Project Platypus

One of the most unusual animals in the natural world, the platypus looks like a beaver, but with the bill and webbed feet of a duck. It has the venom of a reptile and lays eggs like a bird. [Ivy] Ross decided to build a product-development team modeled after the platypus, with people from many different backgrounds and functions. She brought together in her Magic Theatre an actor from Disney, people from accounting and packaging, a psychologist, a brain scientist, a researcher in music and architects. She sent them to playgrounds to just watch kids play.”
Stephen Covey
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In his book, “The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems,” Stephen Covey recounts the story of Project Platypus at Mattel, the toy-making giant. The project was Ross’s way of trying to inspire creative thinking amongst her team, to develop ideas for completely new lines of toys.

By all accounts, the project was a big success and Mattel staff clamoured to be involved with subsequent iterations of the project.

Having worked with many different people and organisations over my years in OSS, one of the things that has stood out is that despite the vast diversity of cultures, interests and backgrounds, there has been a remarkable sameness of skill-sets, with a heavy focus on IT and Telco technology. We are in the IT&T industry so that would seem to make sense right?

Conversely, I think that as an industry we’re crying out for radically new ways of thinking when building OSS products and delivering OSS projects. To be more relevant, we have to engineer outcomes that deliver beyond the IT and network groups in our organisations.

By example, I once worked with a large multinational that put many of its resources through a personality test known as Margerison-McCann Team Management Test as part of team management training.

The diagram below shows the Margerison-McCann Team Management Wheel.

More than 1,000 leaders within this organisation had been through this evaluation and a remarkably high percentage (over 95% if I recall correctly) of them were weighted towards the pink and purple segments of the wheel (thruster-organiser and concluder-producer) [ie delivery focussed].

I was one of only 5 out of 1,000+ that had a role preference in the yellow and green sectors (creator-innovator and explorer-promoter) [ie creative] although I apparently also have pink (thruster-organiser) [delivery] tendencies as well.

Even more remarkably, our instructor claimed that only 1 of 1,000+ had ever registered as predominantly dark green (Reporter-Advisor). According to Margerison and McCann, high performing teams need a balance of all eight sectors, which this organisation clearly did not.

How do you think your organisation stacks up on this diversity of thinking test? Do you ever get experts from wildly diverse areas of expertise (actors, psychologists, brain scientists, etc) to participate when looking for innovative thinking from your teams?

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