Let’s start with a definition of Stereotype:
Stereotypes are generalizations about groups and their individual members, based primarily on membership in that group. They may be positive or negative, they may be accurate or inaccurate regarding average characteristics of a group, and may be used to justify certain discriminatory behaviors. Some people consider all stereotypes to be negative because they are unjust to individuals who vary from group characteristics.
Over the last week Jeff Atwood had a couple of posts on this subject: The Two Types of Programmers and Mort, Elvis, Einstein, and You.
If you dig into some of the links from these posts you’ll find that the Microsoft persona classifications have been the source of heated debate for a long time. There is no fine line here, in this context personas and stereotyping are the same thing.
The first time I heard the terms ‘Mort’ and ‘Elvis’ was when I read ALT.NET Recap: Front and center, let’s talk constructively about Mort. As you can tell from my comment to that post, I was greatly offended. I probably over-reacted. I just reread the post though, and I still feel the same way. Here’s an example of why:
Back to the question about whether or not Mort can get the stuff we’re talking about like separation of concerns and TDD. The typical Mort has managed to acquire a working knowledge of…
And the “Mort related quotes” didn’t help either.
Even though Jeremy’s intent was to explore how to improve the ALT.NET community, the use of stereotypes in this manner seriously distracts from that purpose. As I commented, if I came away feeling that way, I’m sure that others will too.
I don’t mean to single out Jeremy in this regard (even though I did) — his blog is consistently high quality, and inoffensive. The use of Mort-Elvis-Einstein is ubiquitous in the Microsoft blogosphere.
On the other hand, when I read the posts by Jeff and others that debate this issue I take no offense at all. I can even thoughtfully try to place myself into the different personas like many of the commenter’s did. This just shows how important context and intent are. As Jeff found out, this is a touchy issue — nobody likes to be pigeonholed.
Grouping based on stereotypes is inherently non-inclusive (there’s always someone not in a group, or in the wrong group). Even after you’ve figured out how to reach the unreachable, make sure that your message is made in an inclusive way.
This is sort of related: Call to Action : People Are Not Resources (via D’Arcy). Related in that calling people resources is also stereotyping, at least by the strictest definition. The more common form of stereotyping in exclusive, whereas being a pork-belly is all-inclusive. For some reason, I’m not as offended by being considered a resource as I am being called a Mort. But that’s just me.
What I don’t get is that if calling individual humans “resources” is bad, how come “Human Resources”, as a department name, is fine? If you want to get rid of labels, you really need to start at the top. How about “Human Assets” or the “Recruitment, Retainment, and Severance” department?
Jay Kimble has another take on this issue in his Is it 80% and 20% or is 20% too high… post.
…it seems to me that there are 2 kinds of people.
Those that think hard on an issue and those that don’t.
I would further generalize and say that laziness is one of the root causes of stereotyping. Stereotyping is the easy way out (“buzz words”) and is done by people that don’t want to take the time to understand another persons point-of-view or the complexity of an issue.