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Understanding the Unique Abilities of Each Employee

What is Unique Ability?

We all have unique skills. We all have things we prefer to do over other things. We all have value to add to the marketplace. But it’s not always true that all those things are the same, or that it’s easy to perceive which things are which.

In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Lauren has a “unique ability” conversation with Chris and Mark, defining what it means, and then scratching the surface on the four different profile assessment tools Newfangled uses as they strive for successful staff and clients.

You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.

Episode Transcript

Chris Butler: Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters. I’m Chris Butler.

Lauren McGaha: I’m Lauren McGaha.

Mark O’Brien: And I’m Mark O’Brien.

Chris Butler: So, guys, it’s actually been a while since we’ve recorded, the three of us anyway.

Mark O’Brien: Right.

Chris Butler: Last couple of episodes have been a combination of Lauren and I and other folks on the team. So, we’ve instituted kind of a new icebreaker: you know what’s up? And Mark, this will be your first time doing that.

Mark O’Brien: I’m very excited.

Chris Butler: And I know you’ve got something that you are pretty excited about, which I’m looking forward to hearing about. I want to throw something out there. It’s totally unrelated to what we’re talking about, generally speaking, but I just went with my wife to take my daughter to school. And my daughter has this little book, it’s about four inches square, that she got out of the little free library on our street. I don’t know if you know what that is, but sometimes people set up these boxes where you can put a book in and take a book.

Chris Butler: And it’s the oddest little book. It’s a book of Russian icons. That’s what this book is. It’s got writing on them and then these pictures of them, which are these sort of gold-leaf pictures of Jesus and saints and things. Our daughter doesn’t know anything about what this book is about, but she’s obsessed with this book. And she carries it around with her. She adores it, she wants it, she takes it to bed with her, she asks for it in the morning, and she’s been fixated on this book for the better part of a year. Now, she’s got this book.

Mark O’Brien: Oh, wow.

Chris Butler: And just for reference here, we’re talking about a two-and-a-half-year-old child.

Mark O’Brien: Half her life.

Chris Butler: I’m going to draw a very loose parallel to what we want to talk about today, which is unique ability, but I just am perplexed. What is it about this book and what is it about my daughter that makes for this connection? I don’t know, but I’m not exaggerating when I say I think about this probably every day. And it’s very peculiar. If there are any parents out there who would give me some psychological insight into this, I’d be really interested. But there’s something about my daughter’s unique ability and this extremely tightly positioned book, and obviously, there’s a physical component. It’s the perfect size for her hands. But anyway, it’s a fascinating thing to observe. That’s what’s up for me.

Mark O’Brien: We don’t have time to get into the depths of this, but I feel like it’s got to be related to her favorite song. There’s some parallel there between her favorite song that you’ve mentioned to me and this book.

Chris Butler: Yeah. Mark is alluding to the fact that my daughter really loves choral music. We try and expose her to lots of different things. For her right now, the complicated ancient choral music is what she’s totally about. There’s a particular king’s choir piece that she’s really into that she wants to hear in the car all the time.

Lauren McGaha: I really want to have Marcus mix that in right now.

Chris Butler: Oh, yeah.

Mark O’Brien: That’s a good idea.

Chris Butler: It’s a Wesley hymn that is called Rejoice, The Lord Is King. She’s just really into it. And just so we’re all clear on this, my daughter has never been to a church in her life. It’s just, this is what she’s really about. There’s something about the complication of that and maybe the purity of human voice. I don’t know. But maybe there’s a parallel between that and the book.

Mark O’Brien: It feels like it.

Chris Butler: It could be.

Mark O’Brien: My youngest daughter is mostly interested in Nina Simone, except she recently has for some reason really glommed onto Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I’m not a Pink Floyd fan. She heard that song, that Another Brick In The Wall Part 3 song. It’s everywhere and she just heard it and she’s all about it. So, Another Brick In The Wall and Nina Simone.

Chris Butler: That’s a pretty good choice.

Mark O’Brien: That’s her world for whatever reason. My thing that I’m most interested about is a real commitment to sleep. In fact, I’m so committed, I’m going to leave this podcast now and go to bed. Just kidding.

Chris Butler: It’s a little early for that.

