In a circus, the Bearded Lady and the World's Tallest Man fell in love and decided to start a family. A few weeks before she was due to give birth, the Bearded Lady and the circus ring-master were talking.
"How's it going," the ring-master asked, "Are you well?"
"Yes thanks - very excited," said the Bearded Lady, "We have so many plans for the baby - we want to be supportive parents."
"That's nice," said the ring-master, "Do you want a boy or a girl?"
"Oh, we really don't mind as long as the bay is healthy," said the Bearded Lady, "And it fits into the cannon."
For some amongst us, fitting into the cannon may be viewed as a “bug” i.e. a flaw or imperfection while for others, and in this instance, for the Bearded Lady, it was a “feature” she actively sought in the new-born. At work, similar scenarios play out as well – attributes regarded as a “feature” can also be graded as a “bug”. For example, during annual performance discussions, one commonly hears that “XXX is detail-oriented and covers all the bases”. Feedback on the same individual from her team may suggest that “XXX micro-manages the team who do not feel empowered”. Sample another, “YYY is a perfectionist who sets a very high bar” contrasted by, “YYY is inflexible who is set in her own ways”.
Granted that in above examples, there were two sets of observers with as many observations. But at work, we individually also witness “feature” and “bug” transformation by the same beneficiary. For example, teams are gifted at reading when their manager woke up from the wrong side of the bed. Or the instance when they must put in all their requests as the manager seems to be in a good mood. How must one reconcile with this incongruity? In my experience, there are three things at play:
- Personal preferences: The observer and the target have personal preferences through which they operate under most situations. For example, I prefer spending time on framing the problem, securing agreement on the parameters including constraints, finalizing resources (time, budget, people, etc.), and aligning on the end outcome. I am comfortable and offer the choice of selecting the “method” (i.e. how) to the team. In this instance, my awareness and subsequent articulation of this preference to the team saves everyone the trouble of discovering this “bug”.
- Context: Continuing with the same example, when working with a senior and tenured team (context), this personal preference is often regarded as a “feature”. The team feels empowered as they apply faculty with enough room to manoeuvre. However, when working with junior or new (to the firm) team, this preferred approach could easily be classified as a “bug” as team’s lack of experience or familiarity with organizational construct warrants greater involvement by the lead (i.e. me in this example). Likewise, when introducing a change, be it in product, process, people, etc., the leader is likely to be involved in detail, having greater say on the methods. The same leader will most likely revert to their preferred approach when cruising on calmer seas.
- Expertise: The difference in (perceived) expertise level of leader and her team (or two different teams or even individuals) has a direct bearing on its categorization as “feature” or a “bug”. Bigger differences get classified as “features” while smaller ones get relegated as “bugs”.
A blind man had been waiting a while at a busy road for someone to offer to guide him across, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
"Excuse me," said the tapper, "I'm blind - would you mind guiding me across the road?"
The first blind man took the arm of the second blind man, and they both crossed the road. We all have “features” and “bugs” that enable and disable us, like clockwork. What appears to be an apparent “bug” might actually be a “feature”, waiting to reveal its beneficial utility. Are you spending time in defence of your “bugs” or raising awareness of them in the specific context?
Be honest, are you bugged by its feature?