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Thomas, chief technology officer (CTO) for a large software company, stretched after his workout in the gym just down the street from his office.

Nancy, Thomas’ chief people officer teammate, plopped down beside him. “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all.”

“I didn’t know you were a gym rat.”

“I’m not. But, I’m finding breaking my day up with exercise helps everything go more smoothly.”

“You have seemed a lot less…high-strung lately. I’ve been wondering why. Too much work made Thomas a stressed boy?”

Thomas chuckled. “Not exactly. Too much flexing outside my preferences.”

“Well, this is certainly the right place to flex,” Nancy deadpanned.

Thomas glared at her, then snorted. “Not the type of flexing I’m talking about. But, flexing here has helped me with that other flexing.”

Nancy stared at Thomas, perplexed. “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Details, please?”

“Both types of flexing are part of converting my work into play.”

Asking a question gives you a direction

“Remember the updates I’ve been giving our board of directors about the shifts many of my engineering teams are making?” asked Thomas.

“Letting the engineers choose the work that lights them up, rather than parceling out the work to whoever’s available.”

“Yes. They’re all so happy all the time now. And so much more productive. I’ve wanted that for myself since I first understood what was really going on.”

“Sure. Who doesn’t want to be happy all the time? Well, my teenager. But that’s beside the point. And also hormones, most likely. Go on.”

“Then, at that CTO summit a few weeks ago, the discussion at lunch centered around how differently each of us defined ‘play’.”

“What’s your definition?”

“I didn’t have one then. And, I still don’t.”

“If you don’t know what ‘play’ means for you, how are you converting your work into play?”

“Searching for answers has led me down all sorts of rabbit holes. One day, feeling like I was trapped in a maze, I typed ‘how to find my way when I don’t know where I’m going’ into my search engine.”

“And the number one result said, ‘Go work out and the answers will become apparent’?”

Thomas grinned. “No. Clicking through results suggested other search terms, whose results, in turn, suggested other search terms. Eventually I landed on this website talking about playing with courage. That intrigued me. A little while later, I was signing up for a course called ‘You are a disco ball. Let your facets shine.’”

Nancy pulled a face. “Really? What does that even mean?”

Even just one answer gives you information

“The facets in that title are different aspects of how we interact with the world. For example, when we tend to talk to think versus think to talk.”

“Oh, I get it. It’s one of those daffy online personality tests. You really paid money for that?”

“That’s not what it is at all. This course puts everything into a business context. For example, how many executive team meetings get derailed because one of us never shuts up and someone else never speaks up? And then accusations of contempt and withholding information start flying and we devolve into chaos.”

“So many. Your disco course has a solution?”

“It has suggestions. Some people think to talk. Making them talk before they are ready only forces them to give half-considered opinions.”

“Which they likely really do not want to do, else they would have spoken up on their own.”

Thomas nodded. “Other people, conversely, talk to think. They’re going through the exact same process as the think-to-talkers, only out loud.”

Understanding dawned on Nancy’s face. “Oh! That explains a lot. I know exactly who on our team does which.”

The tiniest bit of information suggests a new question

“So, what does your disco course suggest?” Nancy continued.

“First, for each of us to describe when we prefer to do which. Second, to decide what to do about it.”

“Like sending the talk-to-thinkers out of the room for a few minutes, so they can talk their way to a decision while everyone else thinks their way there.”

“Yes. Maybe not send the talk-to-thinkers from the room; it’s not that we’re punishing them. As you say, though, give each person time and space to think the way they prefer.”

“I like it. Let us stay within our preferences, where we’re comfortable, rather than forcing us out of our preferences, where we likely won’t be as effective.”

“Yes, exactly. The disco course calls this ‘flexing.’”

“Because we’re stretching ourselves outside of where we’re comfortable?”

“Yes. And that takes energy. Just like flexing our muscles here at the gym, or stretching a rubber band, takes energy.”

“And the more we’re flexing out of our preferences, the more energy we expend on that, and thus the less energy we have available to participate in the discussion and come to a decision.”


Navigate your way into change

Nancy and Thomas wrapped up their stretching as they wrapped up their conversation.

“So, you now understand your preferences for each of these different aspects of yourself,” Nancy summarized. “And, you’re using that knowledge to consciously decide when and how far to flex out of your preferences. This is why you seem so much calmer lately?”

“Partly. There’s a second piece as well. But, I have a meeting to prepare for, so I’ll tell you about that another time.”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I want to take this disco course. It sounds like something we might want to bring into every team.”

“That would be really useful. I’d love to map out where my engineers and teams fall on the various facets. I’ll send you the link when I get back to my office.”

“Thank you. And, let’s meet here again tomorrow. I want to hear that second reason you’re more at ease.”

“I’m taking the three o’clock kickboxing class. Join me for that?”

“I’m not sure I want to flex that far out of my preferences,” Nancy laughed.

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