Transcript of What Personality Poker Has to Do with Innovation

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John Jantsch: What do personality and poker have to do with innovation? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out when we talk to Stephen Shapiro on this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. Check it out.

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Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Stephen Shapiro. He is an author, a consultant, public speaker – which is, you know, the Holy Trinity these days. He is also been on this show. I think we talked about “Best Practices are Stupid” – a fairly relatively new book for him, and today we’re going to talk about something that is a book and a concept and some tools that are called “Personality Poker”. So, Stephen, thanks for joining me.

Stephen Shapiro: Okay John, great to be here again.

John: So, on Personality Poker, obviously you’re playing on the metaphor of the card game, but what is the point of Personality Poker?

Stephen: Well, the general idea is that if human beings beat, you hear this expression “opposites attract” and the reality is, opposites don’t attract – opposites detract. So, if you think about the workplace, we tend to want to surround ourselves with people who are similar to us. And this is good for getting things done if you want to be efficient, if you want to have a good time. But, having spent, you know, over 20 years studying innovation that rarely leads to innovation. We need people with different perspectives coming together in a very specific way to drive innovation thereby organizations.

John: And you, clearly there’s been a lot of times people have a tendency to hire people that are like them, and so consequently almost insulate themselves from innovation.

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, I always joke that if, you know, you always hire that fit the mold the business will grow mold. And I think that’s what we do – we breathe and look, let’s face it, we’re in similar industries in terms of, you know, speaking and writing, and if I hang out with speakers too long I’m just breathing the same oxygen. It’s fun, it’s easy, we speak the same language. But there’s the point where it limits my ability to take my business to a whole new level.

John: Yeah, really, I know. I’m supposed to be a marketing person. I’m supposed to know how to do marketing and all things marketing, but I know that over the years I have had some of my biggest breakthroughs by bringing in somebody from the outside, and saying, “What do you think?” And that person, you know, having that outside perspective – even though, you know, I’m supposed to know what I’m doing in marketing – is really, really valuable.

Stephen: Yeah, and so the whole idea of Personality Poker is to recognize that, I mean, we were just talking about, maybe, different areas of expertise, but I also believe that different personality styles are critical to drive innovation thereby organizations. So it’s not just hanging out with people from different industries, but it’s also different personalities.

John: Now I think it was Tom Pearson, he probably stole it because, you know, he stole from everybody too – like we all do – but I remember a book of his, and one chapter was called “Hire Freaks”, and I think that was kind of his point was, you know, to get some people in there that didn’t act, and look, and feel, and smell like you. So, explain the rules of, and there are props involved in this actual game that you’ve created called Personality Poker.

Stephen: Yeah, so basically Personality Poker’s a deck of cards that looks like a regular deck of poker cards with suits, colors, and numbers, but there are also words written on each of the cards. And so what we do is, we deal out the cards, first, we shuffle the deck, deal them out, and actually people trade cards, and the goal of the game is to get five cards where the words best describe how you see yourself, based on those words. And then, when we look at your hand, based on the suits, the colors and the numbers, we can tell an amazing amount of things about who you are, but more importantly, we can also tell a lot about who you are not. And that to me is one of the key insights is, if I have five cards in my hand there’s a 95% chance that I’ll be missing at least one, one or more suites from my hand. That tells me those are the people I need to partner with because each suite ties back to a style, which ties back to a step of the innovation process.

John: Well, so tell me this, though. I think that a lot of people if you go around a room and ask people what they are, you know, strong suites are, they may not actually be aware of what they are. Or they may not, or they may think they’re something different than everybody else perceives them. I mean, how do you factor in, you know, how we see ourselves as opposed to how the world sees us?

Stephen: That’s fantastic. I’m glad you asked that because one of the steps of the process is the actually gifting of cards. So, usually what we’ll do is, we’ll get a group of people to stand up, they’ll trade cards, get five cards that best describe how they see themselves, and then we’ll play a game of “52 card pick-up”, and we literally take decks and decks and decks of cards, throw them on the floor face up. It’s a chance for people to improve their hands, but it’s also a chance to give cards to other people too so that we can see how we’re perceived. And, you’re right, I mean, we don’t really necessarily know what we’re good at. And people don’t even necessarily know what they’re good at, so it’s a triangulation process that we go through that helps people get a better sense.

John: So, this all sounds like a great drinking game. Is this, is there science behind this?

Stephen: There actually is science behind it. We partnered with Columbia College and Harvard University, and the development of the Harvard component was actually building another third tool when we triangulate, built the third tool which is around how do we test our subconscious beliefs about our personality, and then the work that I do with Columbia College is all around verifying the words and the color. So we did a number of statistical analyses to correlate particular words with particular styles to see which ones cross over, and so we do have a fair amount of science behind it, because the skeptical spades are probably wondering that very question, what’s it about.

