Thursday, January 10, 2008

Which Creature Are You? I Think I'm an Otter...

My teacher and friend, Sandy Maudlin, sent me this today:

So which creature are you?
If at first you don't succeed ... ask yourself, Am I an otter? A squirrel? A mouse? The answer could spell the difference between things going swimmingly and squeaking to a halt. Find your own winning style.
Does your style resemble an otter, mole, squirrel or a mouse?

(From Kathy Kolbe, a specialist on the instinctive patterns that shape human action.) Kathy's father pioneered many standardized intelligence tests, but Kathy was born with severe dyslexia, which meant that this obviously bright little girl didn't learn in a typical way. She grew up determined to understand and defend the different ways in which people go about solving problems. Kathy often wears a T-shirt that says "do nothing when nothing works", a motto that typifies her approach.

"There are four basic action modes: 1) The Quick Start - when you want to learn, you just jump in and start messing around."

"2) The Fact Finder: before you start a task, you need to know all about it. You need to go through the instructions and analyze them for flaws, then get more information to fill in the gaps."

"There are two other typical patterns," Kathy explained. "3) Implementors -- like Thomas Edison, for example -- need physical objects to work with. They figure out things by building models or doing concrete tasks. Then there are 4) The Follow Thrus. They set up orderly systems, like the Dewey decimal system or a school curriculum."

To identify your own action-mode profile, you can take a formal online test (the Kolbe Index at; there is a charge), or just observe your own approach to getting something done. To give you an example, people with different profiles might respond to a challenge -- let's say, learning to crochet -- in the following ways:

• Quick Start (Otter): If you're a Quick Start Otter who wants to crochet, you'll probably buy some yarn and a hook, get a few tips from an experienced crochetmeister, and jump right into trial and error.

• Fact Finder (Mole): You'll spend hours reading, watching, asking questions, and learning about crocheting before actually beginning to use the tools.

• Implementor (Squirrel): You pay less attention to words than to concrete objects, so you might draw a pattern of a crochet stitch or even create a large model using thick rope, before you go near a needle.

• Follow Thru (Mouse): You'll likely schedule a lesson with a crochet teacher or buy a book that proceeds through a yarn curriculum, learning new stitches in order of difficulty.

None of these approaches is right or wrong. They can all succeed brilliantly. But someone who's programmed to use one style will feel awkward and discouraged trying to follow another. We can all master each style if we have to, the way a mole can swim or an otter can climb trees, but it's not a best-case scenario.

Once you know your instinctive style, brainstorm ways to make it work for you, not against you. Play to your strengths. To really boost your sense of self-efficacy, think of ways you could modify your usual tasks to suit your personal style.

This is the very best way to leverage an understanding of conative style -- to create useful, complementary strategies instead of disheartening, competitive ones. Many of us have spent a lifetime trying to be what we're not, feeling lousy about ourselves when we fail and sometimes even when we succeed. We hide our differences when, by accepting and celebrating them, we could collaborate to make every effort more exciting, productive, enjoyable, and powerful.


Tracy Wandling said...

That's an interesting way to explain the different types of learning. I like it!
I would say I'm an otter. I need to know what questions I need to ask before I look for answers, so I just jump right in until I have the questions. Then I proceed to everything I can get my hands on. Good to know!

RHCarpenter said...

Tracy, I think most of us have more than 1 main characteristic, depending on our mood, the day, the year, whatever. I know I'm impulsive when it comes to art - I get an idea and say - go! That's mainly how I operate. But then I often study, read, watch dvds, practice drawing or using a new medium - so I can be a planner, too.

Watercolors by Susan Roper said...


I feel that I, too, am an otter. My Dad used to say "that Susan, she dives into everything like she was killin' snakes...all four corners are grabbin' things". He always spoke in southern colloquialisms. Upon self-reflection, I have to think he was right. I just dive in with sparse instruction and sometimes I do figger it out!

Michelle Himes said...

Sometimes I'm an otter, and sometimes a mouse. :-)

RHCarpenter said...

I wonder how many artists are otters? Seems like a lot of us are who are posting - maybe it takes an otter to jump in and try watercolor! ha-ha