Using Conative Strengths for ‘Space Travel’

January 27, 2017

  • Kolbe Wisdom

Can you teach people about conation in any location – even in outer space? One Kolbe Consultant decided to find out by taking a group of executives into the “Final Frontier” – or at least, a close facsimile.

John Barr, president and co-founder of Transformation Through Leadership, has been associated with Kolbe Corp for more than two decades.

“I first became Kolbe CertifiedTM in 1995 when I was working for Xerox as the Manager of Management and Quality Consulting” John says.  At that time, he was working closely with Kathy Kolbe, and he “was responsible for designing and implementing management and quality workshops and providing consulting services to 39,000 employees.  During my career with Xerox and in the years since I started our consulting business, I have probably introduced over 5000 people to conation and the Kolbe Theory.”

“I’ve used Kolbe Theory to introduce senior executives to the emotional, intellectual, and conative areas of the mind and to explain how those areas work together to help determine how well an individual will perform in a specific job or as a member of a specific team.”

When developing teaching strategies for his clients, John likes to get people out of their “comfort zone” and invite them to view things from a new perspective.  So, in one challenging situation, he decided to take a group of executives out of their offices, and launch part of the team into outer space!

John was working with a large pharmaceutical company that had recently gone through a merger involving employees from three different countries.  In order to be successful, these employees needed to understand one another and appreciate each other’s strengths.

“These were individuals from different cultures with very different world views,” John says.  “How could I get them to understand and appreciate one another so they could work together?”

John had established a relationship with The U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Space Camp as part of his working relationships with Idea Connection Systems, where he also provided consulting services to their clients.

“At that time, they had a two-day camp where groups of business executives could participate in simulated space missions,” John says.  “So, I took 11 managers from the pharmaceutical company down to Huntsville and put them into a very challenging situation where they could experience both the feeling of working against their conative grain and the feeling of leveraging their instinctive strengths.”

At Huntsville, the executives were placed in three groups: the “Space Shuttle” team, the “Mission Control” team, and the “Space Lab” team.

“On Day One, I placed all of them in roles where they were forced to work against their natural conative strengths.  When a person is under stress or a threat, their body produces more of the cortisol hormone, which tends to impair their decision-making ability.  It’s a survival response.

“I wanted these executives to experience how placing someone into a job or situation that does not match up well with their conative strengths might impair their thinking and could lead to disaster,” John says.  “While the group included an array of conative talents, it was dominated by individuals who initiated in Fact Finder.”

The day began with an orientation program to introduce the participants to proper launch procedures, appropriate responses to various kinds of alarms, etc.

“We started stressing them out right away,” John says.  “The person assigned to lead the Mission Control team was a ‘9’ in Quick Start and resistant in Follow Thru.  So, going through all of the pre-launch procedures that were listed in the launch manual was very difficult for him.  I’m sure he just wanted to launch the rocket and get the mission started.”

Finally, it was time for take-off.  The executives on the Space Shuttle team were taken to a simulator where they were seated back at a 90 degree angle and experienced many of the shakes and jolts of an actual launch.  Then the “fun” began.

“The alarms started going off right away. Once they solved one problem, I’d throw another one at them.  This went on for two-and-a-half hours.  When it was over they were all beat, physically and emotionally.”

“After the simulation was completed and the team had time to decompress, we shared their Kolbe A™ Index results with them and had a rich dialogue about what they learned about themselves and others.”

On the second day of the camp, the executives participated in another mission, but this time, they were each assigned roles that matched up well with their conative strengths.

“We still had tension, but now we had creative tension as opposed to debilitative tension,” John says.  “As I threw challenges at them, you could see that they were almost enjoying what they were doing.  They still had to deal with alarms, but we didn’t come to a point where they just burned out and could not go any further.”

The Strategic Planners (who initiate in Fact Finder and Follow Thru) were in control of both the shuttle and Mission Control.

“They were in the zone, following procedures, step-by-step, using the manuals to their fullest extent. The Quick Starts were responsible for the experiments, and they were very creative. We kept the innovation in check by assigning Follow Thru’s to help document the experiments.”

Another debriefing session was held after the second mission, and the executives had an opportunity to compare the experiences of dealing with conative stress and having the opportunity to rely on their conative strengths.  John encouraged them to keep these experiences in mind when they returned to work.

“The simulation and the debriefing sessions made their Kolbe results real for them,” John says.


Not surprisingly, when John conducted a follow-up meeting with his client a few months later, it was clear that the Corporate Space Camp experience had made a significant impact on the managers, their teammates, and their company.

“All of the employees in the office were now wearing their Kolbe MO badges attached to their business badges.  During team meetings, as specific projects were assigned, people would look around the room and ask, ‘OK who has that instinctive talent?’”

John also noted that, soon after the “Corporate Space Camp” exercise, some of those pharmaceutical managers had restructured the process for introducing new medicines to the marketplace.  Their team reviewed 23 different core processes. Those that did not add value were eliminated.  Those that did add value were assigned to individuals with the appropriate conative strengths.  This resulted in a six-month reduction in the development of protocols for new drugs.

“That translated into some major revenue for the company,” John says, “and it was accomplished by putting the right people in the right positions and giving them the freedom to rely on their instinctive strengths.”

Sometimes the best way to help people understand their instinctive strengths involves taking them far away from their comfort zone … even if it means launching them into outer space!

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