John: Well so, how would you compare your instrument to some of the more, you know, Myers-Briggs and, I know you’re not trying to exactly be that, but some of the more, you know, the kind of test-based types of questionnaire and personality test?

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, there’s a few different comparisons, a few different differences. I mean, that each serves a purpose, I think that’s the important thing is to recognize and not try and create, or recreate, a Disc or a Myers-Briggs. This is something different. The first thing, this is specifically designed for innovation. So each of the different innovation styles, the suites, have halved the step of the innovation process, which is actually where it all started. But also the fact that we’re card based and we give people cards, and we tell stories – that’s really where the value comes from. When I give you a card, John, and say, “Hey, I think you’re really creative, because remember that time we were working on this project …” You know, people love the stories behind it, and I think that is … The guy that I was working with to validate this, … I just want to tell a quick story, because you know it’s really interesting and it sort of changed my life in some respects, and it’s … I know it works. But I don’t know if it’s valid. You see, there’s a difference between being useful and valid. He said he was involved in some work where they were trying to develop a statistically valid test to determine if someone was depressed, and they spent millions of dollars, and in the end they came up with a tool that was valid. But the most useful thing to determine if someone was depressed was, ask them, “Are you depressed?” And so, I like usefulness with validity, but not validity as the primary driver always. Because I think if we get good conversations the value comes from it.

John: Yeah, and so it, it’s, I think in some ways the difference .. that what you’re saying is not necessarily trying to test as much as facilitate in some cases, and maybe easily show you’ve got some gaps.

Stephen: Yeah, I think that’s a great way to describe it. And I think sometimes, you know, we do have a tough time telling who we are, but very clearly, and there’s a wad of conversation we’d have around that, but we usually know who we are not, and sometimes the fun way to play the game is to just put the cards out and say, “Choose the card that describes who you are not.” And then you get a chance to say, okay, well this is not, this is who I’m not – this is who I need on my team. And that’s really clearly the big insight.

John: Yeah, and I actually find whether doing something like this or just even trying to describe somebody’s ideal customer, it seems like a lot of times it, it seems easier, just human nature, to say, “Here’s who I don’t want.” You know, here’s how I don’t want to be perceived. Or, here’s what, as you said, here’s what I’m not. So I do think sometimes that’s easier for people. You have an online version, an online game version, – is that something that somebody can really run this fully, or is that really more just, “Hey, play around with it so you get the concept”?

Stephen: It is actually shockingly accurate. It’s not designed to replace the cards because again, the cards are about facilitating conversation. I think you said it well. But the online game, which looks like a Vegas slot machine, basically in 30 seconds you will get a pretty good read of who you are. And people told me that, in just a, in less than one minute they get a snapshot that’s probably more accurate than most of the other things they’ve taken. They can save their hand, share their hand, and it doesn’t cost anything – so that’s another great thing about it.

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Is there, you know, one of the things about personality tests that people talk about, is that there seems to be a bias, almost, that we tend to believe what it is that test tells us, whether it’s accurate or not, that’s what so many people, I think, do claim that those tests are accurate even though, you know, you can run someone else’s to kind of show them inaccurate. In one of the cases is, and I don’t know if I’m just rambling or not, making any sense here, but is there a, is there that same type of chance for bias in just using, you know, simple words to describe people?

Stephen: Of course there’s always a risk of any kind of bias in these types of situations, but here’s another thing that we do know, is if you think about the typical test that we take to determine our personality. You’re sitting there and you’re thinking, and there’s a part of the brain, the dorsal or prefrontal cortex that kicks in, which is really that judgmental part. So as we start to analyze our responses we are thinking, “What’s the best answer? How should I respond?” And so we are tapping into the conscious brain rather than the subconscious mind. And when you’re playing games, when you’re having fun, when you’re laughing, which is really the environment before people start trading cards, we have a lot of fun getting people warmed up and just really in that mode of play, and at that point actually the subconscious mind is more actively participating, so we find that in many cases we get a really good, and sometimes a more accurate read, just for that one reason alone.

John: So, have you found that, I mean, is the, does the tool work better in larger organizations, in teams that work together all the time? Could you actually bring together some people that, say, were assembled to collaborate on a project and actually have it be a value to them even though maybe they don’t know each other that well? I mean, is there, is there sort of like a scenario where it works better, and some maybe, where it doesn’t?

