Based upon comments I received about my last article in this series, it seems I need to provide additional clarification and background about the tools and models discussed in my previous post.
“A bit about organizations, teams, people, and motivation”
before reading this post, if you haven’t already done so.)
First let me state that Myers-Briggs and Constantine’s Organizational Paradigms both fit ‘roughly’ into what can be loosely classified as “psychometric models”. For those who are unfamiliar with that realm, it is defined (by Wikipedia) as:
[…] Psychometrics is the field of study concerned with the theory and technique of psychological measurement. One part of the field is concerned with the objective measurement of skills and knowledge, abilities, attitudes, personality traits, and educational achievement. For example, psychometric research has concerned itself with the construction and validation of assessment instruments such as questionnaires, tests, raters’ judgments, and personality tests. Another part of the field is concerned with statistical research bearing on measurement theory (e.g., item response theory; intraclass correlation).
Thus psychometrics involves two major research tasks: (i) the construction of instruments and procedures for measurement; and (ii) the development and refinement of theoretical approaches to measurement. […]
Both Myers-Briggs and Constantine tools provide useful methods for characterizing or grouping behaviors into a reasonable number, or set, of categories, classes, or groupings. Each methods’ classes or groupings have names or labels associated with them. The categories within Constantine’s Paradigms use regular English words (closed, synchronous, open, random); Myers-Briggs uses labels which are unique unto themselves such as ENTJ, INTP, ISFJ, etc. In each instance, the meanings of these categories are uniquely defined and confined to the models for which they are described. For example, do not attempt to define or understand the synchronous category described by Constantine by the common English word definition for synchronous. Constantine’s synchronous definition is limited by and contained within Constantine’s work; any other definition simply adds confusion, not clarification.
The next point we need to stress is that each models’ categories or groupings represent simplifications or classifications of complex realities. They are neither complete nor exhaustive, they are simply representative classifications. I would say they are necessary but not sufficient to describe the organizations’ and individuals’ preferred operating modes. To quote from George E.P.Box, what we know about all models is:
Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.
As I asserted earlier, these models have proven themselves useful over time; although they must, like all models, be used intelligently and prudently. To that end, it is essential to understand that the grouping or categorizations offered by both tools afford useful, albeit imperfect, classifications. Very few individuals or groups can, singularly and accurately, be defined by a single classification. Differing circumstances or stresses often cause people and groups to adjust their normal preferred behavior in order to address “special” circumstances. Let me provide a couple examples:
- A very planful, deliberate, detailed, list oriented person might deviate from their typical behaviors were they to find themselves in a burning building when someone yells “fire!”. They, like almost everyone else, might just run out of the building without first having to make a list or plan before vacating the premises.
- If you are left handed, there are times when you use your right hand. Unless there is a physiological problem, your right hand probably does not simply hang limply at your side. Thus if you are running, and you are pushed to the right towards a wall, you will most likely use your right arm to help cushion your impact.
Again, these examples are imperfect but hopefully provide a small example of what I am trying to explain. People and groups have a normal set of preferences or preferred approaches. But, these preferences are not applied exclusively; there are times when non-preferred approaches are used. We and our situations are too complex for simple, monolithic behaviors. Most healthy organisms know when to adjust and use non-preferred approaches as their circumstances dictate. If you’d like more on this topic, Rick Hanson Ph.D. (neuropsychologist and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom) offers a good explanation of differentiation in his BLOG posting discussion of the human urges and conflicts associated with joining and separation.
Although all psychological tools have limits, it is equally important to know good tools, like Myers-Briggs and Constantine’s, can provide extremely useful characterization approaches, and categories. This next explanation is probably overly-simplistic but should help provide a context within which the Myers-Briggs and Constantine’s models and tools can be effectively employed. The approach I have found most relevant is best described by Gestalt psychology; About.com offers the following:
According to Gestalt psychology, the whole is different than the sum of its parts. Based upon this belief, Gestalt psychologists developed a set of principles to explain perceptual organization, or how smaller objects are grouped to form larger ones. These principles are often referred to as the “laws of perceptual organization.” However, it is important to note that while Gestalt psychologists call these phenomena “laws,” a more accurate term would be “principles of perceptual organization.” These principles are much like heuristics, which are mental shortcuts for solving problems.
Because as individuals, we are unique; and because in organizations and groups, the whole is able to produce more than the sum of its parts; we need tools and techniques that will allow us to describe and assess the general preferred approaches. This allows us to then determine an aggregated set of characteristics and rules under which the group “normally” prefers to operate. Myers-Briggs and Constantine provide exactly that. Additionally, both tool-sets are well described and “easy” to use, even recognizing their individual limitations.
Lastly, it needs to be noted that the categories and classifications provided by both Myers-Briggs and Constantine are all equally useful and/or good. None is better or worse than the other. They simply represent normal behavior and approaches; those preferred by a given group, organization, or individual. These categories and classifications only represent a possible or potential risk when they are used inappropriately or improperly. A simple way of saying this is that “any strength over-used becomes a weakness.” So for example:
- being planful is a good thing, but if you are too planful, others may see you as being “controlling”
- being flexible is good; being overly flexible risks being viewed as being “out of control”
If you would like to read more on this topic, see the Harvard Business Review article Don’t Let Your Strengths become Your Weaknesses.
The bottom line is once we are able to “successfully” describe an organization and the individuals within it under their preferred operating modes, we are also, by inference, able to determine their individual and collective ‘potential’ blind-spots. This allows us the create a collective risk management plan as our organizations and individuals act on behavioral and process changes. We are able to determine non-preferred approaches to address anticipated situations, in advance of their actual occurrence. We are able to bolster our collective and individual ‘blind-spots’ so as to improve our ability to succeed.