Sep 4, 2023

Are you a starter or a finisher?

Do most juniors tend to be finishers, while most senior-lead designers tend to be starters?

A friend of mine (and talented Software engineer), John Kueh, once asked me, “Are you a starter or a finisher?” His powerful question made me pause and reflect on myself. Here is my perspective.

1. The Starter

As the name suggested, starters are strategic thinkers who take initiative and ensure that the pre-works are done properly. A great start is like having half of the job done, but without finishers, starters can get trapped in what I call ”thinking paralysis” and moving around without tangible outcomes.

Key Contributions of Starter:

  • Identify the right problem to solve.
  • Facilitate collaboration to ensure everyone sees the same vision.
  • Define clear goals and create a plan to achieve them.

2. The Finisher

Finishers are executioners who make things happen and ensure the quality of the final deliverables. Without great execution, a great strategy can be just a cheap talk that cost a lot. However, doing the right things for the wrong reasons also gets us go nowhere.

Key Contributions of Finisher:

  • Solving problems with the right tactics.
  • Facilitate the solution to ensure the best possible outcomes.
  • Delivering the goals according to the plans.

3. The Mixer

Mixers are outcome-driven and deliver what they discover. They can hold multiple perspectives simultaneously without cognitive dissonance. However, being good in both worlds also has a downside. Mixers can have difficulty being perceived as specialists and are often taken for granted.

Key Contributions of Mixer:

  • Make creative assumptions and test them rapidly (speed is key here).
  • Create a vision and translate it into actionable steps that everyone can take.
  • Delivering the change.

My thought?

Starting something from nothing requires a lot of courage and critical thinking. Finishing it demands focus and discipline. In today’s rapidly changing economic landscape, we need both starters and finishers—we need more of the mixers.







Bonus story

Let’s use a “song-making” as an analogy.

Starters are like songwriters who turn concepts into compelling stories. They may not necessarily know how to play all of the instruments, but they should be able to create chord progressions that form the fundamentals of the song and support their lyrics.

On the other hand, finishers are like musicians who craft and perform the song to tell a story. They deeply understand the story and choose the right mood and tone to convey it to the audience.

Last but not least, mixers are like producers who put everything together. They balance music and lyrics and know how to emphasise the right things at the right time behind their mixers board.

Songwriters who produce and perform their own songs are the creators who stay closest to their creations and receive direct feedback from their fans. As technology improves and becomes more affordable, the opportunity cost of waiting will become more expensive.