Mark O’Brien: A little early, yeah. That’s actually the opposite of it as we try to establish our circadian rhythms. So yeah, Chris turned me on to this guy, Matthew Walker, I don’t know, two months ago maybe, and it’s just been wonderful. You had initially introduced me to him via the Peter Attia Drive podcast. And then you got me his book. You were all about me getting good sleep. And I had to say, being exposed to this stuff, Matthew Walker’s thoughts, first of all, it’s counterproductive at first because you’re not sleeping. And while you’re not sleeping, you’re thinking about all the terrible things you’re doing to yourself by not sleeping. But he also gives lots of good advice about how to generate good sleep and be a responsible sleeper. And it’s been wonderful. I’m all about it. And I’ve restructured a lot of things in order to get better sleep on a consistent basis and they’ve worked beautifully. There’s all sorts of fancy tech you can get, which I’ve been tempted by, but I’ve not gotten that. I’ve spent no money on it at all, especially since Chris, he bought all these things for me.

Mark O’Brien: But just getting good sleep and the way Walker phrases things, the way he puts it, just really compels you to take this seriously. So I would suggest checking it out. His episodes, I think it’s episodes 49 through 51 on the Peter Attia Drive. And you can access those episodes for free, he’s got bonus content beyond that. But it’s like six hours of free content on the Drive and that pretty much covers everything he writes in the book. But anyway, I’m really excited about that. And I would suggest anyone who’s struggling with sleep or have struggled with sleep over the years or continues to, like I did and do until recently, I would highly suggest it. Because I am convinced that this is critically important, fundamentally important stuff. If we don’t sleep well, it’s really hard to do anything else well.

Lauren McGaha: We should link to those podcast episodes in the show notes.

Mark O’Brien: That’s a good idea.

Lauren McGaha: It’d be pretty simple to do.

Mark O’Brien: Another good idea. Brilliant.

Lauren McGaha: What’s up for me is really focused on what we’re going to talk about today actually, because we’ve been in this process over, really the last year, growing our content creation services. And as we picked up momentum in that vein, it’s got me thinking about unique ability, both in how we staff that service internally for Newfangled, but then also how we bring that service to our clients in a way that’s going to elevate each of their unique abilities. So, today, we really want to get into this topic about what is unique ability? How do you think about it when you are considering it at the individual employee level, and then how do you think about it more at the firm level, and why is it important? Why is it important for unique ability to be a topic of conversation? And how does unique ability map, not just to the happiness of the people who are working inside of and supporting your firm, but how does it map to the success of your firm? So, those are kind of the things that we want to get into today. Where should we begin?

Mark O’Brien: I’d like to begin by framing this a little bit. Unique ability, we’re going to define it. I’m assuming everyone can guess at what it means, but there are some very helpful definitions out there. But from my perspective, you as the listener can think about unique ability and the process of pursuing that. You can liken it to what it was like, the pain you went through when you’re trying to position your firm. Pretty much everyone who’s listening to this has at least tried doing that. Maybe not everyone has done it, but everyone’s kind of tried it on. It’s like that except almost exponentially more difficult, which we always say the single hardest thing about marketing is positioning your firm, and so, unique ability is actually more difficult than that because unique ability gets down to the individual. Lauren, you mentioned each employee, but everybody, every single person inside the company having to really come to terms with their own unique ability, which is entirely a personal journey. That can be hard. That can be really hard. For some people, it’s a thrilling prospect. For some people, it could not be more daunting.

Mark O’Brien: So, this concept was introduced to us through the Strategic Coach program. I recommend checking it out. This is one of their fundamental concepts, unique ability. I think it’s like this thing you cover in the second session with them. And so, they define unique ability in a really helpful way. It’s the intersection of these four things. It’s what you really love doing, it’s what you’re great at. And even right there, off the bat, we’re hitting trouble because so many of us love doing things that we’re not actually that talented in. We jumped, we would be an X or an X or an X and we’re not good enough to do that. And that’s hard and a lot of us ignore those things. But this forces you to kind of really look at that and think about it and kind of plot your life course based on it. And it’s never too late to plot your life course.

Mark O’Brien: So, what we love doing, what we’re great at, professionally speaking, what we can do as individuals to most positively influence the firm. So we have to think about the actual business reality of this. And then, this last one is so great to me and this one wraps it all up from my perspective. It’s what leaves you with more energy than you had when you started. We can all think of individual things here that resonate with us, but unique ability is the synthesis of all four.

