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Employee Math: When Two Plus Two is More than Four

A technical person would argue that 2+2 is always 4, never less or never more. This person would point to mathematics or physics. Perhaps, it would be an argument of common sense and logic. In human psychology, though, there’s a different kind of math, where two plus two might equal 10, 30 or more. When you build a team with the right kind of people, you capture extroirdinary gains. 

Let me explain. In this mathematical sense, every person is an individual. In an organization, each person is trained in a particular discipline and often works as an individual contributor, perhaps a programmer, engineer, writer, accountant, sculptor, or scientist. These men and women bury their heads into their work and do great things and solve big problems. They tend to be introverts. Often, they pay a lot of attention to details and accuracy. They are analytical and focused on delivering a clear outcome. 

Most other organizations have a second sort of person. These people tend to be outspoken, extroverted and even gregarious. They are the ones that love attention and speaking to the crowd. They might not focus on 100% accuracy and detail, but rather the big vision. They are positive and optimistic. They take partial information and extrapolate and create a goal. These are people who can build great teams where everyone trusts each other. The group has shared aspirations, goals, and trust. By building a team, the whole proves itself greater than the sum of the parts. You could say, when you do this sort of math that two plus two equals ten.

I find myself wondering if people are born or made. I think it has something to do with the mentors they have. Technology probably plays a role so we’ll see new things with the digital native generation that grew up with mobile phones and video games. It may be good or bad. I’m concerned that the digital divide has stunted the people skills of some.

And of course, nobody is 100% one thing or another. People grow and change. They rise to an occasion that calls them to something new.

It’s clear that organizations need both kinds of people. The technical people tend to shine in their chosen line of discipline. The others tend to shine in leadership roles and sales roles, anywhere they need to deal with a lot of people, with charm, wit and charisma. One creates a vision and the other handles the details. 

It reminds me of a well-known story in Mahabharata from India. Here’s the short version: Krishna and Arjuna were walking toward a village together, talking about what makes a great role model. He wanted to know why Karna was considered a role model rather than him. Krishna decided to teach him a lesson. He transformed the the two mountains, one at each side of the path, into piles gold. He told Arjuna to distribute the two mountains of gold amongst the nearby villagers—every bit of it. After two days and nights of handing out gold, the mountains hadn’t diminished in the slightest. Finally, Arjuna gave up and admitted defeat. Krishna called Karna and set him the same task. Karna called two villagers and said “These two mountains of gold are yours to do with as your please.” The job was done. Arjuna was the detail guy and Karna was the person who saw the big picture and the way around the insurmountable problem.

Often, these two types of people don’t get along very well because they see things differently. Neither is wrong, but each has a different perspective.

Have you seen the right mix of people overcome big problems? How do you build extraordinary teams? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.  

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