What Color Do You Think In?

The above question is not as esoteric as you might assume, because the answer influences how you make decisions and the effectiveness of teams.

MIT CTL lecturer Dr. Shalom Saar explained how decision-making can be color-coded at the Supply Chain Leadership workshop this month.

Thinking preferences can be represented by three colors, and each one describes the mental outlook of the individual.

Blue thinkers make decisions quickly. They don’t need a lot of data to come to a conclusion, and like to take action rather than deliberate. Very blue individuals are extremely rational and can rush to decisions without doing much homework. Soft blue people are more subjective and make decisions based on values. They are big on gut feeling.

The red mindset loves data. These are detail-oriented people who can’t get enough spreadsheets. The hard red group is very analytical and driven by numbers. But soft red folks are more likely to seek subjective data through interactions with others.

Finally there is the green category of thinking preferences. Greenies are ideas factories who are less concerned with judging what is right or wrong than creating new concepts. Very green people live in the future; they are constantly thinking about ways to improve and streamline. Those who occupy the soft green subset are visionaries with a penchant for revolutionary change.

The mix of colors in your team and how you manage them determines, to a large degree, how the group functions. Send a bunch of blue folks away to look at a problem and they will report back quickly and confidently with a solution. Set the same goals for a green group and you’ll probably get tons of ideas and options.

Leaders should try to maintain a balanced combination of preferences in their teams. And they need to be aware of how each color can influence the team’s performance both positively and negatively.

A prime example is how business meetings are colored by the different mindsets. Saar recommends that blue people should start meetings because they will clearly state the goals. Next, address the root causes of the problems under review by bringing the red guys into the frame. Then it’s the turn of green members, who will think out of the box and stimulate ideas. End the meeting with an action plan endorsed by every color.

For more wisdom on managing teams and leadership see Shalom Saar’s recently published book Leading with Conviction (John Wiley & Sons, 2013).


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