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Perspective, Disagreement, and Drama


Considering differences in perspective while you’re coming to a decision is vital if the decision is to be well-informed, but different perspectives create different, and clashing, agendas and solutions to problems, which are not always productive.


Nancy Dubuc, CEO of A&E Networks, brings a variety of people and perspectives together to get the most complete and nuanced understanding of a project.


Dubuc sees people as falling into three categories: doers, thinkers, and feelers. These categories provide different perspectives on decision-making, sometimes very strenuously. Some people want to do something right away; others want to consider it at length; and feelers “create energy” and understand the consequences of decisions on those not in the room participating in the discussion.


“If you have all thinkers, nothing will get done. If you have all doers, that can be really chaotic because

you’re not necessarily thinking about the consequences. And feelers are important because they create

energy – but if you have too many of them, they will just dramatize the moment.”


Another aspect of perspective is focus: How narrow or broad is it? What should be taken into account and what is irrelevant? Steve Jobs could see both, and that made him the genius he was.


Rick Tetzeli, co-author of Becoming Steve Jobs, described Jobs as having “terrific peripheral vision,” that is, a very broad perspective. He could spot trends or changes “at the fringes” that others might not see as relevant, but which related to what was going on at Apple. His focus was broad in that he could strategize on how to build on those fringes. For example, Tetzeli pointed out that Apple was never first to market with something brand new: There were a lot of Walkmen on the market before the iPod. Jobs, though, saw what it could become, and then built the most creative and best version of it, dominating the market.


On the other hand, Brent Schlender, also co-author, described Jobs’s “intensity of focus” on the mission to “build great tools for people” and to “institutionalize the whys of the decisions he made” so that Apple could continue to be the creative company he built after he died. This focus was much narrower but complimented the broad perspective for long-range planning.


The problem for managers and leaders at all levels is how to find the value in these differences and combine them so that the best decisions are made and the best people kept on the team. Unless they are recognized and respected for the perspective they contribute, people will walk away. We have all at one time or another complained that someone “wouldn’t even listen.” When that inattention happens too frequently, we go where people are more open to our ideas.


How do you balance these differences? First, Jobs’s vision was clear to everyone, and even those who sometimes suffered under Jobs’s management style said they did some of the their best work for him. They were expected to do good work, they were allowed the freedom to be creative, and the often harsh criticism made their work the best they could produce. That’s an exciting environment for people who love what they do and want to be part of an innovative, ground-breaking organization like Apple. “You felt special” working for him. Of course people tried harder and did better, and ultimately, the differences didn’t matter.


Dubuc talks about trust. “I need to trust who works for me, and they need to trust me. . . . It really needs to be trust by action. If people do, act and deliver, I will forever give those people more leeway.” And trust goes both ways. People trusted Jobs, however difficult he might have been. His record of success, even with the failure of Next while he was banished from Apple, let people know that they could trust his vision and his decisions, so they followed a leader they knew would bring them their own successes, too.


Managing different perspectives at this level is more than just facilitating the discussion and managing disagreement. It’s a relationship that is much more about the goal and the outcome than the process, about mutual trust and shared vision, and the leader of the team sets the tone for both.


For the interview with Dubuc, see the New York Times, 3/22/15, p. 2 Business.

For the interview with Schlender and Tetzeli, see Charlie Rose, 4/13/15, KOCE-TV.

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