The Hazard of Personality Typologies to Business and Humanity

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Business Second Opinion Media has as it’s purpose detoxing modern business practices, which have arisen over a thousand years of work history and often remain unexamined. That means exposing these work practices for their true effects, then adding a way to proceed from a regenerative paradigm. As a result of brain science and motivation research in the last two decades much has been undermined in these outdated practices. However, most remain popular because of their familiarity and based on the ameliorating affect. Attachment to “better” is the enemy of “best!”

Today we are looking at an obsession around personal typologies. I postulate in this post that the cult of personality fostered in these models does far, far more harm than the good people think they receive. And I’ll explain how to achieve the intention they are based on with a different worldview and with effects that change business profoundly.

Short History of Work:

Out of the industrial revolution came the idea that human beings are much like machines (brains were like clocks and now computers), leaving behind the unique skills and singular artifacts of the craftsman era. In the craftsman era, every object was made for the specific user or a buyer who was gifting it to a specific, often special person. In barely a hundred years, manufacturing towns were cranking out replications of designers that were faceless to the consumer. The breach between user and producer was lost and humans were only cogs in the machine.

The assembly line quickly brought about the need for something called managers. Finding people to lead who were superior in getting the most out of people. Management was about increasing productivity and thereby the profits of the factory owners. With an idea of a newfound potential for return on the investment of the owned labor and assets, it became important to make the results more predictable in the same way that machines were predictable. The purpose of the profession of management was to the build this bridge between machine and labor. The metaphor of a machine became the overarching guide to how this was to happen. Scientific management was born explicitly to ensure increasing predictability of results and actions of labor.

But humans were not as predictable as machines, particularly when studied with the same science that builds the industrial complexes that form the physical sciences. The study of rats to figure out how to manage humans to be malleable led to the use of behavioral management factors and practices. This was overturned by the Human potential movement who saw more in humans, and explicitly, that they were not like rats. The sad news is that they created the idea of categories of people and borrowed C.G. Jung’s idea of archetypes, meant for spiritual contemplation, and created an assessment that could define your box. E.g. Myers-Briggs. Enneagram types. Without any research to validate these ideas, it was adopted and spread across the humanist movement.

Over the last decade, the School of Education at Harvard decided to put these ideas to the test. For details, you can read The End of Average by Todd Rose. In summary, there is no such things as a set of patterns that can be used to organize humans into types.

Bring on a new Personality Typology:

Unless you are a solo-preneuer, you have a need to understand teamwork. Specifically, how to get teams to work. And even as a solo-preneur you have to work with suppliers, contractors, and partners.

This post is challenging the Harvard Business Review section on The New Science of Team Chemistry. As usual, there is a need for a second opinion. The first piece in the section is called Pioneers, Drivers, Integrators, and Guardians, the four “so-called” personality types they feel individuals in an organization are made up of. The authors, Suzanne M. Johnson Vickberg and Kim Christfort decided to create their own set of four personality types in a work environment, build an assessment and give instructions on the way to coach and manage each type. The reason for creating their own set of four types is that the other familiar types required too much introspection when self-administering. They wanted to base it on how people work when accomplishing goals with a team in a business.

Summary of article: The authors propose that previous personality typing was based on the requirement for too much personal introspection, which is unreliable. They also were not geared to the workplace practice of pursuing goals, but to personal categories. They developed a set of business relevant traits and preferences that can be observed, or inferred, from behavior at work. Pioneers, drivers, guardians, integrators are their set of types. Then, they build an assessment tool which tested people. Based on regression analysis they produced a management tool. People are then categorized into their appropriate personality type. Managers are taught to manage to “type”, taking into account the differing likely responses of each type to stress, leadership profile, and with special advice on the shortfalls of each personality types, such as sensitive introverts.

HBR Author Premises:

  1. People are not all alike as the machine paradigm would say. They are instead categorizable into four (or more) types. You can manage the type and nuances of types. Once we understand these, we know all we need to know about how people work.
  2. Performance is measured on personality traits and preferences where generic patterns can be found
  3. A human’s nature is fixed from birth and personality types, which gives us a way to a way to understand them without having to think about each individual which is fragmenting to managers.
  4. You get diversity when you mix up personality types on teams.

Paradigm Source:

The premises are based on myths that science has disproven in the last few years, which I call class one errors. You cannot build on an idea when it is based on deep errors. It is indeed strange to see them show up in HBR as best practices when they really harm human development and stunt business growth and the studies debunking them are from Harvard. This article is one of those outdated and still hot selling practices.

Class one errors with this practice:

  1. Types of people exist and can be determined by testing with mathematical modeling.
  2. Personality is the defining characteristic, not essence
  3. Teams need to be organized around work, not the contribution to stakeholders starting with customers
  4. Managers are needed to guide people and they know more than workers (from the aristocratic/royalty paradigm)
  5. Introspection is less valid than external observation. Humans are mostly internally engaged and can better source understanding of themselves when this capability is developed and organization’s support the use of themselves as the primary source of reflection. Reflection is undermined and no longer necessary in this set of premises, which provides the best means for building self-directed, self-determining humans and teams.

Effects of the Class One Errors

In thinking about oneself as one of a type, individuals do not know, come to know, or connect with the concept and existence of an individual essence. They focus on what “box” they fit in and who they relate to that box, not their own core differentiation and source of creative expression.

This tends to move people toward responding inside that box and engaging others from inside their box, by creating a label. Managers are fooled into thinking they have an easy, fixed way, to do the very hard thing of managing people. Over time, the managing practice and team practice reinforces the “box” mentality like rats in the maze. In many ways, it has reverted to the exact problem they were trying to avoid by creating personality types. Just that now there are four mazes.

Additionally, typologies focus people on an internal view of teamwork and not an externally directed one focusing on stakeholders like customers. In Orchard Supply Hardware, teams are built around customer values and purposes, which speaks to how they live, not personality types which are socialized constructs. Each member of the team is working from their own idea of how to contribute to a customer’s life, which improves sales and loyalty. Working as a type makes it hard to pay attention to these all-important endeavors.

This post was originally published as part of my Business Second Opinion Podcast and Blog series. Sign up for the newsletter to catch what’s coming next.

Learn about designing work for human and business that gets and gives the best to each. The Regenerative Business: Redesign Work. Grow Human Potential. Achieve Extraordinary Results. By Carol Sanford. Nicholas Brealey/Hachette publishers. September, 2017

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Originally published at on November 16, 2017.

Sr Fellow Social Innovation, Babson | Best Selling/Multi-Award Winning Author | Regenerative Paradigm Educator

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