Mark O’Brien: For example, I inherited an old car, a ’66 Mustang. I’m the third-generation owner in my family of this car. And I knew nothing about cars. My grandfather owned an auto body. I was incredibly close with him. He died when I was young. So, I thought this is an opportunity I had to kind of reconnect with my grandfather through learning how to work on this car, having zero skills in that regard. And thanks to an incredibly skilled next-door neighbor, I learned how to do that.

Mark O’Brien: When I go out to work on the car, which is randomly throughout the year based on what’s going on with it, oftentimes, I’ll find myself 8, 10 hours later, when I was rehabbing the car because it didn’t run at all. I would go out after putting the kids to bed at like 7:30 at night on a Tuesday and look up, it would be 4:00 in the morning. And I’ve just been fiddling with whatever, a carburetor or doing the points or you’re trying to get the head gasket fixed, stuff like that. I would just get lost in this zone. And even at 4:00 in the morning, I was raring to go. I was still wide awake. I had to force myself to go to bed because it was 4:00 in the morning and it was a Tuesday.

Mark O’Brien: But that kind of thing, the kind of activity which just for some reason, is its own energy source. That’s a really cool thing. Now, my unique ability is not to be a mechanic because that’s not in the cards for me. Although maybe it would’ve been if I had started at a younger age. But anyway, that’s one of the ideas here of something that would give you energy. And we’ve all experienced that, that high we get from being engaged and deeply engrossed in something. So, anyway, that’s the definition. I’ll stop talking so others can talk.

Chris Butler: It’s interesting because this topic has come up numerous times on the podcast in the past, but we, to Lauren’s point earlier, have never actually devoted an episode to it. And it is amazing how it can touch just about every other subject that we would cover on this show. So, Lauren, you mentioned that the reason that this is resonating for you anew is because you’re thinking about both building the team that you’ve created within Newfangled to serve our clients and thinking about how what those people do delivers for them. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about that so that practically speaking, these ideas that Mark has talked through could maybe map to what some of our audience are thinking about at work.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. When we think about unique ability in that context, especially when you’re operating inside of a creative industry and you’re managing creative professionals, there’s often a lot of output that comes with those roles. And so, when we think about marrying kind of the need of what the service is and what the service requires, marrying that with the energy it takes to produce those things. How do we insert unique ability into that conversation? How do we work with our professionals to help them understand and kind of pursue the kinds of roles and activities that are going to meet these criteria? Some of it’s kind of baked into the service, the things that make the business money.

Lauren McGaha: But beyond that, how do we look at it in such a way that you’re operating and spending time doing something that you love to do, and that ultimately, you walk away with more energy than you had when you started that project, and the idea of this never-ending improvement that you were great at. You are great at it, you’ve been great at it, but you could invest more and more time and just continue to improve along the way. Thinking about the role in that way and having those conversations with our team is motivating for them because it opens up a new way of thinking about how to approach the work.

Lauren McGaha: Is there a creative way that I can structure my method, the way that I can pursue how I actually go about achieving all the output that’s required of this role that can kind of support these underlying pillars of giving me energy and allowing me to improve? Because it’s motivating when you see yourself improving day over day. And so, yeah, asking our employees to kind of think about that and to identify the areas of the role that kind of fit that criteria for them and then to lean into that part of their role in order to build that confidence and build the momentum in the role. It’s led to some interesting conversations and then I think it’s one of those things that can be a defense against creative burnout if you do happen to be in one of those creative positions.

Chris Butler: Yeah. I think the word burnout is so critical to understanding this concept because the first three things, the thing that you love doing, the thing that you’re uniquely great at, the thing that you can do that brings value or positively influences the firm, that’s kind of easy. I think a lot of employees or people in their working life can address those things relatively easily. It may not be that they answer yes to all of them, like it may be that somebody who works at a job for a very long time doing something that they’re great at but they don’t love.

