York was working on something, I think it was New jersey, we'll just use this as a hypothetical, but this comes from a real story. It was working of something that was gonna affect some small town in the state, and they had this whole group of experts that are working on the decision or whatever, and then the governor was like, "Why don't we have anyone from this town here?" And they're like, "Well, because no one's qualified "to do this." He's like, "Find me someone," and so they brought in a college student, this small town, or whatever, college town, who is this is way above their clearance level for this thing. It was important to this governor to have that person there. That's gonna change the way everyone thinks about the project when you have someone there who's going to be affected by it. I think that's really important. We also underestimate the ability for seeing people who are different at the table to change that way that we all think about something. My favorite analogy for this is you're redecorating a building, or a hotel, or something, and you're all sitting around the table talking about plans that we can make, the curtains like this, and we can do that, and we can do the handrails, and whatever, someone rolls in on a wheelchair halfway through the meeting, everyone's gonna think a little bit differently about the project, and this happens along all sorts of dimensions where you suddenly recognize that someone is not like you. Yes?
So often, I actually love your tip about the brainstorming, maybe have people go solo think first, and then come to the room, so thanks for that. And, but I do find I get in a room and it's my job to kinda lead a brainstorm, or bring an idea to the table, and I love to always get a different perspective, but how do I make sure I'm not starting it with imposing my perspective? Like, how do you take a step back and make sure you're really setting the team up to truly think about it neutrally, or in a fresh way?
You know, these studies that talk about how brainstorming usually leads to fewer good ideas than if you just do it on your own and then come back and discuss, there are counter examples to that. Just because groups are not usually better together, sometimes they are. One of my favorite examples of when a group coming up with ideas together is more powerful is improv comedy. There are rules that they have in improv that allow that to happen. But there's also, and we'll get at this, there's an uninhibitedness that you bring out when you do improv long enough, so if someone says something that's awful, or stupid, the rest of the group rescues that. You're never at risk of being burned at the stake for something that you say in improv 'cause the rest of the group will rescue that and say yes, and untwist that into something that's funny. And you've probably been to improv shows where a couple of the cast members are not that funny, and that's okay. The people who become really successful are the ones that can properly vibe with each other, but they're not the ones that read each other's minds, they're the ones that can trust that if I throw something out, that you will take it somewhere great, and then you can trust me to take that somewhere even better. So we do have examples of this, but usually in like a business setting, that's not what happens around a brainstorming table, and there's also this sort of danger in, you're trying to do this as a group often so people feel like they're participating, so they have buy in, so we feel like we've co-created this thing, and so there's an element, like a goal, in there of having the group feel great together, right, and be unified, and so you will hold back on punching through an idea that needs to have some holes punched in it because that's gonna kind of harm that group dynamic that you want, and that's where, if you can have the one-on-one conversation, and you can show them that you have immense personal support for them, while having this intellectual conflict, then that can yield some pretty good results.