On Pioneers, Settlers and Towns Planners – Or Understanding My Personal Brand


I recently dove into the backlog of writing by Simon Wardley. If you get nothing else out of this post, go read Рand respect Рthe energy he has put into his work at http://blog.gardeviance.org/.

This is a reflection on myself, so it’s helpful to know how much I disagree with oversimplified, opt-in classification systems.¬†I passionately reject theories that pigeonhole me into hand-wavy definitions. To list a few: fortune cookies. Whatever portion of¬†astronomy that’s responsible for horoscope. Much of pop psychology. ¬†Some¬†of practiced psychology, with definitions of disorders that will make anyone paying attention certain they are a mess (see below if you are not easily offended). Most¬†presumptions based on gender or theology or race when not appropriately compared or normalized.

Totally Normal

Posted by I fucking love science on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

While many of these theories of explanation are fun conversations over a beer, they attempt to make me simpler to explain in a non-specific way. This generates a caricature of me, not a science, and lead to the worst kind of assumptions.

I do have to admit that I find this inability to be put in a box reassuring: I like to think systems of categorization rarely capture an aspect of who I am to myself in a way that results in more answers than questions.

Knowing this about me, you can imagine my surprise as I dove into the work of Simon Wardley, who captures such a thoughtful¬†truth about my preferences at work. It’s not Wardley Mapping, which I would like to master at some point, but rather something more personal.¬†I recommend you¬†explore his concept of Pioneers, Settlers and Towns Planners (PST for short).

The Basics of PST

Simon explains there are three important types of work to do in each and every part of the business. The three types interact in a cycle of theft that leads to their value within an organization. What they steal, enjoy, dislike and use are outlined quite nicely below:

Screen Shot 2013-03-20 at 16.50.22

In my own words, Pioneers create, which allows Settlers to refine, which¬†allows Towns People to sustain. ¬†This allows each type’s¬†preferences¬†to flourish while adding a unique quality to any product lifecycle.

And the separation of P from S from T has nothing to do with intelligence: each type is necessary. Each type of mind is brilliant. They are all wired a little differently in a way that feels infinitely more logical to me than organizational structures we have today. People, in the PST system, are organized by motivation instead of function. As Simon writes it:

Under PST, there is no IT, Finance or Marketing departments or any grouping by type. There is only a structure defined by evolution and flow – hence pioneers, settlers and town planners.

Where I Fit

My preference for work fits, to my shock, right into the Settler role. The columns in figure 1 are like a map¬†of my world: I have a love for feedback (S) and a dislike¬†of experimentation (P). I prefer market analysis (S) over being truly driven by metrics (T). I thrive on building technical ecosystems (S), which my work calls a “Community.” I’m not as motivated by Agile (P) as I am by Lean and I die a little bit every time I’m asked to participate in Six Sigma (T). The verdict is out: I’m a Settler.

A longer quote snatched up from one of Simon’s posts is here:

The job of the settlers is to identify common patterns in the ecosystem (whether just internal pioneers or internal & external).  This can be done by leveraging consumption data of the underlying components or simply inspecting a range of new activities for common elements or simply taking something an internal pioneer developed.  Once a pattern or activity is identified, the job of the settlers is to turn it into some sort of product i.e. they steal from pioneers and productise it (make it manufacturable, documented, profitable, stable etc). You can incentivise settlers by product profitability and by which products make it to utility services.
A key role of the settlers is to steal from the pioneers who are in effect acting as the settlers R&D centre. Sometimes an internal project is going nowhere and the settlers will steal it, replace with something from the outside market. There is a problem here in that settlers can sometimes want to keep something going for too long. Also if you’re using an ecosystem to identify future success then remember, you’re are the gardener of that ecosystem. If you harvest too much, it’ll die off. So think carefully – you need to harvest and nurture.¬†

What This Means

I don’t call myself a Settler in this system of thought so I can buy matching t-shirts with other Settlers (though that’s a very Settler thing to do..). The joy I find from this categorization is in my ability to communicate where I fit inside an organization. Through the PST model, I find it easier to describe what kind of work I love to do and what kind of people I work best alongside. I want to build a¬†team of Settlers that learns from¬†Pioneers and hands off sustained work to Towns People. I now explain how all projects require PST contributors. That’s powerful to recognize.
Here are the most read resources on the topic:
Where do you find yourself fitting in this model? Do you also find it helpful?