“Am I Interesting Enough?”

A Type B’s guide to workplace harmony

Categories: Perspectives — Jess Bullock

Picture this: You ask a coworker about their weekend and wind up hearing about how they won a break dancing competition, broke a triathlon record, or built a robo-car. And then they ask what you did and your answer goes something like, “Well, Hulu had to check on me because I binge-watched too many episodes of The Good Place.”

Or what about the meetings when everyone’s asked to introduce themselves, but you know, in the low pressure, “say something interesting about yourself” kind of way? For me, these introductions send my heart into palpitations—reverberating through my body with force. Sound familiar? Just me?

Serving up a mildly interesting anecdote should be easy enough, but as my highly talented coworkers—like say a published polyglot with a pilot’s license—introduce themselves, I start feeling anxious. The question, while intended to illuminate commonalities, can feel like a measure of worthiness. Am I in the right room?

You see, I’m a Type B Product Content Strategist at Airbnb. I’m on a team of designers, engineers, product managers, data scientists, and many more who design, build, and maintain our payments platform. Like most Type Bs, I’m easy going and adaptable. Type As, on the other hand, are ambitious and efficient.

Sometimes, it feels like everyone around me is Type A. Yet when I confess to colleagues that I’m a secret Type B living in a seemingly Type A world, many respond with knowing nods and conspiratorial whispers of “I feel the same way!” Opening up about feeling like the odd one out has paved the way for me to find fellow Type Bs, and to uncover the unique strengths each type brings to the table.

What Are These Types, Again?

Let’s back up a bit. The Type A and Type B personality theory was developed by Friedman & Rosenman back in 1976. They characterized Type As as consistent high-achievers, lovers of competition, and very deadline-motivated. Visualize the quintessential workaholic—that’s Type A.

Conversely, Type Bs were identified as tolerant of ideas and people, laid-back about most things, and avoidant of stress. Think The Dude from The Big Lebowski. That’s Type B. Most of us are a mishmash of these types depending on the context, but they’re pretty useful as high-level generalizations.

Airbnb is seemingly brimming with Type A go-getters. And while I’m inspired by all these passionate, talented individuals, it can sometimes make this B Type feel like a grade A imposter. Although I assume my relaxed approach is a weakness, the truth is Type Bs have unique strengths, too. And as it turns out, there’s a lot more of us at Airbnb than I thought.

It Takes All Kinds

Collaboration between both types results in innovative approaches to problem-solving that can take our work to unexpected places and extraordinary outcomes. To prove it, here are some common workplace scenarios where each type shines in complementary ways. 

1. Meetings

Airbnb has a very meeting-friendly culture. Eight hours of overlapping, back-to-back meetings is the norm. At the beginning of a meeting, while I’m chatting with a coworker about that page-turner they’re reading, the Type As are busy taking charge and keeping everyone, including me, on task.  

Meetings get a bad rap because they can cannibalize time that could be spent creating, but when your team includes Type As, meetings are much more productive. These folks will produce detailed agendas, specify meeting goals, and articulate deliverables for every stakeholder. Their assertive nature allows them to passionately defend their position and inspire the team to question assumptions and find solutions as a group.

Type Bs, on the other hand, tend to hang back in the meetings, which is beneficial when it’s 6pm on a Friday and the conversation is going in circles. As big-picture thinkers, we don’t get bogged down by minutiae. We’re not always the most detail-oriented, but Type Bs will help drive the conversation forward by rallying the team around a common vision.

We crave consensus, so if there’s any tension, we’ll bring a little levity by acknowledging all the great points everyone has made or by telling a joke to keep everyone’s spirits up. At the very least, we’ll recommend that this particular sticking point be revisited on Monday.

2. Iterating

Everyone at Airbnb is passionate about delivering the best experience to our guests and hosts. Let’s say we’re redesigning guest checkout. We’ll begin by auditing the current experience, producing a competitor analysis, holding research sessions, and then we’ll start design and content explorations.

Type As are the teammates who’ll obsess over every detail. They’ll know the research inside and out, they’ll weave the insights into their designs, they’ll think through all those tricky edge cases, and they’ll have elegant solutions to the thorniest problems. These exacting standards mean their work tends to be high on quality and fidelity.

Type Bs will help everyone keep things in perspective. When our colleagues are obsessing over every pixel, we’ll cheer them on with affirmations of, “That looks great!” The pursuit of perfection can stall progress, so we’ll champion testing as a playground for iteration. We’ll focus on getting a concept in marketor at least in user testingand refine based on how guests interact with our product.

3. Deadlines

The Payments platform supports just about every team at Airbnb. We work with partners across the organization to build solutions and integrations that allow them to meet their goals. The payments world is also highly regulated, so we spend a lot of time updating the platform to comply with new regulations. As a result, our projects tend to have tight deadlines.

When deadlines loom, Type As jump into action. With their keen attention to detail, they’re able to quickly diagnose cross-functional needs, identify all the dependencies, and choose a course of action that ensures a quality outcome. Their high standards motivate the team to raise the bar and think blue sky.

On the other hand, Type Bs are the voice of reason. We strive to find a balance between ROI and level of effort. We’ll champion the MVP (minimum viable product) to ensure we get everything done on time. When the stress levels start to rise, we’ll help the team relax a bit.

Better Together

The best workplaces include Type As, Type Bs, and everything in between. But there’s a myth that to be successful in tech, you need to be Type A. Every article I’ve read about founders and visionaries seems to document in excruciating detail how they sleep three hours a night, dial in to meetings from the shower (don’t worry, they turn the camera off), and get all their nutrients from liquid supplements (because who has time for solid food?). Just reading about these lifestyles leaves me exhausted.

Although Type As are portrayed as the prototype of success, a lot of leaders show signs of being Type B. Take Google CEO Sundar Pichai’s relaxed morning routine, for example. He wakes up and reads the paper, eats an omelette and toast with a cup of tea, and takes time to do some big-picture thinking. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh intentionally emphasizes employee wellbeing and fosters a culture of friendship.

Clearly, the trope that Type As are natural leaders and Type Bs are lighthearted slackers just isn’t true. There’s more than one way to lead or contribute to a team—it’s all about finding what works for you. Similarly, it’s important to shift our internal narrative about perceived weakness.

Me? I’m not great at data analytics. Knowing that pulling and interpreting data is one of my skill gaps encourages me to get better at SQL queries. But it’s just as important for me recognize that as a big-picture thinker, I excel at helping data scientists tell compelling stories through insights.

By focusing on how our abilities dovetail, we can carve out spaces that celebrate our unique talents. Type As will galvanize their team to care about the details, while Type Bs will be a reassuring and calming presence.

I’ll admit that working with such ambitious, driven, and wildly talented people used to be a little intimidating. But in the same way that I’ve embraced the benefits of being Type B, I’ve decided not to worry about being interesting. So ask me how I spent my weekend. I probably didn’t climb a mountain or teach myself Arduino, and I’m totally okay with that.

Jess Bullock is a Product Content Strategist at Airbnb. When she’s not doing stuff with words, she can be found eating hummus, petting every dog she sees, and making really bad puns.

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