Starters and Finishers: We Need Each Other

Enjoy The Work Blog post. Starters and Finishers We Need Each Other.

When a creative idea pops into my head, I’m consumed. All non-autonomic functions are redirected. If you were to see me or engage me in some fashion, I might appear to be operating normally, capable of eye contact, conversation, presence. But looks can be deceiving. My physical form is on autopilot.

I could rein it in and control myself. I’ve learned some measure of how to be my own observer. But often I don’t want to. When I’m gifted a (hopefully) original thought, I want to take advantage of the opportunity and run with it. It does not happen too often. So, when it does, I allow myself to surrender to it. I disappear into the universe of my own head.

So, what exactly is going on in there?

I’m building a story. I’m crafting a narrative that explains why the idea is so important, the impact it might have, and what execution would entail. I’m playing with word choice and visualizing people’s reactions. I’m predicting objections and fashioning responses. I’m reviewing game footage for a game that hasn’t been played yet.

Eventually, I’ll end my mental dance and reanimate my physical form. I’ll seek out willing listeners to provide an honest yet empathetic critique. One person, ten, and then fifty. I’ll adjust the story along the way.

Not long after, I will have satisfied the question of whether the idea has merit. If I elicited excitement, I’d be confident that there is gold at the end of the journey. But here’s the rub: knowing there is gold at the end of the journey is not enough for me to begin pursuit. I get excited by the envisioned path. But actually, acting on it? That’s much harder for me. Why is that?

Because I’m a Starter, not a Finisher.

There are two types of people — those who like to start things and those who like to finish things. One is no better than the other, but if you don’t have both types of personalities involved in the pursuit of a new idea, that idea is doomed to fail.

It’s not to say that a Starter can’t accomplish things or that a Finisher won’t launch a new venture. Of course, they can. But it’s not easy.

Starters love the thrill of something novel. They’re excited by conceptualizing, storytelling, inciting. However, the moment the target and the process is clear, they’re bored. They want to run off to the next intellectual thrill. It takes a great deal more energy and practice for the Starter to see something through. With practice, they can learn (I know I did), but it requires serious effort.

Finishers, on the other hand, want to complete everything. While the Starter’s weapons of choice are PowerPoint slides, the Finisher brandishes Kanban boards. Their minds are an organized matrix of charts, lists, risks, and contingencies. They foresee all of the steps required for even the most complex tasks and live to tease out even the most nuanced of tactics. It is the outcome, not the journey that thrills them.

You know these people. Without Finishers involved, your construction project would collapse, your software won’t ship, and your payroll won’t run.

Finishers, though, have their own vulnerability. First of all, they want to finish everything, even when that might not be in their best interests. Additionally, they struggle beginning things. The open space of a project not yet defined can paralyze the Finisher. They crave constraints — a known goal, timetable, budget, and resources. Anything that narrows choice is the friend of the Finisher. Anything that creates too many options is painful.

So what does all this mean?

For the managers and leaders among you, here is some simple advice:

Look across your team — note who is a Finisher vs. a Starter.

  1. When building project teams or designing departments, make sure both personalities are represented.

  2. For a specific project, early in the timeline, put a Starter at the helm. New product initiatives, market expansions, competitive responses, etc. The Starter will thrive in ideating, storytelling, and marshaling resources to experiment and learn.

  3. Once a project has been defined though, shift more decision-making authority to a Finisher. That person will ensure timelines are met, budgets are managed, and goals are achieved.

Okay, time for me to disappear into my head again while a Finisher colleague of mine edits this article and actually takes the time to distribute it…

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