Stephen: I, it really does work in all scenarios. I do think the most powerful way to use it is with a small group of people who have, or will be, working together on a regular basis. So I’m on a TV show right now, which is all around creating female, young female entrepreneurs. And it’s interesting how the teams are formulated as totally random, but they were formulated around people with very similar styles – the creative people with the creative people. The analytical people with the analytical people. And each of those teams are struggling. So we’re bringing Personality Poker in behind the scenes, not necessarily on TV, to help the teams, and these are small teams, understand what are their blind spots. So, these are people who don’t work together other than like the past few matter of weeks, so they don’t know each other that well, but it really creates a sense of “What do we need that we currently don’t have?” And I think that’s really the whole conversation, is, “What do we need that we don’t have? How do we appreciate people who are different than us?” Because I’m a big believer that diversity is helpful to innovation only when we actually have an appreciation for what those divergent points of view bring.

John: So, so if a team then found that, okay, we now know what we do have and we do know what we’re missing, I mean, would you make a case for saying, okay that that allows them to go out and say, “Hey, let’s go find this”?

Stephen: Absolutely. Now it doesn’t mean you have to hire somebody onto a team. In some cases, it could be a freelancer or a contractor. I mean, if you think about, you know, companies, you know, they bring you in because you bring in something to the organization from a marketing perspective that they don’t have. So, it doesn’t mean you have to be on the payroll, as a, you know, probably to an employer, but you should be definitely aware of when you need these different staff, because if you don’t, we’ve done so many tests that show that innovation will fail if you don’t do that.

John:  So, have you seen people successfully, you know, buy the product, because you can just purchase it, right? The card deck. So have you seen people successfully then use it just kind of in a DIY format, or do you believe it takes training facilitation from somebody that, you know, that truly understands it? I know you also do engagements where you help people through this, but is it, is it possible for people that do it effectively on their own?

Stephen: You know, the first time we sold the decks commercially was about ten years ago, and I had just done a speech with, I was using the prototype version in earlier speeches for a couple of years to work out some of the kinks, and I got a call from a CEO who said, “Hey, I just saw your speech, I want to use it with my team.” I’m like, I’m not selling the deck, that was training material. And he was like, “Ah, I can figure it out.” And we talked afterwards. The things he did in his organization blew my mind. He gave me things that I had not even thought about, that he could do with his organization. So, people can do it on their own, we now have what we call the starter kit, which is a series of videos, you get the CD actually deliver your whole session for 45 minutes, instructional videos. So that’s there if people want it, but it’s amazing how so intuitive … it’s sort of like an iPhone. You don’t need the instruction manual for an iPhone – it’s pretty intuitive, and I think that’s what people like.

John:  So where can people find out more about whatever version they want to, I know I already gave your URL for, but if they want to buy the starter kit, they want to see the video, or maybe they want to hire you to come out and just facilitate.

Stephen: is probably the best place because if you go to you’ll find the game, you’ll find the videos, you’ll find the decks, you’ll find me. That’s the simplest way.

John: Okay, so, a bridge from, we’ve been talking mostly about the deck itself, but as you said earlier on, it’s really about facilitating innovation. So you also have some other resources and work that you do too, you know, so we’ve got the team to go, we’ve done Personality Poker, you know, how do we now get more innovative?

Stephen: Yeah, I mean, I use Personality Poker as almost like a starter for innovation conversations. It’s actually a small part. So for example, a lot of my work is spent talking with companies about differentiation. How do you distinguish yourself in the marketplace from the competition in a sustainable way? How do we offer better questions as a means of driving innovation? Now all of this ties back to Personality Poker. Every single thing that I teach my clients brings back to a step of the Personality Poker process. But Personality Poker itself is a very small fraction of the work that I do with clients to create a culture of innovation.

John: And I’m looking at, I know you have a course, – is there anywhere else you want to send folks?

Stephen: If you go to or, this is my website, steve, so go to – I have, I have the … my e-learning course, I have the, something called the 30-day innovation challenge which is actually the mobile game, which is really a lot of fun. But I also have a lot of videos and other free resources. So, that’s the best way to learn about me and what I do.

John: Well, we’ll have all the links in the show notes for the various things we talked about, and maybe I’ll even, I’ll go ahead and do the Personality Poker game and I’ll let you know what I, what I turn out.

Stephen: Excellent. Do me a favor – when you do it when you get your results, save your hand – you just type in your name in there or whatever you want – save your hand and then you can send me the link to it and I’ll be able to see your, all your hand. Your cards, your description, and everything.

John: Okay. Well, and then you can tell me what I’m, what I’m missing. Where I’m broken.

Stephen: (Laughs) Okay.

John:  Alright. Thanks, Steve, it’s so great to catch up with you and your really interesting concept and tools. So hopefully we’ll, we’ll see you out there on the road soon.

Stephen: Awesome, John. Thanks so much.

Transcription Provided by: Verbatim Transcription Services


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