Extracts from a LinkedIn Discussion posted in the ‘DBA’ Group | July 2012

The author Ann Landers once said, “There are really only three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say…What happened?”

Which of these people-types reflects you and your design team’s current behaviours – the proactive, reactive or generally inactive?


There is only me in my team, on a full-time basis anyway Simon, but I would like to say I aspire to the 1st – for my sins.


So long as you’re proactive to all of the above you may be alright. Watch, question, deliver.


Personally, being a ‘driver’ and having a thirst for innovation, it frustrates me when others criticise rather than participate and then contribute no ideas of their own. If someone betters an idea I might have proposed, I am delighted and embrace it.

However, too many people look only for negatives and fault – so I would add a fourth category to Simon’s list – there are those that stop things happening!


I hear and empathise with your frustration. I’m sure you recognise that the problem here is (largely) that it’s so much easier to criticise than to offer / originate constructive thoughts…..like a default setting it’s pre-programmed human behaviour for the majority, no?

The point with this discussion is that a little self-reflection every so often, whether that brings out positives or negatives, has to be a good thing.

My partner Lisa kindly tells me ‘you make things happen’ which I receive as a compliment, but still struggle with the act of receiving a compliment…I don’t know why.  Easier to just see myself as someone that is ‘proactive’, because I am self-employed and drive myself to remain so.

There you go…a little self-reflection, anyone else?


Hi Simon, What do you think about the idea that the three types exist on a paradigm and we can inhabit any of them, dependent on the specific situation. This gets away from the pressure to boxing ourselves up into extreme categories but turns the focus towards the specific conditions that contribute to behaviour.

One area where attitudes have changed from boxing to paradigm is in the introvert/extrovert area. The current thinking suggests that rather than being one or the other, we tend towards either depending upon the situation, this was a revelation for me because I felt that I oscillated between the 2 but now I realise that’s dependent upon the situation I’m a lot more relaxed about it and embrace both!

If you’re interested in finding out more, some decent books on personality type: Quiet, the power of Introverts by Susan Cain and I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You: Real Meaning of the 16 Personality Types: Amazon.co.uk: Roger R. Pearman, Sarah C. Albritton: Books.


Yes… I think you raise some really interesting points John, and in essence I would probably agree with you.

I’m familiar with MBTI which refers primarily to ‘preference’. I know some large organisations where this is the preferred business language of choice, and have put their management teams through lengthy training courses to enable the organisation to speak the ‘language’. However, my experience is these only really work when the knowledge and understanding is universal…widely used.

It is particularly useful when working with high performing teams that are skilled and active in giving and receiving feedback….and all familiar with the language, types and preferences.


That’s a good point, that everyone needs to know it to make it work well (misused and this knowledge can be like nitro glycerin in the hands of a unicyclist on cobbles). Although I wonder if perhaps more self-knowledge is no bad thing- that these concepts could be used by the self-aware individual to better understand the environment that they work best in.

They could also be used with empathy to better understand colleagues and why they behave how they do. I was chatting to Rod Petrie yesterday and we were discussing how strengths and weaknesses are treated within the performance review context and where the emphasis of a performance review ought to be to get most out of the process for all involved. any thoughts on this anyone?


Following on from your comment John, I wonder what percentage of the day at work people out there really spend playing to their strengths? Do I still get the feeling that when it comes to individual Performance Reviews a higher percentage of the time is spent on their weaknesses, then their strengths, then even more time on none of that stuff.

In my experience the brilliant people, the brilliant agencies and the brilliant teams all play to their strengths. Am I alone in my opinion?


Rod I’m sure you’re right about performance reviews. There can be a tendency to ‘fix’ the weaknesses. There is, however, no doubt in my mind that self-awareness is the foundation for greater performance, be it individual, team or group, and so if reviews provide time for reflection and awareness so much the better.

Widening the context again to Simon’s original point I also wonder how different it is for leaders/business owners v team players. For business owners – taking action is a given. (OK we all might have bad days but fundamentally we would not be ‘in business’ without it). The make-up, psychology of teams and the balance to make 2+2=5 is a more complex and utterly fascinating dance.


Hi Liz, agree with self-awareness as the foundation for greater performance. I wonder what proportion of ‘taking action’ involves creating a system that supports and compensates for problems compared with uncovering the true extent of the problem space and taking action to resolve it.

It crops up in my conversations with members particularly when they talk about the conflict/stress of working in the business rather than on the business. Something acutely felt by small design businesses (who let’s face it are in the majority), which pulls them in. I wonder if these difficulties create actions as reactions rather than actions which would have been chosen. The decision whether or not to enter into competition for work that involves providing unpaid creative work perhaps falls into this category (but that’s another hornet’s nest!).


Some people need an arm round the shoulder, some people need a kick in the pants! Performance reviews leads to HR and if you get me started on that topic you’ll regret it….!


In the end, people are people. And all you can hope to do in life is learn what your strengths are, and then try to play to them. Whilst Maxine is right, and no one wants to be around those who stop things happening, equally too many Chiefs and not enough Indians can be just as counter-productive.


Hi Jason, maybe motivation has a lot to do with it.

I saw a good talk by Daniel Pink on TED called the Surprising Science of Motivation. He talks about intrinsic motivators having the strongest pull for people. if these are working for you, you do things because they’re part of something important, they matter and they’re interesting. In terms of job function, his view is that there is strong evidence to say that 3 things underpin our working lives to create motivation.

The first is Autonomy- the degree to which you are self-directed in what you do (quotes a couple of good examples from companies that introduced initiatives to enable their staff to work on stuff that interested them, as well as the work they had to do). I guess that one design equivalent might be pro bono charity work? Or perhaps it might be the opportunity to choose the work you want to do rather than have the work choose you (tough at any time I expect but even more so at the moment.)The second was Mastery- the opportunity to get better and better at something and to see that happening. The third was Purpose- having a purpose larger than ourselves. he quotes an interesting comparison between Microsoft Encarta (failed online encyclopedia) and Wikipedia (successful encyclopedia).

Maybe the difference between Ann Landers ‘types’ is that the first is doing something that satisfies these criteria and the other 2 have not plugged into these values in what they are doing?


It’s an interesting discussion John and as many others have said, at the end of the day it comes down to a willingness to learn and share irrespective of position, age or status, self-confidence & above all, the generosity of spirit of the people leading and participating.


Thanks to those who contributed.