Skip to main content


Five Traits of Difference Makers: Snap to It!

Executive Resource
The trait of Snap provides the intersection between intellectual curiosity and thought discipline. Find out how they can contribute to your organization.
March 23, 2022

In our continuing series on Five Traits of Difference Makers, I would like to explore the tangible aspects of what are sometimes intangible traits. Let’s take a deep dive into the ability to employ intellectual curiosity to your advantage.

Snap: the ability to swiftly assess a situation, analyze, and take effective action


Snap in Action

Observable skills that contribute to Snap:

  • Cross Functionality: When your organization needs a team or task force to work across departments with either complementary (or competing) objectives, the most productive team members tend to be Snappy.
  • Identifying Unintended Consequences: Discussions of new projects or initiatives primarily focus (correctly) on execution, goals and objectives. Someone in the room needs to identify the weaknesses, biases and perverse incentives.
  • Idea Generation: People with Snap can supercharge a brainstorming session by both generating ideas and finding strengths and weaknesses in competing concepts. They are also willing to discard their own bad ideas; they don’t cling to pride of authorship.
  • Sense of Humor: Fun can be a legitimate corporate value (Southwest Airlines, Zappos, Etsy…). Not everyone with a sharp sense of humor has the other attributes of Snap, but the humorless almost never do.


Harvard management professor Bob Behn published a 2009 article defining a simple concept with a two-word sentence: “That’s funny.” By “funny” he meant curious, not humorous. The ability to discern what’s “funny” (or curious, or odd, or doesn’t make sense, or “how in the heck did that happen?”) when faced with data or experience that doesn’t comport with one’s biases or expectations sets thinkers apart. They question assumptions and identify errors. The people on your team who say “that’s funny” the most are the ones with Snap. By identifying anomalies, diving in, and solving for root cause, those with Snap provide the intersection between intellectual curiosity and thought discipline; one without the other has limited value. Recall the three verbs in the definition:

Connective Tissue?

When introducing the five traits, I described people with Snap as the members of your team who “just get it.” That’s an evocative description, but not a helpful one. Let’s think about it another way. The Snappy are the connective tissue of an organization. They see the organizational whole, not just their part of it. They understand the relationships between business units and how the pieces fit together. Not everyone on your team needs this understanding. Those that do contribute essential insight. Valuing diverse viewpoints, seeing beyond your own environment, and being able to articulate opinions contrary to your own leads to better decision making, particularly when adapting to changing circumstances. A team member who takes the longer view does not tend to be change-averse. You can move that person’s cheese (so to speak) and, likely, she will immediately know that you moved it.

Snap and the Emotional Intelligence Connection: Empathy and Social Skills

Snap correlates with all five of Goleman’s emotional intelligence components: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy and Social Skills. The last two are particularly relevant. Snap requires empathy; the ability to see beyond your own needs and understand the needs of others informs both intellectual curiosity (posing questions about things outside of your own experience) and thought discipline (exploring ideas beyond your own bias and experience). Colleagues with Snap also demonstrate social skills. They know how to read a room and are quick to adapt to norms and social mores outside of their experience. When something is a bit off in a social interaction, the Snappy will notice (“hmmm, that’s odd…”).

Let’s go back to the notion of people who “get it” and add substance. If we reverse the concept and you think about someone in your experience who frustrates you because “he just doesn’t get it,” what is that person missing? I would submit that in most instances that person lacks empathy, social skills, or both. To be fair, they probably are not overflowing with self-awareness, either!

Getting Personal

Some intellectually curious people dive into varied subjects and leverage their new knowledge in a productive manner. Others simply flit from one subject to another for their own amusement. Which one are you? There is no wrong answer, but the professional implications are quite different. Self-identifying Snap is a tricky proposition full of false positives (people who think they have Snap but don’t) and others who exhibit the trait but would never describe themselves as possessing some special quality.

If you have a history of running point on solving thorny organizational problems, regularly participate on strategic planning teams, and are called upon to share your expertise with others outside your field, then Snap has contributed to your success. Snap also can appear in non-traditional backgrounds. The most intuitive statistical programmer I ever worked with had an education in music (surprisingly common among technologists); one of the best young project managers I knew came to our organization after a stint as a ranger with the U.S. Forest Service. He had a different worldview than the rest of the team and we benefitted from his curiosity, intellect and empathy.

Leading Questions

  1. Marketing needs a better understanding of what our division does. Who is the best person on our team to describe our value proposition and how it contributes to the organization?
  2. This new policy doesn’t work for anyone. We need a team member to help us answer these questions: Is it a problem with the policy itself? With how it has been communicated? A lack of resources? Or is there something we are not seeing?
  3. The new org chart comes with an unexpected change. You now supervise a department about which you know little, and you have few personal relationships to leverage. Whom do you pick as your liaison to figure out how what makes that group tick, how they can be successful, and how they can best contribute to your current scope of responsibility?

The Leader’s Checklist: SNAP

How often does a member of your team exhibit these attributes?

Team Member:
Anonymous Smith
 Consistently  Usually  Sometimes  Seldom  Never  Not Applicable
Ability to manage change
Identifying root cause effectively
Effective social interactions
Working across the organization
Ability to explain positions counter to their own
Deliberate and bias-free decision making
Creative problem solving


For other articles in this series:

© Copyright 2022 Adam Jones

Adam Jones writes and speaks regularly on management, leadership, and strategic governance. He is the organizational assessment practice leader for Weaver and Tidwell, L.L.P.


Five Traits of Difference Makers: Snap