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Personality Poker

"Innovations typically fail, not because of technical challenges, but rather due to resistance within and outside of the organization."

- Personality Poker, page 182

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first received my copy of Personality Poker. After all, it’s the first business or personal development book I’ve ever owned that came with its own deck of playing cards. Ten pages in, though, and I was hooked. Now having finished the book, I’m delighted to share that author Stephen M. Shapiro has produced a product that simultaneously incorporates team building, innovation, strategy and fun. And, as an avid poker player (and fan of games, in general), I love Shapiro’s concept.

Here’s the gist: personally and professionally, we all have different strengths and natural aptitudes. We know this; it’s a widely documented topic, covered by literary greats like Marcus Buckingham, Sir Ken Robinson and dozens more. In Personality Poker, Shapiro has broken those strengths into four “suits”:

Spades: Analytical, data-oriented people.
Clubs: People focused on structure and action.
Hearts: Those focused on “who”; people who are all about relationships.
Diamonds: “Creative” individuals; those who like ideas and experiences.

Aside from the gimmick of connecting card suits to four broad categories of human inclination, there’s nothing really new here, either. But, like all truly great tools, there’s a great amount of depth and sophistication lying just beneath the surface. And (here’s what I really love), Shapiro has turned the assessment – both of ourselves and of our co-workers – into a fun, easy to learn and easy to play game. Then, to make the learnings from the game actionable, he’s identified ways to utilize the strengths of individuals on our teams to create a culture of sustainable innovation.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Playing with a Full Deck

"Remember that first and foremost, you will learn about your innovation style – that is, the way in which you can best contribute to innovation and how you sometimes detract from innovation."
- Personality Poker, page 8

Innovation is the corporate buzz word of the 21st century. With the recent massive increase in competitors and the number of various services/products they offer, companies are forced to innovate and grow at a faster rate than ever. There’s often an assumption that “innovation” is a word reserved for the creative types amongst us; the people with the wacky ideas that move our businesses forward in quantum leaps. What Personality Poker reminds us, though, is that idea generation is only one part of the innovation process. We all know examples of brilliant ideas that fizzled. As Shapiro outlines on page 5 of Personality Poker, real innovation requires:

a) a defined challenge
b) the generation and selection of solutions
c) detailed planning and skillful execution
d) engagement and adoption from staff, clients and vendors

Real, lasting innovation requires the input of all four personality suits. You just need to know when and how to best utilize each suit. Personality Poker teaches you how to do just that, using the card game as a great jumping off point for conversation and innovation thinking. The following Insights are a couple points from the book to get you thinking.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Line thinking vs Dot thinking

"That is ‘line’ thinking: making connections where they have typically not existed in the past."
- Personality Poker, page 167

One of the big themes incorporated into the card game that accompanies Personality Poker, the book, is that of “Red cards” vs “Black cards” and how they relate to how we think. People that relate more strongly to the black cards (Spades and Clubs), are often convergent thinkers, meaning that they prefer to work from many options to one, either through facts and data or operational process. Shapiro calls this “dot thinking”; focus on going deep on a certain idea and figuring out all the intricate details. People that resonate more with the red cards (hearts and diamonds) are typically divergent thinkers, preferring to “connect the dots” and expand upon ideas, often jumping to new concepts entirely. We refer to these people as “line thinkers” (certainly not to be confused with linear thinkers), as they thrive on connecting various ideas, going as wide as possible without concerning themselves with the specifics of any one.

The important thing to keep in mind is that there is no “better” type of thinker. Certainly line thinkers will often frustrate dot thinkers (and vice versa), as they look at situations fundamentally differently. The real value to a team or organization is tapping these individual specific skills at the right time in the innovation process. It’s the combination and integration of the two types of thinking that leads to lasting innovation. And, as far as I’ve best identified it, it’s the alternation of the two styles that leads to the smoothest and most successful growth. Here’s what I mean:

  • defined challenge – dot thinkers, working to identify the specific problem (convergent)
  • generate solutions – line thinkers, brainstorming solutions that don’t currently exist (divergent)
  • planning and execution – dot thinkers, defining and structuring process (convergent)
  • engagement and adoption – line thinkers, communicating change in a manner personalized to the recipient (divergent)

So where are you in the process? Are you being utilized most effectively? Are you utilizing your team most effectively?

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

What’s the environment?

"…it is not the specific task that matters, but rather the structure of the task."
- Personality Poker, page 138

In the back half of the book, Shapiro shares a fascinating case study in which participants in a leadership course are assigned either the “designer” or “builder” role in solving a particular problem. The study created three teams:

  • One with line (divergent) thinkers in the designer role and (dot) convergent thinkers in the builder role
  • One with dot thinkers in the designer role and line thinkers in the builder role
  • One with a mix of dot and line thinkers in each role

Now, based on what we’ve discussed so far in this article, one might assume that the first example (line thinkers in the designer role) would be the best fit. After all, line thinkers excel at idea generation, while dot thinkers should be happiest in figuring out the best way to make the idea a reality. In reality, the opposite was true, and for one reason: Rules.

In the problem they were asked to solve the designers were given seven rules, while the builders were given none. As it turns out, rules and limitations are a better indicator of which thinker type is best suited for a particular role than the role itself. Regardless of the task, line (divergent) thinkers were happier (and more productive) when unfettered by rules, just as dot (convergent) thinkers were more successful within the confines of the pre-established rules.

Before you assume whether you, or a particular teammate, is ideally suited for a role based entirely on the “nature of the work”, dig deeper to understand more about the environment of the work. Is it solitary work or team based? Is it well-structured or full of freedom? Those two factors alone can have a major impact on who thrives and who’s miserable.

I love Personality Poker. I love the combination of fun and thought that it masterfully brings together. Whether playing the game with friends, co-workers or solo, the game and companion book offer great insight into who we are and how we can be happier (and more innovative!) in our work and in our lives.

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Chris Taylor

ABOUT Chris Taylor

Founder of Actionable Books, Chris Taylor is a writer, entrepreneur and speaker. He spends his daylight hours helping consultants and employees alike find meaning in their work and discover rich team relationships through his company, Actionablebooks...
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