Entries Tagged as "Learning"

The Mystery of the INTP

A few years ago, my friend told me that there was a book festival coming to our area. I wasn't very interested until she sent me a list of the authors that would be speaking, and I saw the name, Jane Smiley. You might as well have told me that Shakespeare was coming to town. Jane Smiley has been my favorite author for almost 20 years. She is remarkable because she can put herself into the minds of all her characters, even animals, and see life from their perspective. She captures perfectly the personalities you are likely to encounter every day, yet her observations on life are the kinds of things you would go on pilgrimages to learn.

After Jane Smiley spoke at the book festival, she signed books. When it came my turn, I asked her if she knew anything about the MBTI assessment, because it seemed like she had such insight into personality. She said she didn’t base her characters on personality types, but she had taken the MBTI instrument years ago, and came out an INTP.

I was stunned. I never would have guessed that she was an INTP. I just assumed that anyone with that much insight into people had to be an F. I remembered INTPs in interviews for The Type Reporter, telling me things like, "I have never understood people, and it doesn't get any better with age." I remembered the blunt comments of the INTPs in my social circle, uttered so guilelessly that I didn’t really take offence. Even Jane Smiley, when she was answering questions, said some things that could ruffle feathers a bit.

On the other hand, I also remembered that Carl Jung, the creator of the type theory, identified himself as an Introverted Thinking type, and since he was so abstract and symbolic, I’m assuming he was intuitive and thus an INTP. Also, David Keirsey, the creator of temperament theory, identified himself as an INTP. I have never had someone or something "get me" like the type and temperament theories do, and both of them were the creations of INTPs.

How is it that INTPs, who seem to be the least interested in how people work, can sometimes understand so much about how people work? How is it that they can sometimes so successfully describe other people’s thoughts, even people who are completely different from them? It's a mystery that has been at the back of my mind for decades.

It could be that empathy, which is the strength of the feeling type, helps in understanding the feelings that unite us. But INTPs, who will admit that empathy is not their strong suit, might be freer to notice the thoughts that divide us.        

Or it could be that INTPs don’t often turn their very focused attention to the human mind, but when they do, they are able to do the same thing they do when they become interested in anything... detect the patterns, the underlying structure, the architecture of the system. I don’t think Jung and Keirsey got the bulk of their insights from observing people’s personalities, as much as they were able to find the patterns in theories of personality.
Another thing about INTPs that might help them understand people is that they are not hampered by our shared thinking or accepted conventions. All intuitives ask "why," but INTPs ask why the most; they are the ultimate questioners. In fact, if I ever ask an INTP a question, and they don't immediately question my question, I'm going to die from shock.

I read a profile in The New Yorker magazine of an artist named Tino Sehgal. At the age of 11, Sehgal wrote a letter to his parents saying, "I don't want to be part of this Christmas thing."

"I rejected my presents,” he remembered. “This whole kind of Christian colonizing of what was a collective, pagan ritual...I was enraged, somehow, by that."

When I read that I thought, “This guy has got to be an INTP.”  Even the title of the article was, "The Question Artist." Someone that independent in their thinking, that free of the collective, might be the only one who can stand back far enough to notice the principle roles that everyone plays in the collective.   
That's my current thinking about the mystery of the INTP, but I expect that INTPs will question it. Even the author of The New Yorker article wrote, "I should acknowledge that there's a good chance that Sehgal would quarrel with everything I've just said."

Nevertheless, I want to thank INTPs for what they have contributed to humanity, not so much in social situations, but to our god-like understanding of so many things, including ourselves.



The Kids in the Writing Club

When my kids were high school age, I hosted a writing club for them and their friends. On those Friday afternoons in my living room, surrounded by distinctive and lively young people, type was often on my mind. Let me introduce you to some of the kids in the writing club and the reasons I was thinking about their types…           

Dan, ISTJ, was an intelligent and cool-headed person that you sensed would go far. One week, he chose for the writing topic, "An Argumentative Essay." Everyone took that to mean that they should take a position on something and argue it. After they had read all of their papers, however, Dan told them that he had wanted them to take a position and argue it from both sides. We were all surprised and wondered, "Why would anyone do that?" I told the group that we were seeing the thinking mind at work, trying to make decisions based on information that is dispassionate and balanced. After they had rewritten their papers the way Dan suggested, they all said it was eye-opening and even   liberating. I said that being able to articulate both sides might make us better at actually changing people’s minds, because people need to feel that their point of view is acknowledged before they will listen to another point of view. 

