Are We Philosophers or Pragmatists?

After working with so many people throughout the years at all levels, I find that there are two distinct personality types.

The first, whom I call philosophers, are those who love to examine the fundamentals of every decision in the organisation. Thriving on discourse, these deep thinkers love to indulge in intellectual discussions and question the reasons for management mandates and policies that don't fit into their worldview.

Are you as profound as Confucius....(source)

Before embarking on any new task, philosophers want to be assured that each step of the way is carefully thought through and pondered. Nothing is too small to be teased apart into its individual components, studied, and reflected upon. To them, action is a dirty word while analysis is nirvana.

The second, whom I call pragmatists, are the exact polar opposites. These roll-up-the-sleeves specialists love to dive into the challenge, no questions asked, and are at the starting blocks even before you say "Get ready". Their mottos are "Do first, ask later" and "Mine is not to reason why, mine is just to do or die."

...Or as ready to zoom once you're off the blocks? (source)

Pragmatists do not like to ask questions, consider options or valorise the vicissitudes of their work. To them, speed is of the essence, and every minute wasted on paperwork is a minute lost. Once the gates are open, they will carry on from A to Z until you say "stop".

Which category of workers are more important to an organisation? I believe that both are necessary.

Jobs like policy formulation, strategic planning, financial management, market research, systems architecture, and human resource development require some element of philosophising. You need to establish the raison detre of the organisations, where its vision and mission lies, and what approach is best in these roles.

Other jobs require people who can move quickly and independently, and where some degree of haste is necessary. They include marketing communications, public relations, operational management, sales, logistics and system administration.

My more important point, however, is that we should try develop BOTH our philosophical and pragmatic selves at work, and to use these different facets according to the occasion.

As an example, a market researcher may want to seize an immediate opportunity to get feedback on their competitor's product if the launch is happening tomorrow. Similarly, somebody looking at building a robust IT architecture may want to study in detail a major system failure which just took place an hour ago.

Similarly, a sales executive may want to beef up his knowledge on human psychology and consider a different strategy to target his client's weak points. Likewise, a visitor services manager may want to study how other retail businesses do it, and reflect upon what works and what doesn't in customer interactions.

The next time you think about your hiring and training needs, consider the balance between the philosophers and the pragmatists and how you can tap onto the best of both worlds.

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