Chris Butler: But I think that when it comes to that last thing, does it give you energy or not? That’s what makes this really challenging and complicated, particularly within creative output types of roles, roles where you are creating something that is then monetized or part of the system, especially because it’s very true of many creative professionals that the thing that they do checks all three of the first boxes, but it takes them a long time of maturity and building insight and gaining feedback to realize that it actually doesn’t give you energy, that it takes more energy from you than it gives. And then it becomes a question of, well, does that mean I shouldn’t do this anymore or does that mean that I actually need to find ways of recharging to serve this calling or this job that I’ve decided to do?

Lauren McGaha: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I think from the perspective of somebody who’s kind of designing and building the service as you go, it’s okay to hold those questions in your mind’s eye as you’re defining what the role looks like. And I think that can be an intimidating process for some people. But if you let that go and just think about, okay, well, what would be a way to structure this role such that it’s got the highest likelihood that it would be giving the people who are operating inside of this role the most energy possible? And to have conversations with your people about that.

Chris Butler: Yeah, it’s not going to be 100%. I would venture to guess that on the smaller the team where it comprises a variety of different roles really performed by one person, that it’s a bunch of people wearing a bunch of different hats. You’re probably more likely to be able to sustain or satisfy the qualifications of unique ability. Because you’re just doing a greater diversity of things and you can figure out the degree to which they actually occupy your time. Whereas, if you’re a writer for example, and that’s the thing that you do, if it doesn’t give you energy, that becomes a major challenge to figure out how to recharge.

Chris Butler: I mean, for me, for example, most creative output for me is technically not within my unique ability. It checks all three of the first boxes very clearly. I love doing them. I’m good at them. I know that they can positively influence the firm, but they don’t always give me energy. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be the primary contribution I make professionally. It just means that I need to find ways to recharge in light of that reality. For instance, writing gives me energy, speaking does not. It takes energy from me. I’m good at both things, but I have to figure out how to do them and when to do them.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. There are a few points I’d like to make that relate to this. One, this is an incredibly dangerous topic. It really is. If you’re going to pursue this and take this seriously as a firm, which is comprised of many individuals, this could have all kinds of strange implications. Okay, so when you look back at Newfangled, once we started taking unique ability seriously, we could argue that the output was the organization changed entirely. What we do for a living today is completely different than what we did for a living when we started pursuing this idea of unique ability. And so, if you’re really going to take this seriously, be ready for that, be ready for something that is real change. And it manifests for me the ultimate positioning exercise. Again, I said it’s exponentially harder than it is and most firms probably wouldn’t want to go down that road, but it’s not too hard to start going down and once you go down, you just kind of have to take the next steps and all of a sudden, you realize you just did it. But it can really shake things up. That’s a fact.

Mark O’Brien: The other fact is that this is so much easier to do, especially once you establish the positioning of the company and then the positioning of each department inside the company and then an understanding, a really clear understanding. We’re talking about how we get to that clear understanding, but really clear understanding what each role inside of each department is really about. If you have that in place, then it’s actually not easy but quite maintainable. Let’s say that. Because when people are coming in, when you’re hiring people, there are certain things you can go through that are going to allow you to assess with some pretty good accuracy whether or not this individual is a right fit for this kind of role in this department in this company, based on their unique ability and what we understand really is a requirement for the unique ability checkmarks here for that role.

Mark O’Brien: So, two things there. It’s a dangerous journey but it is really the ultimate positioning exercise. It takes years. And once you do have it established, if you have the right systems in place, maintaining it is not quite difficult.

Chris Butler: I mostly agree with that. I think that it definitely will rock the boat organization-wide and that’s probably a good thing. Or maybe you can call it shaking the tree. The really important substantial things stick and other stuff gets loosened and you kind of free up to focus.

Lauren, I want to kind of come back to why you brought this to the table. Because you’re building a new team and you’re trying to figure out how to break that team down into roles that map to what your clients need within the content framework. So that means that you’ve got different people doing different things at different times. Sometimes, it’s directly creative production-oriented, like writing something for somebody. But other times, it’s much more broad than that having to do with the variety of different kinds of coaching and planning and documentation. You’ve got different people doing a variety of overlapping sets of those things. And I know that that’s partly why this is on your mind right now. Because you’re trying to figure out for each individual how they replenish their energy and maintain their energy given the thing that they’re spending the most time doing.

