The Challenge of Being the Intermediary
Several years ago my husband returned from a corporate training event bursting with excitement. “I finally get it,” he said. “I now know why I don’t work like other people and why no one I work with seems to get it.”
The training had introduced him to the Kirton Adaption-Innovation Inventory. Developed by psychologist Michael Kirton, the inventory is a model of cognitive style measuring the "preferred mode of tackling problems at all stages.” On one end of the spectrum is the Adaptive, a resourceful person who strives to solve the problem within its bounds—think Henry Ford. On the other end is the Innovative, an out-of-the-box thinker who often redefines the problem in the process of providing solutions—think Nikola Tesla.
My husband’s inventory placed him squarely in the Innovative side of the spectrum; nearly every other person in the class scored in the Adaptive end. Kirton insists that positions within the spectrum are value-free; we need both Ford and Tesla. The challenge lies in how Adaptives and Innovatives perceive, communicate, and work together.
“You’ve got to take this thing,” he said. “I’m dying to see your score.”
My score? Right in the middle.
“I knew it,” my husband almost shouted. “You’re a Bridger!”
Although a Bridger is technically not a cognitive style but rather a role, Bridgers are critical to the success of teams whose members have varying styles. The Bridger serves as the intermediary between the Innovative’s ideas and the Adaptive’s details.
Sound like anyone you know?
At the time I was the documentation specialist for a rapid application development software company. Previously, the company had mailed out a three hundred-page notebook with everything the development team thought the user needed to know about the product. When Mom and Pop User got this notebook, they were terrified and sometimes even asked for their money back. My challenge was to create an implementation guide that reassured the users they could run this program, while assuring development and technical support that the program would be fully utilized.
My greatest allies in this process? The team’s testers.
They helped me understand how the program was supposed to work and how it was supposed to be used. Their real-world experience using the program combined with their insight into the development of the program served as an ideal bridge between development and end-user.
After weeks of intense writing, editing, and testing, we released a thirty-page implementation guide. Was it the one-page guide Sales wanted? No. But it was a marked improvement over the three hundred-page brick that had previously shipped. Overall, it was a success.
Now, I’m on yet another side. I serve as the intermediary between software professionals who work in areas I can barely understand and subject matter experts who literally wrote the books. I’m challenged the same way, so I’m responding the same way—listening, learning, attending, and reconnecting with the consummate Bridgers: software testers.
The quiet one sitting near the back of your class? That might be me.