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Are you a Tigger or an Eeyore?

July 19, 2011

Many of the SMEs I work with have a common characteristic – they are owned and driven by two-people, working in unison with joined-up thinking and ambition. It’s great to see how they spark and bounce off each other. They usually have complimentary skills, and personalities, providing a balanced perspective on how to make the most of a particular opportunity.

Most of us are familiar with ‘dynamic duos’ – Batman & Robin, Blackadder & Baldrick, Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid – and in the business world, Hewlett & Packard, Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield of ice cream fame, and of course, Bill Gates & Paul Allen. The individual characteristics, the chemistry and rapport behind these collaborations ensured that the personalities and talents fused to create something remarkable.

Having experienced a number of double acts in SMEs, I’m intrigued as to how often one partner is full of beans, spontaneous and vocal, whilst the other is more cautious, more focused on risk, and more thoughtful.  The contrast and dynamic is often quite stark, but works and I now have a name for the model –  as seen in AA Milne’s Winning the Pooh – they are Tiggers and Eeyores! Now whilst this insight won’t get me onto the academic staff at Harvard, I think it works to highlight one aspect of the entrepreneurial culture that delivers success. Basically, Tiggers and Eeyores are opposite ends of the ‘act or think first?’ spectrum – in 100-Acre Wood they are opposites of positive and negative personalities, but behind the high energy of Tigger and the gloominess of Eeyore, there are subtle nuances we can take into a business context.

Eeyore is a loveable donkey who is dismally gloomy. His glass is always half-empty. Eeyore doesn’t expect too much of himself and therefore remains quiet for most of the time. That in no ways means he isn’t an intelligent animal, he is actually quite knowledgeable yet he confines his knowledge to himself – they haven’t got brains, any of them, only grey fluff that’s blown into their heads by mistake. By stark contrast, That’s T – I – Double Guh – Er! Tigger is a very bouncy fella, the most exuberant animal in 100-Acre Wood. He acts on impulse and will make a dash rather than walk, but that impulsive dash more often than not is jumping around without taking measure of the surroundings. This at times leads to mishaps and causes utter mayhem.

Tensions arise when a Tigger and an Eeyore strive to convert each other. The more they try to convince each other to adopt a different perspective, the more they resist. Tiggers fear being dragged down by the Eeyores, and Eeyores feel resentful and irritated by the Tiggers’ constant chirpiness. Tiggers are energisers, positive thinkers who love a constant challenge. They get bored easily and often half-complete stuff as their interest is distracted by a new idea. Sometimes their enthusiasm is over powering and irritates Eeyores, so much so that they’ll probably hold more stubbornly to their opinions, and may become even more gloomy to counter-balance Tiggers’ positivity. The opposite of what you want! They may feel that you’re being intolerant of people who think differently from you, and that you want to deny and invalidate their point of view. Your attempts to bring cheer may feel intrusive and suffocating.

Eeyores want you to be more grounded and ‘realistic’, but Tiggers may find this lack of optimism negative, because your downbeat emotions are catching (a phenomenon called ‘emotional contagion’), and they dread being sucked into your negativity. Remember that while you believe that some Tiggers are being irresponsible in their extreme positivity, this may be in reaction to you –  you may be inciting the very Tiggerness that is driving you crazy! Tiggers often act Tiggerish because they’re trying to keep that Tigger flame alive. For both Tiggers and Eeyores, a good strategy is not to try to make conversions. These efforts are depleting, frustrating and polarising.

Do you know whether you’re a Tigger or an Eeyore?  Check the statements apply to you:

  • If you’re a Tigger, you say things like…We’ve just got to do this….This is too good an opportunity to miss….We don’t need a plan, lets just do it….I’ve a good feeling about this.
  • If you’re an Eeyore, you say things like…Let’s think it through…Last time we did something without a plan, we failed….I’m not sure, Let’s sleep on it…Thinking the glass is always half-full is unrealistic

So, instinct or analysis?  Of course, not all partnerships have two equal members, but it’s the combination of  instinct or analysis – reality or vision – that make them work. Take Dundee and Ali, for example. Who’s Dundee you ask? Well, Angelo Dundee was one of the greatest corner men that ever lived, he enabled the most famous fighter to become one of the greatest athletes on earth. When asked about the contribution of Dundee, Ali nominated three qualities he brought to the partnership:

  • Wise and honest counsel (given even at the risk of uncertainty)
  • Calmness under pressure I was like a blind man on a galloping horse
  • The ability to think and adopt a new strategy to rapidly changing circumstances

Until Mohammad Ali had become ‘The Greatest’, he would not rest, nor would Angelo Dundee, so whilst Ali was undoubtedly the energised front man Tigger, and Dundee the Eeyore in the corner away from the limelight, they simply couldn’t have achieved what they did, without the other.

So, with panic on the streets of Carlisle, Dublin, Dundee, Humberside…we need some disruptive thinking if we’re not simply going to convince ourselves we’re all doomed as Eeyore would have us believe. And of course, let’s not drink from a glass half-full of rash, unbridled optimism as feted by Tigger, add a bit of balance. We must look for the opportunity in every difficulty instead of being paralyzed at the thought of the difficulty in every opportunity, but at least make sure you ask Eeyore – fortune favours the brave and audacious, but not the foolhardy, leaping without looking. Nobody told Dick Fosbury, but he knew the height of the bar.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 20, 2011 10:35 am

    Hi Ian – loving your blogs. I’m reading them much more consistently and completely than most of the things I subscribe to!!

    On this one, my first thought was that even businesses headed up by 1 person can have both characters present.

    The trick is to allow both to have a voice about important matters. When I’m being Tiggerish, I need to make sure Eeeyore is given a chance to speak up, and vice versa.

    When it comes to believing that someone can have split personalities, one should always be in two minds about it!

    (BTW my spellchecker thought ‘Tiggerish’ should be “Triggerfish” and ‘Eeyore’ of course was mistaken as “Eyesore” – not sure if that’s of any use to anyone, but I thought I’d share it!)

  2. July 25, 2011 2:36 pm

    Hi Ian,

    Great blog!

    I prime example of why you should never hire like minded people and absolutely never hire anyone who thinks the same as you. You need people to challenge you and come at things from a different perspective or else you will have an army of yes men with no direction. You need people that disagree & challenge from time to time – this ensures ideas are fine tuned and everyone betters themselves as a result.

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