Chris Butler: So maybe go back to that and talk a little bit about that because my guess would be that when you look at those individuals on your team and you look at their personality assessments, the things that Mark alluded to, there’s going to be some predictive elements there. Some things that say, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense that this person might thrive here or struggle here. But the accuracy of that is going to depend on that person’s insight. It might be a great framework for discussing with them the nature of maintaining unique ability and identifying it. But if they don’t know themselves well enough to answer those questions right, it may not actually be predictive at all. So that’s kind of the one element that I’m a little bit looser on in terms of the degree to which assessments are going to tell you if somebody is going to map to a role perfectly.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah, and I would agree with that. Although, what I’ve found so far with these assessments is, if nothing else, they are a great catalyst for a really interesting conversation because there’s the outcome of the assessment itself and what you can take from that. But really, what’s been more valuable for me is having a conversation with that person about their read on the results of that assessment. Because that can tell you a lot as well. So, how do they respond to what that assessment says, their strength or their weakness or an opportunity inside of their career and then how does that map to their own self-awareness? And that’s where you get into some really interesting conversations as well. Because that can tell you a lot because they’re bringing their own personal experience. And they can tell you what rings true, what doesn’t, and why.

Lauren McGaha: I’ve probably learned just as much from these assessments based on what the individual disagrees with as much as what they do agree with. So, I think you use them as a tool and they’re not law. But they do tend to support a pretty interesting conversation about where that individual believes their strengths to be and where they might start to kind of draw a circle around what eventually gets shaped into what is their unique ability.

Mark O’Brien: Another part of that is that a lot of people don’t know, many people who are showing up to Newfangled, they haven’t thought about any of this stuff before. Our education system, everything we’re trained for, that doesn’t really take this into consideration. And a lot of people believe that this is the very first thing that should be taken into consideration when one starts thinking about career and that sort of thing. So, I think when people are taking these different assessments, the assessment is built to break through that, right? It isn’t really based on one’s perception of their unique ability. They ask probing questions in different ways to get to what they think, the assessment tool thinks, is the heart of the matter. And so yeah, the tools are not bulletproof, but they’re certainly helpful guides and the conversation after the assessments is incredibly helpful.

Mark O’Brien: But what’s also helpful is we keep a spreadsheet, like a matrix of all the assessments, everyone who has ever worked for Newfangled since we started doing these has taken. And when you’re interviewing somebody you’ve never met before, know very loosely at best, you can take these assessments, and we should talk shortly about what the four assessments are, and see, “Oh, okay, this person lines up pretty well with that person, and that person did well in this role in these ways and that that’s an interesting data point.” We’re not making an entire decision based on that, but it can be really helpful for comparative analysis. So, anyway, I think that’s helpful. Chris, you have historically just had an excellent grasp of all of these tools. So I think it would be probably best for you to let everybody know what these four assessment tools are and roughly why we use them.

Chris Butler: Okay. Well, I may need some help with some of the recall because some of them I feel like I know better than others. The one we’ve used the longest has been the DISC assessment, D-I-S-C, which is loosely based on Myers-Briggs, which is probably something most of you are familiar with, but is looking specifically at preferences and behaviors in the workplace. And actually, that’s the one based on consultation we’ve received in the past where there are certain DISC profiles that map directly to certain kinds of roles, particularly within the creative field. There’s one particular profile that is recommended for people who do high-level project management within a creative services firm. But above and beyond that, there’s a lot of, that’s sort of the one rule, the one governing rule of assessment profile and role. We also use Gallup.

Lauren McGaha: The StrengthsFinder.

Chris Butler: Yeah, the StrengthsFinder. Yeah, Mark, you should talk about that one because I think that’s one that you’ve connected to a little bit more than I have.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah, the Gallup StrengthsFinder, and this is the only one that’s actually free of all of them, is that you can pay for the top 30 strengths with analysis or the top 5. Honestly, no one has the time to go through 30 strengths for somebody, but the top five, that’s doable and also it’s helpful for, again, comparison. What I like about Gallup is the way they describe these things. So for example, my top five are activator, futuristic, communication, competition, positivity. And those words, for someone who knows me, those words make sense. But the way Gallup then goes to define those words, I think is very, very helpful and relates to the human side of somebody. Whereas, DISC can sometimes feel a little cold. I think Gallup brings a little more warmth and human connection to it.

