Allowing for Style Differences


UPDATED WITH VIDEO AT THE END OF THE POST. This weekend we discovered that our one-year-old puppy, Mack, has decided that he's not only a swimmer, but he's a dock jumper.  He runs from the shore to the edge of the dock and jumps in before we even toss a stick.  He leaps first and assumes that our enthusiasm for playing fetch will come through and that we will, in fact, throw a stick for him.  If we hesitate, he circles in the water and whines to make sure we're in the game.

My sister-in-law captured this action shot that looks like all of the hundreds of other jumps Mack took this weekend.  This fearlessness is now our favorite personality trait for our yellow lab.

Doesn't this image shout happiness and joy?   When I watch this ball of energy hurl all 80 lbs. of himself from the dock, I think of a list of cool traits that I like in a dog:

  • showy
  • fun
  • photogenic
  • fast
  • effective

Part of the reason I dig this new trick is while our first lab, Jake, was also an obsessive swimmer, he wouldn't ever jump from the dock.   Never. Ever. 

Believe me, we tried to get Jake comfortable with making the leap, but it never happened.  Jake loved to swim and retrieve all of the sticks and tennis balls we could find, but he always waded in from the shore.  His swimming style was:

  • low-key
  • determined
  • slow
  • hard-working
  • effective
July 06 046
July 06 046

Jake was not in the least bit showy, but he swam just as hard and just as far as Mack swims.  He just didn't do it with as much fanfare.  On Sunday, as I tossed Mack the stick for the gazillionth time, I thought through the differences between our pups and wondered if there was a broader principle at work.   As far as comparing these pets in the swimming front, I decided this: I prefer Mack's style to Jake's style.  I like the big, dramatic, enthusiastic style over the steady plodding.

Mack's style of jumping in and just assuming that the stick will be thrown in his direction matches my own; loud, bold, and perhaps a little over-enthusiastic.

Isn't that the way it always goes?  In both pet world and "real" world, don't we all have a bias toward our own style?  Don't we enjoy people who understand our approach to any given task?  We like people who blend well with our energy level, our way of communicating, or even our enthusiasm.  If you like to jump off the dock, are you annoyed by those who are wading in from the shore?  Do you think they are slow or uninteresting?  If you wade in from the shore, do you see those who leap from the side as reckless or ill-advised?

As common as style preferences may be, there's a least two significant dangers in the habit of favoring your perspective.  The first risk is missing your blind spot, and the second is marginalizing the benefit of a different approach.

I've written multiple times about blind spots (more here and here), but what struck me this weekend was that both styles were effective even though they looked different. Both dogs were great at getting their "jobs" done, so does their approach really matter?  I loved Jake every bit as much as I love this new puppy, even though their approaches to life are so different.

Mack's nature is to jump in feet first with ears waving in the wind; to do anything less would be unnatural.  Jake's nature was to make sure he knew where the stick was located before making his way into the water.  Both styles work.  One is no more valuable than the other.

For those of you that wish to see Mack in action, here's a video:

I want to remember to allow for style differences in the office, with my friends, and in my home.  There is, after all, more than one way to fetch a stick.