Please exit your comfort zone

People approach business problems in different ways. Some people want to identify the many possible solutions, up front. Others want to fully understand and assess one solution before considering the next solution. And still others want to start implementing a reasonable solution immediately, to see how well it works, and then, in learning from experience, modify that idea to make it work better. This difference in people’s natural tendency or impulse is called conative style—it’s the default way they direct their effort.

But a person’s default behaviour isn’t the only way they can direct their effort. People can adopt a different conative style—for a while. Most people in the workplace have done this successfully. However, when the pressure is on, people tend to resort to their preferred conative style, as they instinctively seek some comfort. And workplace problems often come with pressure, don’t they?

The other thing workplace problems often come with are project teams, inevitably made up of people who have different conative styles. That’s actually a benefit—Dr Meredith Belbin claims that teams team diversity is essential to success for projects in general. For design projects, specifically, team diversity is also important. But consider these pitfalls that design teams naturally face:

  • Time-and-cost constraints and other pressures mean the team members naturally adopt their default conative styles.
  • Team members have different conative styles, so they unintentionally work at cross-purposes. One want to generate candidate solutions, another wants to start building, and a third wants to compare and assess.
  • The team members with the strongest personalities have disproportionate influence.
  • The contributions of quieter voices get missed, causing disengages team members and overlooked ideas.

This natural dynamic can actually put great design outcomes out of reach. That’s because:

  • Design is more likely to succeed when many ideas are generated up front, and analysis is delayed until after all ideas are generated.
  • Idea generation is an ideation conative style, but analysis is a judgement conative style.
  • Ideation and judgement are opposite conative styles.

Design is stressful for people who have a judgement conative style and haven’t had previous success with ideation. Since, under pressure, people resort to their preferred conative style, Five Sketches™ has specific things to encourage non-designers to engage in generative activity (to generate ideas without analysing them). Developers are great at analysis, logic, reason, examination, which are typical of a judgement conative style, so during Five Sketches training, we present a model of the conative styles that appeals to their judgement: we plot the styles, we provide data from of previous projects (as social proof), and we provide a timeline that shows them ideation will be a temporary activity. During the ideation stage, there are specific actions and reminders to keep people on the ideation side until it’s time for everyone to move to the judgement side of the ideation-judgement axis. Over the space of several hours, this is what happens:

Experience shows that it works. After a brief foray outside their comfort zones, developers and other non-designers get to return to their preferred conative styles. The benefits: design outcomes are better; stakeholders are included and heard; requirements are met; and the development schedule is the same or shorter.