Describers and Doers


DescribersAndDoers Do you lean towards analysis or do you lean towards action?  When I first heard the metaphor, describers and doers, it resonated immediately.  It suddenly connected a lot of dots.  I thought of all the people I know that have a bias for analysis and I thought of all the people I know that have a bias for action.  I thought of the saying, ” “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.”

It explains why some people are happy in the abstract, while others are uncomfortable until it’s concrete.  It explains analysis paralysis.  I thought of the people I know that are happier to share castles in the mind, or explain or think through a problem than act on it (describing over doing.)

In the book, Tactics: The Art and Science of Success , by Edward de Bono explains the notion of describers and doers.

Natural Thinkers and Natural Doers
While thinkers are perfecting, doers are improvising.  de Bono shares a quote from Sir Ove Arup:

‘The natural thinkers tends to strive for perfection, whereas the natural doers act quickly, relying on intuition, and they’re the ones that get the most done.’

Thought is Not the Enemy of Action
Just because you’re doing, doesn’t mean you aren’t thinking.  de Bono writes:

It is suggested that some people are oriented toward description, analysis, and thinking, whereas others are oriented toward action.  I strongly disagree with this distinction between thinking and doing: that thought is the enemy of action.  I have, in fact, invented a word to cover the thinking involved in getting things done: the word is ‘operacy.’

A Continuous Synergy Between Thought and Action
Action informs your thinking.  de Bono writes:

Take a decision.  Take action.  Bring thinking to bear only to modify and adjust and make your decision work.  The suggestion here is that everything cannot be thought out in advance, but that there is a continuous synergy between though and action.  The suggestion is that you cannot smell a flower at a distance – you have to get up close to it.

Thinking is Used by Describers and Doers
Describers and doers both use thinking, but doers are using action to get feedback and test drive their results.  de Bono writes:

… I agree that that too much thinking along old lines will not lead to innovation.  I am also inclined to agree that there are ‘describers’ and ‘doers.’  It is my experience, however, that thinking is used by both groups.  I feel it is very dangerous to pretend that doers do not use and have no need for thinking.

de Bono makes his point sharply by saying how scientists and engineers had proven that man-powered flight was impossible because a human couldn’t generate enough horsepower to raise a plane off the ground.  Then Paul MacCready did it successfully because he didn’t know it was impossible.

While I think what the mind can concieve, the body can achieve, I also think that results continuously inform the mind of what’s possible.  When I see somebody stuck because they didn’t just try something, I simply laugh to myself, “ah, describer.”

Photo by jadytron.


  1. Balancing the two ends is my key take away. While I tend to think rather than act, I can try to bring action in earlier and see what happens. Always thinking and never doing as well as always doing and never thinking are both recipes for disaster, IMO.

    On a similar note, I’m reminded of how moderation seems to fit into this in a sense. Excessive thinking or doing isn’t productive but how we learn how to draw the line? That is a skill that probably takes a while to develop and requires some work to keep it sharp, but that’s what life is for, right? 🙂

  2. I was guilty of being much more of a dreamer than a doer, but gettin’ some doin’ under my belt has made me a much faster doer now. And a better doer too, as I don’t generally overthink things as I used to.

    Success leads to success, I guess.

  3. JD, great blog post!
    I am learning the delicate balancing act ~I am happy in the abstract! ;)Often when I get discouraged or off track it is a result of too much thinking! As long as I am creating, I am quite energized!

    ‘Bring thinking to bear only to modify and adjust and make your decision work.’ great way to look at it!

    This reminds me of what I read once – the inner critic is only meant for the editing phase of the project! This was helpful for me also as a writer to not take the natural-flowing process too seriously! If they are in their role at the right time, it can be a good thing!

    I have learned first comes passion, then finding your rhythm, and eventually the momentum takes over. The key is beginning. It’s like the saying ‘Showing up equals 80% done!’ 😉

    have a loving weekend! ~Jen

  4. Describers and Doers – resonates w/me tons too!
    I can remember a little discussion we had about white/blue collar architects. I also like dirty architects that go hands on all the way – there are really few such but these are really good mentors that know arch first hand 😉

  5. I’m definitely a describer. I spend way too much time thinking and planning. However, there are benefits. I have found that much thinking allows me to make highly informed decisions, mitigating risk. Conversely, maybe I don’t take enough risks. Hmm…

  6. I’m naturally a doer, even impulsive. This statement resonates strongly with me: “I strongly disagree with this distinction between thinking and doing: that thought is the enemy of action.” Whether it’s studying or architecting or deploying, I can’t merely think, but must DO–to experiment & prototype–to refine my knowledge, my design, or make my upgrade bulletproof.

    Success for me mandates that I be a Describer *and* a Doer. Based on some of the comments, I’m in good company.

  7. Sometimes I find that I over “do” stuff. Meaning that I hop from project to project, constantly doing instead of finishing. I’m working on staying with a project to it’s completion then moving on.

    This article helped me understand my weakness as a doer. I know that this article was advocating doing and adapting along with the project, but it gave me a better understanding of what I need to work on. Thanks!

  8. The interesting thing to me is that you may have a thinker, but that does not necessarily mean the person is an innovator. Innovation, the ability to look beyond what others cannot see is obviously a trait that not everyone has. I constantly hear just about everyone saying they love to dream and innovate. However, it seems there are just a small percentage of those people that can radically innovate and see what no one else can. Everyone has a little innovation in them, but there are the few that have the natural talent which makes them valuable and great beyond the masses. Keep in mind that the innovator is probably a thinker, and also has some doer traits, but they may not always be the person to implement the great ideas they have come up with.

  9. @ JB King

    I agree – it’s about balance, or knowing when to draw the line. As a rule of thumb, if I catch myself in analysis paralysis, I give myself a time limit to test some results. If I find I’m churning, I step back and analyze what I need to change.

    @ Jannie

    I think you’re a great example of turning dreams into action. You’ve taken your music to the Web and build a great fan base. You’re a hero and an inspiration. Really, I’ve sent my friends to your blog to learn how to take their music to the Web.

    @ Jen

    When I’m creating, I’m in the zone. I didn’t realize how important it is for me until a few projects were less innovation, and more routine. I am a fan of taking ideas to done … I need to make things happen and see the results, so it’s a good balance.

    I like your point that the inner critic is for the edit phase.

    @ Alik

    I think when people roll up their sleeves, they get to play with their work more.

    @ Melissa

    You can have an extreme advantage when you find the balance with your describing and doing. The downfall of some doers is they have a challenge describing what they do to others.

    @ Jimmy

    I’m a fan of experimenting and prototyping and testing what I know. As you said, it’s how I refine my knowledge.

    @ Karl

    Finishing projects is tough, especially if there are parts of the project you don’t enjoy. It does feel great to see things through though. I’ll try to share more skills on project soon.

    @ Jeremy

    I agree. How you think really is the mark of an innovator. Doing is a key part of it. Edison taught us that. So many ideas look or sound good until the rubber meets the road. Making innovation stick requires great execution.

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