Chris Butler: It also allows for a lot of interpretation because the one piece of commentary and feedback we’ve gotten most about DISC is that people feel like it boxes them in and describes them in negative ways that they feel entrapped by. And I was actually thinking about Kolbe being the one that I don’t really do, the Gallup I do. One of my five is individualization. And the reason that I love that one so much is because it reflects the value I have in my working life, which is to look at each individual person and spend as much time as I can perceiving the values and strengths they bring to the table and drawing them out. It’s something I spent a lot of time doing in my professional life. If someone had asked me what my values were before I took that, I may not have noted that. But because of its form of inquiry, that word has bubbled to the surface. And so I see that and I say, “Oh yes, that is true for me,” but it also gives me the freedom to interpret it in a variety of ways.

Mark O’Brien: Right. Kolbe is the third of the four. And this is something again, I got turned on to by a strategic coach and I thought it was a really nice complement to DISC. At the time, I think we’re only doing Kolbe and DISC. Or we’re only doing DISC. And so, they break theirs down into four different elements, fact-finder, and that’s how you gather and share information. If you’re a low fact-finder, you tend to simplify things. If you’re a high fact-finder, you tend to really specify and get down to the fine detail of things. Then there’s follow-through and that has to do with how you arrange information. And so, if you’re a low follow-through, you just kind of adapt. If you’re a high follow-through, you systemize, you create the system. And what’s really nice about these is that there are elements that relate to each other.

Mark O’Brien: So the follow-through on Kolbe might be similar to the S on DISC or the C depending on how you look at it. Then the third on Kolbe is the quick start and that has to do with how you deal with risk and uncertainty. So if you’re a low quick start, you seek to stabilize. If you’re a high quick start, you seek to improvise. Then implementer, and that has to do with how you handle space and tangibles. And so if you’re a low implementer, you imagine. If you’re a high implementer, you build. And so, very, very, very quick overviews. But it’s just really interesting to see this.

Mark O’Brien: For example, for Kolbe, I’m a 4392, so 9 is my quick start. So I’m a super high quick start, which is very typical for people in my situation, which I didn’t know, but it turns out to be the case, that Chris is 8642, so almost the inverse of mine. My lowest are Chris’s highest, which is really cool and explains a lot about how we interact. And it’s very, very helpful. Lauren, you are a 9342, so very high on the fact-finders side of things, which Chris is as well. And I’m basically non-existent in the fact-finder side of things. So, these are examples for how you can look at these tools and use them.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. And I think you can kind of summarize the Kolbe index as it’s intended to summarize how one would operate inside of a professional setting for the most part. So understanding kind of your mentality when you are approaching your specific role or position inside of your firm. And that’s different than the fourth one, which is the Enneagram personality test, which I would say is kind of more of the softer side of these assessments. But it’s also the most nuanced in my opinion.

Chris Butler: Well, it’s also the most holistic because it’s looking at your entire person as opposed to you in a working mode.

Lauren McGaha: Exactly. So the basics of that is that there are nine personality types. And you take this assessment and it’s kind of putting you into helping you understand what your primary personality type and which ones are supporting it. It’s really intended to help you grow your own self-awareness both in the workplace and outside of the workplace. And not only to help you understand how you may operate inside of those different situations, but how to relate to other personality types and build relationships in those various contexts as well. So, understanding your own patterns of behavior, how to relate to other people and understanding their patterns of behavior and reduce defensive behaviors and maybe areas of your awareness that you’re blind to. And for me, that was the most illuminating actually of the four that we took. Because it does weave in and out of the personal and professional.

Chris Butler: Yeah. It’s also the most similar to the Myers-Briggs in that, again, at scope is person-wide and it’s context-agnostic. But one thing that I think it does really well is it talks about how you operate when you’re strong of mind and weak of mind.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. That’s key.

Chris Butler: Or healthy or unhealthy of mind, I guess is a good way of putting it.

Lauren McGaha: Which everyone weaves in and out of.

Chris Butler: Right. Of course. Yeah.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. That single aspect of the Enneagram I think is so incredible, okay, when you are operating in a healthy mindset, you behave this way. And when you’re not for whatever reason, you behave this way. For all of us, and we talk about these things through the company retreat, we just had a like four-hour Enneagram focus exercise. We just talked about the Enneagram and our own Enneagrams and see it in yourself. Oh my gosh, yeah, when I get scared, I totally act in all these unhealthy ways. But when I’m confident, I act in these really healthy ways. And it’s helpful for checking yourself because, okay, I’m feeling this way, I must be operating out of a fear mentality right now. I need to step back and just rethink where I am. So that’s helpful.

