Posts Tagged ‘Personality’

There are two directions from which we can approach an improvement challenge. From the bottom up – starting with the real details and distilling the principle later; and from the top down – starting with the conceptual principle and doing the detail later.  Neither is better than the other – both are needed.

As individuals we have an innate preference for real detail or conceptual principle – and our preference is manifest by the way we think, talk and behave – it is part of our personality.  It is useful to have insight into our own personality and to recognise that when other people approach a problem in a different way then we may experience a difference of opinion, a conflict of styles, and possibly arguments.  

One very well established model of personality type was proposed by Carl Gustav Jung who was a psychologist and who approached the subject from the perspective of understanding psychological “illness”.  Jung’s “Psychological Types” was used as the foundation of the life-work of Isabel Briggs Myers who was not a psychologist and who was looking from the direction of understanding psychological “normality”. In her book Gifts Differing – Understanding Personality Type (ISBN 978-0891-060741) she demonstrates using empirical data that there is not one normal or ideal type that we are all deviate from – rather that there is a set of stable types that each represents a “different gift”. By this she means that different personality types are suited to different tasks and when the type resonantes with the task it results in high-performance and is seen an asset or “strength” and when it does not it results in low performance and is seen as a liability or “weakness”.

One of the multiple dimensions of the Jungian and Myers-Briggs personality type model is the Sensor – iNtuitor dimension the S-N dimension. This dimension represents where we hold our reference model that provides us with data – data that we convert to information – and informationa the we use to derive decisions and actions.

A person who is naturally inclined to the Sensor end of the S-N dimension prefers to use Reality and Actuality as their reference – and they access it via their senses – sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. They are often detail and data focussed; they trust their senses and their conscious awareness; and they are more comfortable with routine and structure.  

A person who is naturally inclined to the iNtuitor end of the S-N dimension prefers to use Rhetoric and Possibility as their reference and their internal conceptual model that they access via their intuition. They are often principle and concept focussed and discount what their senses tell them in favour their intuition. Intuitors feel uncomfortable with routine and structure which they see as barriers to improvement.  

So when a Sensor and an iNtuitor are working together to solve a problem they are approaching it from two different directions and even when they have a common purpose, common values and a common objective it is very likely that conflict will occur if they are unaware of their different gifts

Gaining this awareness is a key to success because the synergy of the two approaches is greater than either working alone – the sum is greater than the parts – but only if there is awareness and mutual respect for the different gifts.  If there is no awareness and low mutual respect then the sum will be less than the parts and the problem will not be dissolvable.

In her research, Isabel Briggs Myers found that about 60% of high school students have a preference for S and 40% have a preference for N – but when the “academic high flyers”  were surveyed the ratio was S=17%  and N=83% – and there was no difference between males and females.  When she looked at the S-N distribution in different training courses she discovered that there were a higher proportion of S-types in Administrators (59%), Police (80%), and Finance (72%) and a higher proportion of N-types in Liberal Arts (59%), Engineering (65%), Science (83%), Fine Arts (91%), Occupational Therapy (66%), Art Education (87%), Counselor Education (85%), and Law (59%).  Her observation suggested that individuals select subjects based on their “different gifts” and this throws an interesting light on why traditional professions may come into conflict and perhaps why large organisations tend to form departments of “like-minded individuals”.  Departments with names like Finance, Operations and Governance  – or FOG.

This insight also offers an explanation for the conflict between “strategists” who tend to be N-types and who naturally gravitate to the “manager” part of an organisation and the “tacticians” who tend to be S-types and who naturally gravitate to the “worker” part of the same organisation.

It  has also been shown that conventional “intelligence tests” favour the N-types over the S-types and suggests why highly intelligent academics my perform very poorly when asked to apply their concepts and principles in the real world. Effective action requires pragmatists – but academics tend to congregate in academic instituitions – often disrespectfully labelled by pragmatists as “Ivory Towers”.      

Unfortunately this innate tendency to seek-like-types is counter-productive because it re-inforces the differences, exacerbates the communication barriers,  and leads to “tribal” and “disrespectful” and “trust eroding” behaviour, and to the “organisational silos” that are often evident.

Complex real-world problems cannot be solved this way because they require the synergy of the gifts – each part playing to its strength when the time is right.

The first step to know-how is self-awareness.

If you would like to know your Jungian/MBTI® type you can do so by getting the app: HERE

Most of our thinking happens out of awareness – it is unconscious. Most of the data that pours in through our senses never reaches awareness either – but that does not mean it does not have an impact on what we remember, how we feel and what we decide and do in the future. It does.

Improvement Science is the knowledge of how to achieve sustained change for the better; and doing that requires an ability to unlearn unconscious knowledge that blocks our path to improvement – and to unlearn selectively.

So how can we do that if it is unconscious? Well, there are  at least two ways:

1. Bring the unconscious knowledge to the surface so it can be examined, sorted, kept or discarded. This is done through the social process of debate and discussion. It does work though it can be a slow and difficult process.

2. Do the unlearning at the unconscious level – and we can do that by using reality rather than rhetoric. The easiest way to connect ourselves to reality is to go out there and try doing things.

