Re: Techwriting and Personality

Subject: Re: Techwriting and Personality
From: Sandy Harris <sandy -at- storm -dot- ca>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Sat, 07 Apr 2001 15:16:41 -0400

Andrew Plato wrote:

> The one personality type that consistently benefits writers is a "can-do"
> attitude. Coupled with a solid work ethic, "can-do" people...well, can do just
> about anything. They are also in extremely short supply.

That's far from the only beneficial characteristic.

For example, my main strength is that I can understand almost any abstraction
and enjoy mapping it into terms more comprehensible to the audience. "can-do"
does not enter into it. I enjoy the challenge of working that out. Once that's
over, I'm tempermentally inclined to lose interest, but I do the rest because
I need to test whether I got it right, or because it's in the contract or ...

Other writers no doubt have strengths and motivations quite different either
from what you suggest or what I've described. There are quite a few combinations
that can get the job done.

An interesting claim in the literature on this is that people tend to marry
opposite types but to hire the same type as themselves. If that's true, I'm
inclined to think most of us who do hiring would benefit our teams by making
some effort to hire a broader range.

> Most people wait for approval rather than just do the job. As such, "observer"
> mentalities (which is what ISTJs are) don't always work well. At some point
> you have to stop observing and put all that genius into motion. Only when
> people can put thoughts and plans into motion can they be of real value to an
> organization.
> This is why the "plan, plan, plan" people ultimately fail. It isn't because
> their plans are bad or even that planning is a bad idea. Its that they cherish
> the plan over the action. ...

I'm no expert (though I was married to one) but I suspect you have part of the
Meyers-Briggs stuff backwards, specifically the J/P distinction.

J's are interested in making Judgements, decisions. Once they have enough data
to decide, they're inclined to lose interest in getting more data. They are
indeed the ones that make elaborate plans in advance, but the danger is less
that they'll spend forever planning than that they'll fail later, either by
ignoring new data or by panicking because it breaks their plan.

P's are more interested in Perceiving, gathering and understanding the data.
We (I'm about as far out on the P scale as the measurement extends) are the
ones in danger of never getting anything done, not because we waste too much
time planning, but because we're relectant to make decisions without having
full information. For example, I'm sorely reluctant to write a word before
I feel I understand the product. For me, understanding is the interesting
part; making decisions is just a handy byproduct.

It seems possible a stable process-driven company with document plans and
so on would suit a J type better, while the fast-paced ever-changing new
firm might be a better place for a P, but that's an over-simplification.

For one thing, both environments need a range of skills and approaches.
For another, the types describe inclination and temperment, not performance.
We can all do various things that don't come naturally.

A typical P/J conflict is one that came up betwwen P me and J ex, planning
a holiday in Jamaica. She wanted to have reservations for the whole two weeks
before we left, and had a written internerary mostly worked out.

I thought that maybe, since it was an unknown country to both of us, we
should book a hotel for the first night to give us a base to explore from,
look around for an interesting place to stay. Booking any more than that
without a look around seemed silly. For London or Amsterdam, I wouldn't
even book the first night, just get there and wing it.


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