Mark O’Brien: I don’t know any firm that does all four of those. It seems excessive at the outset. And the way we do it, as I’m sure will be the first question most people have is once we get down to our short list, so we have two or three candidates, any of whom we think would really love to have as part of the team for a particular role. That’s when we give them all these four profiles. And I paused a little bit before using the word profile because you have to be careful with what language you use around this. It’s not a test, right, but they are personality profiles.

Chris Butler: I think, Lauren, you said something earlier that I think is really important to underscore here is that these tools are a great framework for you to quickly understand someone. But they are an even better framework for you to understand yourself or for you, whether as a coach or a colleague or a manager or however you frame it, to discuss self-insight within a team and help nurture somebody. This sort of intersectionality between these assessments is also especially important.

Chris Butler: Enneagram was the most recent addition to our set of assessments that we use and one thing that I think is really nice about it is the thing we’ve been highlighting, this idea of when you’re in a healthy or unhealthy mindset and the reason why I liked that a lot is that it also helps to explain aspects of the Kolbe that I think become kind of murky for people. For instance, Mark mentioned this quick start idea. If somebody is a low number on a quick start, it doesn’t mean that they can never or will never take risks. It just means that the context in which that they will do that are going to be different than somebody that might be generally predisposed towards that. And if success in their role leans on it too heavily, then there needs to be a lot of work done to compensate for it. But that’s where you start to understand those overlapping perspectives on who a person is.

Mark O’Brien: And that gets right back to the idea of one of those facets of unique abilities, what gives you energy? So if somebody is a low quick start and they’re constantly put in a position where they have to take risks, it’s going to burn them out. That kind of thing, it’s going to be really difficult, for example. So all of these things tie back to the four basic facets of unique ability. And it’d be a really interesting pursuit of study. Maybe some people have pursued this, but I just think that there’s a lot to discover in all of this. We’ve scratched the surface and we’ve definitely gotten great benefit out of all of these things, that concept of unique ability and these four tools and really using them consistently throughout the company. But it really feels like there’s so much more we could learn about this. It’s not our business to, but it certainly could be someone’s business to.

Chris Butler: It certainly makes our business something that can be sustained and continue. I think without these kinds of inquiries and holding yourself accountable to growing within these kinds of discussions, then it’s very hard to see a future. There’s too much change going on around you for you not to change with it. So, Lauren, back to the inception of this conversation, I’m really interested to hear some of the dialogues and some of the ways that the folks on your team are thinking about these ideas. Because again, you all are building this mode of working kind of as you go. You had some things really mapped out. But your role is to really help them do that organically developing the insight, but also developing the work at the same time, which is a real challenge.

Lauren McGaha: Yeah. The stage of where my department is, is a bit unique in that yeah, we’ve got a very solid framework of course, but we’re also at a point where we’re flexible enough to be able to mold things and grow things in a direction that we choose. And we’ve got really smart people at the table. So, the unique ability conversation is certainly one aspect of those conversations. But I think even for services or for models that are more rigid in structure or more established in structure or however you want to describe it, I still think the unique ability conversation is an important one to be having. And it’s not something that you present to your team one time and you define this concept and then everybody goes around the table and says what their unique ability is and then you break. It’s a journey, it’s a discovery. It requires a lot of conversation and deep thought about what that looks like for each individual person and what areas of their role fulfill that unique ability and what areas of their lives are fulfilling it as well. It’s all kind of one thing.

Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely. And as Mark said, we did scratch the surface and we need to wrap. I hope that this has been an eye-opening primer for people listening who may have been unfamiliar with whether it’s the topic of unique ability or any of these assessments and a great place to start. So, as Lauren mentioned, we will include all this stuff in the show notes, so links to the unique ability concept by way of strategic coach, links to DISC and to Kolbe and Gallup StrengthsFinder and the Enneagram. Is there anything else that we had a recap on? I think that’s a lot of stuff.

