Spark #

Playing the Nyquist Role

If I could get a sense of the way your culture works by meeting just one person, who would that person be?

Spark #
Playing the Nyquist Role
What We're Talking About

The principle we're discussing

In this Spark, you'll understand what it means to be a “Nyquist” and how these people can create success. Ever heard the adage, “The sum is only as good as its parts”? This is certainly true for companies and organizations! Success can often come from one person’s ability to align disparate strands of a group with warmth and curiosity. These people don’t just solve problems or connect others. They set a tone for the culture. 

Few people embody these principles better than Harry Nyquist. 

Here’s a little background on the man (the myth, the legend): In the early part of the 20th century, one company stood for progress and innovation much the way a Silicon Valley unicorn does today: Bell Labs. When Bell Labs sought to understand the secret to their success, they discovered that employees regularly ate lunch with Nyquist.

When interacting with Nyquist, employees not only felt “cared for,” but they also found answers for work conundrums from his subtle inquiries. If you sat with Nyquist for any period of time, chances are you’d leave with a fresh perspective.

Why it Matters

Why this principle is important and matters to you

“If we think of successful cultures as engines of human cooperation, then the Nyquists [people who do things a la Harry Nyquist] are the spark plugs.”

A group needs someone who can connect people and open doors to new possibilities. Think of this person as the captain of a sports team: positive, caring, and leading by example. When a team needs to break a deadlocked project, these Nyquists ask the right questions to unearth tensions and achieve clarity.

How You Can Use It

This provides practical ways to apply learnings from this Spark

Roshi Givechi was a designer at the design firm IDEO. Givechi was so adept at being a “Nyquist” that IDEO asked her to scale her abilities across the organization with modules of simple inquiries. Some examples are:

  • The one that thing that excites me about this particular opportunity is ________.
  • The one thing I’m not so excited about is _________.
  • On this project, I’d really like to get better at__________.

Instead of asking questions about the work or project itself, Givechi connected others by getting to the root of their fear, ambition, and motivation. Uncovering these emotional drivers is key to understanding where people are coming from, and how they can move forward together.

Dive Deeper: People in one IDEO office named the five colleagues who had helped them most and then rated them (along with a randomly chosen nonhelper) on three attributes: competence, trust, and accessibility. Results (below) showed a surprise. Trust and accessibility mattered much more than competence. This matters because connecting with others by asking questions for understanding, or being a "Nyquist", builds trust and demonstrates accessibility.

Source: "IDEO's Culture of Helping", Harvard Business Review, 01/2014

An opportunity to reflect on yourself and/or your team and how you can apply these insights

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