The Two-Legged Stool Cannot Stand

[This business owner has big, big plans. I’ve anonymized the details to prevent spoiling them. This is a part of the hour long discussion we had, and in this case, the question itself is secondary to the answer. It won’t always be like that, I promise ~ Shanna]

Q. I want to make this program, but it has [so many bells and whistles]that I know I can’t facilitate everything by myself. I want employees, not just contractors.

First of all, I don’t think you need as many employees as you think you do. A team basically boils down to three roles. You’ve got a Builder, a Visionary, and an Implementer, or what I like to call an Executor.

The Trifecta

The Builder is like the person who makes the backbone; they like to solve problems. The Implementer is the one who futzes around and makes sure that all the wheels keep turning, and the Visionary is the person who provides direction and oversight. Because neither the Builder nor the Executor really have much interest in that sort of thing. They’re happiest when somebody tells them what they need to be doing.

The Builder likes to have a problem to solve and the Implementer gets such a rush out of, like making 40 cold calls or whatever, and they thing that’s awesome to get that checked off their list, whereas somebody like you or I would be like, “Oh, I don’t know if those were the right cold calls. Maybe I need to refine my search process a little bit more, maybe I need to rehearse the pitch better, or something.” We just drive ourselves crazy with stupid details.

Implementation is my weakest area; that’s why I’ve always really valued Executors who just take what I’ve decided to do and go do it. And Implementers don’t have a whole bunch of angst about it, they’re just like “Oh. Ok, that seems reasonable,” and they go do it. There’s not debating about whether that’s the right thing to do, and there’s no discussion about the right way to go about things. If you have direction to give about the right way to go about things, they don’t mind taking it. (They might think you’re overthinking things, but they’ll listen.) But they don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. They just do it. They do things, and they feel good about getting them done, and that’s it.

And the Builders, they’re the people who like to solve a problem, but if you make them deal with minutiae, especially stuff that they don’t feel is any of their concern, or is unimportant, they get really cranky. For example, if you talk to a programmer about marketing, he’ll probably get pissed off at you, because in his view, it’s a totally ridiculous waste of time. There are a few programmers who’ve ‘seen the light’ and know that marketing is as important, if not more than building, but most Builders think that Builders rule the world. They really do. They look around, and they think, you know what? None of this stuff would exist without a builder. To them, builders rule the world, and everything else take second place, and if you don’t create things, you’re a parasite. And for the most part, they’re right. 🙂

And a Visionary, of course, it the hand on the rudder. With the Builder and the Executor, you’ve got the engine and the drive shaft, and they’ll work just fine on their own, but it isn’t until you add the steering wheel of the Visionary, that they go anywhere.

The Trifecta in Real Life

Often, people have two traits, a primary trait and a secondary.

Steve Jobs was a Visionary. But he was also a programmer, or a Builder in other words. He was a pretty middling programmer, by all accounts, but he could get the job done.

A lot of solopreneurs run into this problem of thinking they can do it all. Personally, I am just a good enough implementer that I can really get myself into trouble because I think I can do it all, but really, an actual Implementer will get the same job done in a third or a quarter of the time it takes me.

If you’re reading this because you want to start your own business, you’re probably Visionary-Builder or Visionary-Implementer. Why? Because you’re looking at the big picture of how you want your life to look (it’s possible Visionary isn’t your primary trait. I know a very successful VA who is an Implementer-Visionary).

You see a lot of it in the tech trades, people who were Builders to begin with but they got into a start up and saw that it needed leadership and so they did that. But as a consequence of that, they can’t really build very much.

But if you’re going to build a business, your primary role will be of Visionary no matter what. It’s your business, so you’re the only one who CAN hold the vision.

And in the very early stages, needs must as the devil drives, and all that, but as you grow, look first to fill the role of the aspect you are weakest in. It’s easy to tell. Of the two, which is your biggest issue?

  1. Resisting tweaking and refining the idea in order to actually do shit?

  2. Or, Dithering about the best way to solve a given problem?

If the former, you need an Executor. If the latter, you need a Builder.

The Two-Legged Stool Cannot Stand

To work at peak effectiveness, a truly successful business needs all three roles filled, whether they’re filled by full by partners, employees, or contractors. A Builder needs someone to handle the minutiae while she solves problems, an Executor needs someone to give him fulfilling work to do, and a Visionary needs two hands to create an idea in the world.

Your Turn:

Which aspect of the Trifecta are you? And which do you most need in your life?


10 thoughts on “The Two-Legged Stool Cannot Stand”

  1. I’m a Visionary – Builder. Sue is an Implementer – Builder.
    *And neither of us likes being a Builder.* We just do it ’cause we have to.
    And the projects I work on for other people? I’m usually acting as a Builder – Implementer.
    Thanks for redefining my entire biz think. Why haven’t I thunk in these terms before?

    1.  @spinhead Morning, Joel! 
      I know you’re “all about the WHY” but sometimes it’s just not that important. The important part now, is that you now CAN think in those terms. 🙂

  2. Hey Shanna! Happy Holiday Weekend!! Excellent post – Thanks!
    I’m getting a bit tangled in this almost-last part – not clear on how you’re connecting the pieces:
    “And in the very early stages, needs must as the devil drives, and all that, but as you grow, look first to fill the role of the aspect you are weakest in. It’s easy to tell. Of the two, which is your biggest issue?
    “1) Resisting tweaking and refining the idea in order to actually do shit?
    “2) Or, Dithering about the best way to solve a given problem?
    “If the former, you need an Executor. If the latter, you need a Builder.”

    1.  @Karen J  I meant to say that you’re not absolutely doomed if you start with just yourself: you do what you have to do. But when you are in the position to get help, get it in the aspect where you’re weakest, ie, where it will do the most good. 

      1. coachalvinlau

         @Shanna Mann Based on your experience, either in a given corporation or maybe even your estimation in the general public? Are there certain cultures that have a tendency towards one segment than others?

        1.  @coachalvinlau Based upon the small businesses I’ve worked with across several industries. Visionaries, of course tend to start businesses, Builders to a lesser extent. Where they really begin to thrive is when they bump into implementers. Implementers aren’t distracted by tweaking or adding features. They just like to get things done. I think implementers are the biggest group, then Builders. Most of the people who identify as ‘creatives’ are builders, quite outside of the actual craftsmen. I think Visionaries are relatively rare (although over-represented in small business and entrepreneurship) but that might be simply acculturation. Kids are encouraged to take well-tested paths, and Visionaries pretty much do the opposite of that. 
          What do you think?

        2. coachalvinlau

           @Shanna Mann  I would tend to think that the proportions you suggested seem right, especially when you look at pay scales (i.e. since there are less visionaries, they get paid more than implementers since there are more of them). Given the sociological shift the last 10-15 years for people to move from blue-collar jobs into more white collar and the encouragement for kids to be more creative and collaborative, I wonder if that proportion will change (and whether pay scales will reflect that). Just speculation on my part right now; no empirical data.

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