Herding The Cats

Herding The Cats


Herding The Cats is what we call it. It’s gone by many many names over the years, from “Left Brain vs Right Brain” to “Talkers vs Doers” to “Creatives vs Logicals” and a myriad of other divisions across different imaginary lines. But the underlying psychology remains the same, with a winning team comprising of a healthy mix of people from both (all) camps that rarely share identical views on any subject, who will openly debate and therein lies the strength of your team.

Teamwork is trusting that your team will come through with their parts


For the “Talkers” – Sales / Marketing / Managers:

Explicit is better than implicit:

Creatives are already busy fighting the machines and coming up with solutions. Adding the overhead of continually having to second guess the provided information, fixing spelling mistakes will only take away from their capacity to perform their roles fully.

Context Switching Overhead is very real:

Switching between tasks has an overhead, an inherent cost, that is often dismissed when coming into the studio with “Client B needs changes Y & Z right now”. Imagine a mechanic, greasy overalls on, Client A’s car up on the hoist, engine taken to pieces with bolts, screws washers and belts laid out methodically for systematic reassembly. Now if you asked said mechanic to work on Client B’s car instead, you would expect a transitional period where Client A’s components are reassembled, works in progress are securely stored, the car gets lowered and moved into the yard before the work starts on Client B. Similarly, there is housekeeping to be done when Creatives are mentally switching between tasks, files need to be saved, comments/notes to be written, changes to be stashed in the Version Control System, and so on before work can begin on the next task. Context Switching is mentally exhausting, and if Creatives feel they might get pulled of a task soon, they won’t immerse themselves fully.

Yak Shaving is productive:

Yak Shaving is what you are doing when you’re doing some stupid, fiddly little task that bears no obvious relationship to what you’re supposed to be working on, but yet a chain of many causal relations links what you’re doing to the original meta-task. At home you might call it housekeeping, like vacuuming or fixing the leaking washing machine and left undone you could find yourself on ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive’ or with rotted foundations. The problem with digital creative environments is that the mess isn’t obvious and easily hidden by closing the window, but taking the Creatives away from Yak Shaving leads to scenarios like NYSE trader Knight Frank losing $440M over a software bug caused by years of accumulated clutter and “you don’t have time to fix that today, fix it Feb/March when we’re quiet”.


For the Creatives – Designers / Developers / Engineers:

Work on the most common scenario:

Often enough the task specifications supplied leave a fair amount of ambiguity and wiggle room, where the feelings of frustration and annoyance raise their ugly heads. Stop it. Chances are a lot higher than might be expected that the default will be fine, similar tasks have been done before. The lack of details implies similarity to other scenarios


VSRE – Very Short Reply Expected:

Craft communications in a manner that results in an answer. Long emails don’t get read in their entirety immediately and long task lists don’t get acted upon easily. By breaking a grand and broad query, which sometimes comes close to being a rant, into several discrete easily actionable tasks the continually interrupted Talker can triage, achieve, action or queue (starring emails) and sufficiently respond from their mobile phone when there is a 30 second window of opportunity. We’ve gotten into the habit of prefixing email subject lines with “VSRE:”, an abbreviation for Very Short Reply Expected so the recipient knows the email will be short, succinct and actionable without requiring a lengthy response, typically less than 5 words. Responses to VSREs in the past have included “Yes”, “No”, “Tuesday” and “Surprise me”


Call me (maybe)

Talkers talk, and emails are a chore. If you want an answer, pick up the phone and call, even if it’s to the next office. Just pick up the phone, get it done, move on. The Talker is continuously flitting between tasks, that’s what they do best, the phone call is not as much of a burden as it would to a Creative who is in the middle of a task.



The different personality types will never agree and there is a real beauty and strength to that, but what we can do is optimise the efficiency of communications and be aware of the reasons why.


Codemonkey of Node.js, Django, PHP and all things HTML5 Solving tech challenges, one bit at a time.

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