Last Thursday I had breakfast with a local usability guru. We caught up a bit on what each other have been doing, and he said, to my astonishment, the above line. I suppose I’m astonished because I feel like I’ve been in a kind of exploration free-fall for the last two years. I actually stopped, looked at him, and said “really?!” And then I desperately wanted him to tell me just what it was I had said, essentially what it was I wanted to be when I grew up. I need Tivo for conversations.
Anyway, I think I might have said something like this: not project management, not UI/interaction design, but people management. Specifically, I want to figure out how to make teams that work, teams where people contribute according to their individual talents, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I am interested in what makes workplaces successful and what makes people successful, how to foster growth and get out of the way and let people do stuff. Not that I know how to do all of this yet, but that’s what I want to be learning and doing.
I found the book First Break All the Rules to be exceptionally helpful in structuring some of my thinking on this. Basically, this book says, match people to jobs that take advantage of their natural abilities rather than try to fix them by forcing them to shore up weaknesses. The idea: people have almost unlimited potential in some areas and very limited potential in others. Don’t make everyone unhappy by forcing others to “stretch” in the wrong places. This book gave me permission not to try to work on all the weak places (say, public speaking) to try to make myself into something I’m not (say, comfortable with strangers) but instead leverage those things I naturally do and use them to everyone’s advantage. I naturally pay close attention to people–their moods, what they like, notice what they’re good at–and I naturally want to help. So, find a way to do more of that. I’m a bit stumped how to do this with a distributed team and whether new job was the right place to work on some of these things, but it is still early days yet, and much is possible.