Investigating Personality Proclivities
Breaking into my, and hopefully your, brain
Welcome to Polymathic Being, a place to explore counterintuitive insights across multiple domains. These essays take common topics and explore them from different perspectives and disciplines and, in doing so, come up with unique insights and solutions. Fundamentally, a Polymath is a type of thinker who spans diverse specialties and weaves together insights that the domain experts often don’t see.
Today's topic shifts from leadership and steps back and introduces myself to you. Not my background, but introduce you to my brain. That crazy, idiosyncratic, sometimes fractured, often nuts, but always curious chunk of gray matter between my ears.
It’s taken me a few years to get to know myself and I thought I’d share my findings and hopefully motivate you to consider similar introspection. I’ve found knowing myself has been essential to grounding, tempering, and exploiting my superpowers.
As a naturally intuitive person, I often wonder to myself why I feel like I’m ‘speaking Greek’ to other people. Just the other day, a co-worker suggested the need to think about new features for a product offering. I followed this thread and proposed an option that fused elements of two products with a twist of technology. I looked around and saw a few enthusiastic nodding heads and a majority of blank looks. I asked a few clarifying questions and the people with the blank looks didn’t disagree with what I said per se, they just couldn’t figure out how I got there! Part of the issue was that the two separate products that, in their minds, were separate, different, and totally siloed. They just hadn’t considered and didn’t quite comprehend that there were enough commonalities for a solution.
This is one of the banes of the polymathic mindset. The broad interests and skillsets of polymaths are naturally intuitive and when talking to others, we have to recognize that many are more discrete sensing types. What I mean by intuitive and sensing are the definitions from the Meyers-Briggs personality profile:
You use Sensing (S) and Intuition (N) to receive and process new information either by using your five senses or in more abstract ways. Sensing and Intuition are opposite preferences. A person’s natural tendency toward one will be stronger than the other.1
Image by personalitymax
But it’s more than just my intuition. There’s something else in that situation that is resonating beyond just that one characteristic. That’s why I like analyzing the full implications of personality profiles. But before we go further, I must caveat that these profiles are not binary nor immutable. The worst thing people do is force a binary on others based on their scores. Instead look at them as a scale, a personality proclivity, propensity, and comfort zones, not strict ability, or inability to look at, or engage with the world.
The Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is a great one to start with as it’s one of the best known and captures some pretty solid characteristics:
Extraversion - Introversion (energized from without - or within)
Intuitive - Sensing (systems thinking - discrete thinking)
Thinking - Feeling (analytical - empathetic)
Judging - Perceiving (order-disorder)
I highly recommend you take other profile tests, like the Big 5, because they complement and help balance the perspective for a more complete view. The Big 5, also known as OCEAN captures:
Openness (open or closed to new experiences)
Contentiousness (same as Judging/Perceiving)
Extraversion (Same as MBTI)
Agreeableness (willingness to go along, or willingness to disagree)
Neuroticism (anxiety, or lack thereof regarding experiences)
These two together give a fuller perspective with enough overlap to ensure alignment:
Extraversion - Introversion
Intuitive - Sensing
Thinking - Feeling
What’s important to compare here is how they can play together. For example, here’s how I land on the MBTI and Big 5 and how they interact:
I’m ENTJ/P. I flow between the ‘commander’ and the ‘architect’.
My Extraversion and iNtuition resonate together in a spike that, coupled with my Thinking means I’m naturally a systems thinker and analytic heavy vs. emotive. Straddling across Judging and Perceiving means I can be interpreted as ‘fly by the seat of my pants’ and ‘pedantic’ depending on the audience.
Also of note here, is that iNtuitive people only make up 25% of the tested population and it skews toward even less in STEM programs
I am maxed on Openness meaning I’ll consider almost every viewpoint.
I am middle on contentiousness (the J/P of MBTI) so same as that.
I am mid-high on extroversion (same as MBTI).
I am mid-low on agreeableness meaning I am willing and able to be disagreeable and hold my ground to defend a point.
I am zero on neuroticism, so I am not flustered or threatened by many things.
The extremely high Openness and extremely low Neuroticism create a resonating spike along with Extraversion and iNtuition of MBTI that makes me very different (and very aligned with Dutch Directness).
These two profiles explain the ‘speaking Greek’ with my co-workers on the new idea. I’m able to pull together seemingly disparate concepts through both my intuition and openness to new and novel ideas. I’m willing to share it because I don’t have the anxiety and I have the disagreeableness to stake a position. Double down with the thinking-focused analytics and orderliness, and it’s normally quite a defensible opinion out of the gate.
Blend in the extraversion and I have what my wife calls ‘A big personality’. It’s both great, and frustrating at the same time. I’ve learned that I really need to focus on balancing this across interactions much more intentionally than many people.
What is probably the most frustrating are the negative characterizations of my personality that are completely at odds with who I am at my core and suggest some form of “Dark Triad” of negativity: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, Psychopathy or similar. But then again as I’ve captured in one of my axioms:
“people expect from others what they expect from themselves”
It helps me to consider that if someone thinks I’m manipulating, it’s because in my position that’s what they’d be doing. While I don’t have to accept this characterization, I do have to know who I am at the core to help me better balance myself.
So what are my underlying core attributes that weave into these first two personality profiles? There are a few other tests that can help flesh out even more detail of who I am holistically:
Shaper - visualize ambitious goals, set plans in place, and push through relentlessly to make them happen. They tend to be independent, original, driven, demanding, adaptable, and at times impatient and single-minded.
Impresario – Love to entertain, engage socially, and facilitate great experiences with others. They tend to be outgoing, inspiring, energetic, and adaptable.
Coach- regard self-growth, development, and learning as a cornerstone of life and daily practices while they teach and model these as aspirations for others. They tend to be both demanding and caring, humble and resilient.
Helper – Driven by compassion and care for others, and support their emotional needs.
Implementer – Organize and structure people and processes to reliably execute tasks.
Solutions Finder – Ideate new ways to solve problems.
Visionary – Envision a better future.
Foreman – Commanding, decision-making, presence, and control.
Believe – Believing and doing the ‘right thing’.
Prudent – Deliberate carefully to find a safe solution.
Hard Worker – being busy and executing discrete tasks.
Consensus – Seeking harmony.
Influencer – Engaging people directly and convincing them to act.
Connector – Catalyst. Strength is a craving to bring people or ideas together to make something bigger and better.
Teacher – Thrilled by the potential I see in each person. Power comes from learning how to unleash it.
These three, together with the first two, start to provide the whole picture:
I’m a coach, I’m a connector, I’m a teacher, I’m a visionary with a strong ‘do the right thing’ tendency.
I’m not a helper (do your own work), I’m not OK with discrete tasks, and I don’t seek harmony first.
Analyzing these proclivities helps me better manage them in nuanced situations. It doesn’t always work with everyone, because I’ll never be anyone to anybody. I’m going to be who I am, I can temper that, but I can’t forget it or not embrace it (call me disagreeable there).
I also have an insatiable curiosity to know how other people land because I love figuring out how to work with other people. I love pairing my weaknesses against another’s strengths and building mutually supportive relationships where we can be OK with, and complement each other.
Don’t expect from others what you expect from yourself and instead, find out who you are, what that means, and how that changes your view toward others. Please leave a comment with your personality results and what you learned about it!
Links to tests/books: