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Know your type, or, Stop beating your head against a brick wall

Myers Briggs TypesI am a strong believer in the power and value of understanding personality and cognitive styles as a part of effective work in exploring the future. That’s true even if you are working alone–you need to know your own mind in doing futures work. Are you a black and white thinker, or do you see lots of grey areas? Do you like to use logic or focus on how you feel emotionally about things? Knowing about your cognitive styles and others’ is extremely valuable if you are part of a team that needs to confront change and build strategies for dealing with it. If you’ve found doing that work hard, maybe you don’t know enough about the personalities and cognitive styles on your team.

Most organizational executives have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and at one time knew their Myers-Briggs Type. Mine is I/ENTP, the I/E indicates that I rated about evenly between extroversion and introversion. The N means intuiting, the T, thinking, and the P, perceiving. I first took the test about 20 years ago. It helped me clarify things about my work style and my personal interactions with others.

If you never have known, or have long since forgotten your Myers-Briggs Type, you should go back and take the test. There are several versions free, online. One can be found here, and another here. The online tests are not perfect–they tend to try to find a type with fewer questions than the longer printed versions, but give one a try.

A less-well-known, but particularly useful indiactor is the Kirton Adaptation Innovation Inventory [Link]. It is based on a theory of cognitive style that says everyone is creative, but that there are distinctly different styles of creativity that fall on a continuum from adaptive creative–people who create "inside the box" and innovative creative–those who see no boundaries on their creative ideas. Knowing your place and your colleagues’ place on the continuum can help you understand how you and they will explore choices and potential innovations together.

Unfortunately, the Kirton Centre, which controls the KAI, does not make a do-it-yourself test available, and they believe firmly that you should be tested under the guidance of a certified KAI consultant. No KAI type is inherently good or bad, but as with the Myers Briggs, knowing more about yourself is inherently good–it can make it possible to be more effective and less uncertain in work, dealing with others. 

In my work as a futurist and in collaborating with others in foresight, it has been valuable to know my personality type and cognitive style, and those of my colleagues. It has been clear over the years that some people are not comfortable with conjecture–a critical part of futures work, and some are not instinctive about looking at grey areas, which is also critical in exploring future possibilities. It’s possible to clarify those things in exploring personality and cognitive styles. In almost any setting, having multiple cognitive or personality styles on the team is a good thing. But not understanding the different styles is not a good thing, and can destroy any benefit you might get from variety.

If you are pretty well convinced that one or another colleague is crazy, or that they are of limited mental ability, you may be reacting to their personality type or cognitive style. Surely they are not crazy or stupid, just different. And maybe they’ve got the missing piece you need, if only you could see it and know how to fit it with what you can do.

Foresight is difficult enough without adding layers of misunderstanding and opposition to the effort. Try to understand who you are and who your colleagues are, how they think and react. Your chances of success are much greater if you do. Don’t beat your head against a brick wall.

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