Mark O’Brien: It’s a lot of stuff in terms of practical application. And we do have to wrap but maybe a part two of this, an exercise that we use that allowed us to really make sense of all of this, particularly unique ability, was that exercise of breaking down the types of activities. So the four activities, and really quickly, are activities at which you’re incompetent. Okay, for any individual where I’m just no good at this thing, activities where you’re competent, where you can do it, you don’t really like doing it, but you certainly can. Then activities at which you’re excellent, where you’re very, very, very good at this. You might be the best person in the company at it, but you don’t have any passion for it. It’s not a love but you’re very good at it. Then unique ability activities. That’s when you have superior skill, it brings you energy, you have passion for it, and all those things fuel never-ending innovation and improvement in your role, which obviously has massive impact on the company.

Mark O’Brien: So those are the four things. An exercise that Chris, you’ve taken a lot of people through inside of Newfangled is for two weeks, you have the individual write down just every activity they engage in in the day. And they’ll start finding categories like, “Okay, I did this kind of thing again today.” So, it might end up being anywhere between 6 and 20 different categories. And the categories each one out and then right next to it, rate it from one to four and kind of say incompetent, competent, excellent, or unique ability. That can be shockingly enlightening and it’s very easy to do. Anybody can do it anytime. And it can start separating things out quite quickly. Wouldn’t you agree, Chris?

Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely. When you think about what do you do that sort of satisfies all those categories, it’s going to be really hard to come up with the accurate list in the moment. It’s kind of like back in the day if you went to a record store and all of a sudden, you don’t know who you like anymore. What you have to do is in the moment. So literally every day for two weeks, you’re keeping that kind of qualitative timesheet, just in a text document or something like that. At the end of the two weeks, you collate all that stuff in a spreadsheet, go through and assign those values to it. And suddenly you’ve given yourself a 10,000-foot view on what your job looks like, categorically speaking, and allows you to really start to reorient and reprioritize based on the things that are essential value givers to the firm but also essential energy givers to you.

Chris Butler: This exercise doesn’t mean that you will have the luxury of jettisoning everything from your job description that you don’t like doing. But it does mean that you can have a really powerful conversation about how to rearrange your job to satisfy unique ability and it probably does mean that you will get rid of some things or delegate some things, but that’s not always going to be a luxury for everyone and you have to figure out how to balance that out.

Mark O’Brien: And this goes back to my initial caveat warning, which is it’s dangerous, very dangerous. If you have people go through this, it’s entirely possible that somebody would find that everything they do is in the bottom half of that list. Everything they do. But if that’s the truth then that’s the truth and you might as well address it. Because if that’s the case, they’re probably unhappy. They’re definitely underperforming. And they could be doing better, probably somewhere else. That’s worth addressing right there. Or maybe they have these amazing skills that are wholly on tap, that can be utilized inside of the organization. And that’s the truth. But in any case, it’s likely to incite change.

Chris Butler: Yep. Which is a good thing. Back to Enneagram, if you’re afraid of change, it’s because you’re not in a healthy mindset. If you’re happy about change and you accept the cost, you do so because you know that on the other side is something better, or something at least more true. Sometimes, truth comes with a little pain too. And that’s a good thing.

Mark O’Brien: Yeah. And the nature of this change is that it’s proactive change that you’re leading. It’s going to change either way. You can either be a victim of change or the agent of change. And if you’re the agent of change, you can do it in a healthy, methodical, slow way if necessary to make it happen. If you’re a victim of it, you have no control over any of those things. Anyway, [inaudible] so, we should wrap.

Chris Butler: We should. Lauren, thank you for bringing this topic to the table. I think it’s a really good one and obviously, this is something that we all care about. We could probably talk, we could have a whole podcast in unique ability. I’m sure that exists. That can be our side piece podcast, but for those of you listening, you can find out more about this. I bet you if you go to and type in unique ability in our search bar, you will get more than five articles where that’s been mentioned. So I encourage you to do that. As Lauren mentioned, I’ll make sure that in the show notes we’ve got links to the things we’ve referenced. And then be sure to tell people about this podcast. That’s the best way to spread the word. And we look forward to talking to you again next time. Thank you both.

Mark O’Brien: Thanks, everybody.

Lauren McGaha: Thanks.

Mark O’Brien: Bye.