Tim, INTP, was the shyest of the group but smiling and pleasant. He didn't write papers like the other kids, but would pull a scrap of paper out of his pocket and read a short passage he had written down in the ride over, not about the week’s topic, but about anything he had thought of.  I worried about that, mostly because the other kids didn't think it was fair. I had type to help me though. I knew that perceiving types are energized by fresh starts and last minute rushes, and intuitives just like to find a unique approach.  In jotting down a new idea on the ride over he was moving with his energy. I told him I understood that, and I enjoyed his contributions because they were creative and thought provoking. I made suggestions on how he could make it easier to write a whole paper by first, free-writing on the topic, and seeing if the ideas for a paper emerged from those random thoughts. He never did complete a whole paper though, and I wondered what else I could have done for him. Once again, I had type to help me. Most of the adult Ps I knew had figured out strategies to help them bring things to closure, and were in careers that suited their style of doing things, so I trusted that Tim would work it out eventually.

Chris, ISTP, was a man of action, not words, so his papers would be very short, and usually about some kind of action, like extreme sports. He also loved art, and when the topic was Mark Twain, he wrote about the beautiful illustrations in the Mark Twain novels. He was often in conflict with his SJ parents, however, because of his casual attitude about his studies. When I taught the kids about type, I sent their parents copies of their profiles as well, and it was Chris's parents I was especially hoping to influence. I would have liked to see them relax a bit about their son's SP ways and try to make his lessons more related to the activities he was engaged in. They never mentioned it, though, so I’m not sure how it affected them. Of all the types, I think the SPs suffer the most in our one-size-fits-all method of educating children. It's one thing to know that it happens, but it's very hard to watch it happening in front of you.

Perrin, ISFJ, was the most visually appealing person in the group, well-dressed and gracious. When the kids were asked to write about a superhero they'd like to be, she invented Makeover Girl, who could instantly transform people from frumpy to fashionable. She wasn't shallow, however, and was mature beyond her years in her thoughtfulness of other people. Even in her writing, you could tell that she was thinking about the needs of her audience. She wrote very clearly, and put in lively examples and humor to keep people's attention. Her peers weren't as thoughtful as she was and it hurt her when they didn't express appreciation for her writing, and instead, just got into discussions about anything her writing made them think of. I knew that ISFJs often feel taken for granted, so one week I had the kids write on the topic, "Things I like about the writing of the other people in this group." Perrin got some nice praise that day, and I hoped it would stay with her.

Rachel, INFJ, was a natural observer of personality. She would gently tease the other kids on their peculiar habits, which they weren't aware that anyone noticed. Her writing would often be focused on the talents of the other kids in the group. She once wrote an exciting murder mystery that took place in a shopping mall, with the detective being Perrin, who loved shopping and knew all the secrets of the mall. When I taught the kids about type, I started by telling them that type would help them forgive other people. Rachel looked troubled and said, "But you have to try to change them too, don't you?" I'm also an INFJ, so I recognized her strong belief that troubled relationships can go through “makeovers” and change for the better. I didn't know if I was happy or sad to see someone else with that persistent hope, and all I could say was, "Good luck with that."

Suzanne, ESFP, was the purest heart in the group, the sweetest and most loving. Her parents were SPs as well, so they didn't pressure her too much about academics, and naturally appreciated her achievements in sports and dance. As a family, they were the most active people I have ever met. Her sensing showed up in her writing because she loved details, and could write a long paper out of something as specific as packing a suitcase. When she read her writing, I remembered something I'd seen at a conference on type. Elizabeth Murphy had filmed young people at a table trying to organize a bunch of small objects into categories. The intuitive kids did it quickly and loved telling you about their categories. The sensing kids had a harder time with it. Even when they had made categories, they would still pick up each object in a grouping and talk about it. I could hear Suzanne lovingly handling each object in her writing, and I told her I had never enjoyed details so much as in her writing. 

