One of the “meta” talks that I enjoyed the most at RailsConf 2013 was the first day’s closing keynote entitled “Stables and Volatiles,” given by Michael Lopp. For the full story, check out Michael’s blog, but here’s the gist.
There exists two personality types at opposite ends of a spectrum: stables and volatiles. While you can see these personality types everywhere, Michael defines each personality type as it manifests in an application developer as follows:
Stables are application developers who:
Happily work with direction and appreciate that there appears to be a plan, as well as the calm predictability of a well-defined schedule.
Play nice with others because they value an efficiently-run team.
Calmly assess risk and carefully work to mitigate failure, however distant or improbable it might be.
Tend to generate a lot of process because they know process creates predictably and measurability.
Are known for their calm reliability.
Volatiles are application developers who:
Prefer to define strategy rather than follow it.
Have issues with authority and often have legitimate arguments for anarchy.
Can’t conceive of failing, and seek a thrill in risk.
See working with others as time-consuming and onerous tasks, prefer to work in small, autonomous groups, and don’t care how you feel.
Often don’t build particularly beautiful or stable things, but they sure do build a lot.
Are only reliable if it’s in their best interest.
Leave a trail of disruption in their wake.
Why You Need Both Types
Most people aren’t exactly at either of the spectrum, but have tendencies favoring one side or the other. Each side typically disagrees with the way that the other half of the spectrum approaches problems. However, the main takeaway is that both of these personality types are critical for an organization's continued innovation and survival. The organization’s leadership must foster disruption from the Volatiles in order to continue to innovate and stay fresh. They must also balance the Stables’ influences to ensure the organization’s operations are sustainable and that work actually gets done! At the end of the day, each of the vastly different perspectives has great insights to offer and accordingly must be balanced and appreciated to achieve great results and to build great products.
How This Changes My Work
At SmartLogic, we have a fairly well balanced team of personalities. I consider myself to lean towards the Volatile end of the spectrum, but do recognize the value that Stables bring to the table. This allows me to come up with bold new designs and features, knowing that the team will help me balance the practicality of those designs and make sure we continue to ship great products for our clients.