When we deliberately do things  we are learning unconsciously because most of our sensory data never reaches awareness.  When we are just thinking the unconscious is relatively unaffected: talking and thinking are the same conscious process. Discussion and dialog operate at the conscious level but differ in style – discussion is more competitive; dialog is more collaborative. 

The door to the unconscious is controlled by emotions – and it appears that learning happens more effectively and more efficiently in certain emotional states. Some emotional states can impair learning; such as depression, frustration and anxiety. Strong emotional states associated with dramatic experiences can result in profound but unselective learning – the emotionally vivid memories that are often associated with unpleasant events.  Sometimes the conscious memory is so emotionally charged and unpleasant that it is suppressed – but the unconscious memory is not so easily erased – so it continues to influence but out of awareness. The same is true for pleasant emotional experiences – they can create profound learning experiences – and the conscious memory may be called an inspirational or “eureka” moment – a sudden emotional shift for the better. And it too is unselective and difficult to erase.

An emotionally safe environment for doing new things and having fun at the same time comes close to the ideal context for learning. In such an enviroment we learn without effort. It does not feel like work – yet we know we have done work because we feel tired afterwards.  And if we were to record the way that we behave and talk before the doing; and again afterwards then we will measure a change even though we may not notice the change ourselves. Other people may notice before we do – particularly if the change is significant – or if they only interact with us occasionally.

It is for this reason that keeping a personal journal is an effective way to capture the change in ourselves over time.  

The Jungian model of personality types states that there are three dimensions to personality (Isabel Briggs Myers added a fourth later to create the MBTI®).

One dimension describes where we prefer to go for input data – sensors (S) use external reality as their reference – intuitors (N) use their internal rhetoric.

Another dimension is how we make decisions –  thinkers (T) prefer a conscious, logical, rational, sequential decision process while feelers (F) favour an unconscious, emotional, “irrational”, parallel approach.

The third dimension is where we direct the output of our decisions – extraverts (E) direct it outwards into the public outside world while intraverts (I) direct it inwards to their private inner world.

Irrespective of our individual preferences, experience suggests that an effective learning sequence starts with our experience of reality (S) and depending how emotionally loaded it is (F) we may then internalise the message as a general intuitive concept (N) or a specific logical construct (T).

The implication of this is that to learn effectively and efficiently we need to be able to access all four modes of thinking and to do that we might design our teaching methods to resonate with this natural learning sequence, focussing on creating surprisingly positive reality based emotional experiences first. And we must be mindful that if we skip steps or create too many emotionally negative experiences we we may unintentionally impair the effectiveness of the learning process.

A carefully designed practical exercise that takes just a few minutes to complete can be a much more effective and efficient way to teach a profound principle than to read libraries of books or to listen to hours of rhetoric.  Indeed some of the most dramatic shifts in our understanding of the Universe have been facilitated by easily repeatable experiments.

Intuition and emotions can trick us – so Doing Our Way to New Thinking may be a better improvement strategy.

Time is an intangible – we can’t touch it, taste it, smell it, hear it or see it – yet we do sense it – and we know it is valuable. A precious commodity we call lifetime. We often treat lifetime as it if were tangible – something that we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch – something like money. We often hear the phrase “time is money” and we say things like “spending time” and “wasting time” – as if it were money. But time is not money; we cannot save time, we cannot buy time, and we all get the same amount of time per day to use.

Another odd thing about time is that we sense that it moves in one direction – from past to future with now as the transition. This creates an interesting discontinuity: if we look forward from now into the future we perceive an infinite number of possibilities; yet if we look backwards from now into the past we see only one actuality. That is really odd – Now is when Infinity becomes One.

So, how does that insight help us make a choice?  Well, suppose we have decided what we want in the future and are now trying to make a choice of what to do next; to plan our route to our future desired goal.  Looking from now forwards presents us with a very large number of paths to choose from, none of which we can be sure will lead us safely to where we want to get to.  So what happens? We may become paralysed by indecision; we may debate and argue about which path to take; we may boldly step out on a plausible path with hope and courage; or we may just guess and stumble on with blind faith.  Which we choose seems more a reflection of our personality than a rational strategy. So let us try something else – let us project ourselves into the future to the place where we want to be; and then let us look backwards in time from the future to the present. Now we see a single path that led to where we are; and by unpicking that path we can see that each step of it had a set of necessary and sufficient pre-conditions which, with the addition of time, moved us forward along the path.  Hindsight is much clearer than foresight and each of us has a lifetime’s worth of hindsight to reflect on; and the cumulative hindsight of history to draw on.  This is not an exercise in fantasy; we already have what we need.

To make our choice we start with the outcome we want and ask the question “What are the immediately preceeding necessary and sufficient conditions?”   Then for each condition we ask the question “Does that condition already exist?” If so then we stop – we need go no further on this side branch; and if not then we repeat the Two Questions and we keep going until we have linked our goal back to pre-conditions that exist.  All the pre-conditions in the map we have drawn are necessary but we do not yet have all of them. Some are only dependent on pre-conditions that exist – these are the important ones because they tell us exactly what to focus on doing next. Our choice is now obvious and simple – though the action may not be easy. No one said the journey would be easy!