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Doers & Talkers: Cultivating Innovation

A few years ago, I wrote a post called Doers and Talkers where I profiled two types of people in the technology space: Those who have ideas and are visionaries (or talkers) and those who implement those ideas on behalf of others (the doers).

I looked back at that post and realized that, while correct, it was a bit simplistic. In fact, in a world filled with shades of grey, there are more than just doers and talkers.

In review, talkers tend to be the ideas people. They have great ideas, whether in technology, business or just life in general. They see big pictures and tend to have lofty goals. They think quick and often take steps to see their visions implemented, often times without thinking about ramifications and potential pitfalls.

Talkers benefit from irrational thinking. They look at the impossible and, in their own minds, they don’t think it’s impossible. They see limitations as challenges and tend to think that road blocks are only minor inconveniences.

via XKCD
via xkcd

via xkcd

These are the CEOs and founders of the world. These are the people like Steve Jobs of Apple who say, “Phones shouldn’t be this limiting. I should be able to use my natural senses and behaviors to make the phone do what I expect it to do.” Thus, the iPhone was invented with a touch screen interface and technologies like the accelerometer that allow manipulation of the device through natural movement.

Doers, on the other hand, tend to not allow creative thinking. In fact, they tend not to be creative people. They are analytical, engineering types that look at data and extrapolate results based on that data. Doers, in the software world, are the engineers who are handed a list of specs, a timeline and budget, and are told to go and execute.

These people thrive on structure and expectations. They like to know what’s expected and, when they know, are exceptional at delivering results. Doers abhor irrational behavior and approach problems from a perspective of frameworks and architecture. They don’t venture outside their tent posts and, by doing so, are the necessary ingredient for Talkers to see their visions executed.

There really are shades in the middle, however, that are a rare breed. It’s the people in the middle, who both have the business savvy to see big pictures and allow for some degree of dreaming, yet have a firm understanding of expectations and roadmaps that make them so valuable.

See, doers rarely engage with the talkers in providing context or realistic expectation for proposals. Doers don’t really want that role. Doers get into trouble because they don’t know how to speak the language of the talkers. They don’t have the confidence, perhaps, or the desire to take a project and drive a sense of reality into a proposal. That’s above their pay grade, in their minds.

Meanwhile, talkers have an inherent nature, generally, that precludes outside input in decisions. Therefore, they don’t ask, or perhaps even think to ask, the doers for input. They create the business plans and monetization strategies, but rarely think about the implementation. By doing so, they often overlook problems that might be incurred. Talkers are usually distant from the details of the project and so, they tend to miss the detailed tactical decision making process that is employed by the doer.

Finding that personality who has the business understanding to see a 50,000 foot view, interface with management to guide a decisions in a productive manner and who also has the background and understanding to talk to the doers and collect their input is a rare, but important breed. These people should be hired immediately. Create a position if necessary but don’t let them escape.

These types of personalities tend to be excellent product managers and, in a technical environment, can really steer a product in a productive direction.

For what it’s worth, Google has instituted, for many years now, 20% time. This is the policy that states that every Google employee, regardless of role or position, is allowed 20% of their work week to work on any project that they want to. Allowing the doers, talkers and that happy middle the opportunity to be creative, to be structured and to foster ideas, has resulted in many Google Labs projects.

Notably, some of the best Google products used today, have come out of 20% time projects: Gmail, Google News and Google Reader. Additionally, many features (such as keyboard shortcuts in a variety of Google products) have also been added to existing Google products as a result of 20% time. There is even a blind engineer who created Google’s Accessible Search product.

While doers are important, and talkers are important, finding a way to foster open communication and understanding between them is essential for innovation.

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

One thought on “Doers & Talkers: Cultivating Innovation”

  1. My boss is a talker, I am a doer. We are constantly at odds with one another over all manner of situations. While I know that neither one of us will ever change, I wish we had that someone to bridge the gap!

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