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Red, Green or Blue - which one are you?


I recently did a “colour wheel” profiling assessment, where your attitudes, instincts and behaviour are analysed to give a psychological profile. I had heard of the psychological profiling method before, but put it down to the psychobabble mumbo-jumbo that didn’t really help and only large corporates could make use of. However, when the moderator in our session perfectly described how our internal meetings go just by describing one of the colour archetypes, I realised this was a very powerful, and simple, model that anyone can benefit from.

The colour wheel classifies four groups of characteristics, labelled by four colours, red, yellow, green and blue. Depending on what dominant colour type you are, you are likely to react in different ways to other people with different characteristics. Red and yellow types tend to be more extroverted and outgoing, green and blue more introverted, red and blue are more individualistic, green and yellow more socially orientated. None is better than another, just different, and each brings a different set of traits to a team. But it’s also important to understand the nuances of the types. There are obviously positives for each, there are also times when the more negative factors may be emphasised; blues and greens might see reds and yellows as loud, annoying and lacking detail, whereas, in reverse, blues and greens can appear indecisive, pernickety and needy. As this last point perhaps highlights, people of the same type will tend to get on well with those of a similar type, and those of opposite types (red with green, or yellow with blue) will tend to find working with that type being very difficult and frustrating, as their characteristics will value different qualities, behaviours and styles to each other.

And this is how this starts to relate back to data science teams. In general, data scientists are likely to have a dominant or strong blue trait; this is the analytical, cautious and deliberate trope. It is hopefully obvious that this type of character would gravitate towards data science roles, and that they will be very good at them. They are exactly the sort of people that you would want to look for. The challenge is then two-fold.

Firstly, one generally looks to hire people who are like themselves – this is simply a natural, human thing to do. So, if you have a predominantly “blue” person heading up data science, they are likely to hire other “blues”. Which means the team is likely to lack the more communicative, outgoing and sociable abilities of other types. Whilst selecting the most analytical types clearly makes sense in terms of getting the job done properly, this selection procedure runs the risk of creating a data science team, who may tend to be insular, reserved and difficult to communicate with. This means that they can in effect “silo” themselves off from the rest of the business by default; they are almost characteristically “hard-wired” to struggle to talk to other areas of the business.

This perhaps provides another explanation for why some “data-driven transformation” programmes can fail. An organisational culture may tend to “favour” one or two particular characteristic traits; a highly sales-driven organisation is more likely to prize red behaviours, a more relationship-driven business will prefer yellows, or perhaps greens. If those organisations then try and “transform” to be data-driven, this is effectively saying that they will value blue values (the more analytical, considered characteristics) more than previously. However, people’s overall characteristics don’t change very much over time – a predominantly red person is likely to remain red, irrespective of what the business wants to do. So, either the organisation will actually keep valuing its previous characteristics, merely paying lip service to the new transformation programme, or, if a transformation does take hold, the previous star players in the company can become disenfranchised and simply leave.

The second scenario then considers what happens when you don’t have a blue person in charge of an analytical team. This isn’t necessarily a weakness; in fact, it could be an advantage. The irony is that, whilst the two opposing types (reds and greens, blues and yellows) are potentially the most antagonistic towards each other, they possess characters that the opposite group desperately needs; in personal lives, it is apparently common for people to marry people with the opposite characteristics, even if they actively try to find partners like themselves; it seems that when marital arguments include phrases like “you just don’t seem to care about anything that I do for you”, that is often quite literally true – people are wired not to value their opposites, whilst deep down, realising they fundamentally depend on them.

Returning to the work environment, this can mean that for, say, a social yellow in charge of a blue analytical team, this could mean a stressful and fraught business relationship, where both bring out the bad in each other. However, it could also mean a highly powerful team where each understands each other’s failings, and their strengths, and can build a dynamic that gets the most out of each other.

The key point, in both scenarios, is self-awareness. Most people think they are very good at their jobs, and feel they deserve greater recognition, and will often compare themselves to those around them, based on their own key values. For example, a yellow, will think they are better at a particular job than a blue in the same role, simply because they are better at the things that a yellow thinks are important. This is what we might call the perception fallacy. But if you can get beyond that perception, you can realise that different team members can make up for weaknesses, and solve problems in different ways that will be understood and appreciated by different stakeholders, and thereby deliver success in ways that might have been elusive otherwise.

And this is making us re-evaluate how we work with clients. Most of our clients are on the “blue” end of the spectrum, so value detailed documentation and supporting information. However, providing reams and reams of documentation to a highly driven red who just wants to get things done and know the answer to their question there and then will only serve to get in their way, or, worse, for them to dismiss the information as irrelevant. We also have clients who are predominantly more social yellows, who prefer to talk to a person rather than communicate via email and this is good too. Especially now we realise that they are simply working in the best way for their style, and we can match them up with our own socially-minded people to make sure they can work together effectively as a team. We haven’t started running psychological profiles on our clients yet, but if you would like to discuss how we serve you best, please get in touch.