Sara, ENFP, was the bright light of the group, always talking, laughing, or asking people interesting questions and getting excited by their answers. She showed her dominant intuitive side in her writing, because she was usually challenging the status quo, asking why do we do things this way, because it doesn't seem right or fair. That was the biggest difference I noticed about the intuitives in the group. They were the ones who asked, "Why?" They were the ones who were destined, for better or worse, to prod and poke society to move forward. Sara's ideas weren't always compelling though, because young people don’t often have the words they need to describe their dissatisfaction. I tried to help her articulate her concerns, which she appreciated because it made her feel like someone was listening, instead of the usual, "What are you talking about?" or “Let me alone” response that intuitives get.   

Paul, ESFJ, was the most naturally suited to the dynamics in a group. He towered over the other kids in height, and had a calm and confident demeanor.  He could respond immediately with friendly humor to anything people said, and he just made people feel good about themselves. Everyone liked him, and whether he was writing about why he loved cars or why he hated Shakespeare, his writing always had the group talking and laughing. I told him I hoped he would find a career where he could lead groups most of the time. I never spent a minute worrying about him or trying to help him. Like everyone else in the group, I just sat back and enjoyed him. 

When I think about how many times type helped me to be sympathetic towards the kids in the writing club, I don’t know how any teacher or leader can function without it. It’s a relief to know that you usually don’t have to try and change kids, and when you want to help them, it’s nice to know how.


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Theories – I Don’t Understand Them!!

As an ESTJ, I am much more into action then into theories.  When people start spouting theories, I find myself tuning out and/or longing for a good example so I can get a toehold on figuring out what it is they are actually talking about. 

There’s an S-N facet of the MBTI® Step II™ instrument called “Experiential-Theoretical.”  It’s about how we formulate meaning, theories and patterns out of whatever we are doing, seeing, or thinking.   On the Experiential side, the pattern/theory comes from trying things out, from seeing how they work. 

Yes, you guessed it: I’m Experiential.  I used to hate doing type exercises because I couldn’t or didn’t see the patterns that participants’ words were forming, and the whole point of the exercise was to illustrate the theory of type.

To illustrate the differences between Sensing and Intuition we often show a complex picture.  The Sensors describe the details, and the Intuitives provide a story about the picture. But what about those Intuitives who identified the details too!  Gulp!  How to process that?  It was only after observing other facilitators and then leading the exercise several times myself that I could see what was happening. 

Quite often those “detail” people were the Intuitive Thinking types.  NTs value competence and mastery and think they have to show that competence through the naming of details – it’s like that children’s game where you are shown a tray of items and the prize goes to the person who remembers the most items.  But the real energy and fun for the NTs comes from the patterns they see in the objects and the associations they make.    

Now I am quite happy to facilitate those exercises because I have seen it all – okay, not quite, but almost! 

There is something called “Experiential Learning,” but that’s really theoretical learning as far as I can see.  It’s about doing some unrelated task, such as going on a ropes course with your co-workers, and then applying that to how you work as a team in the office.  You try to find the patterns in activities that are totally unrelated to your work in the office. 

For me, it makes a lot more sense to present a team with a task they do regularly so I can directly see how they work together.  We don’t have to interpret and extrapolate!  We just have to notice what is happening.

Years ago, when Naomi Quenk and I were writing the Step II Interpretive Report, we discovered our differences in this Experiential-Theoretical scale.  I said, “A good theory is one that summarizes reality.”  She (a Theoretical) would say, “Reality verifies a good theory.” 

The kinds of theories I like are those that are quickly applicable.  For example, my minister was recently preaching about prayer. As far as I can tell, ministers and theologians spend lots of time theorizing about prayer.  She categorized prayers into four types:  “Please, Thanks, Oops, and Wow!” 

I’ll let your Theoretical side take it from there.  But actually, I could apply all four of those to psychological type and its impact on my life.  That’s something I understand—a theory that summarizes reality!

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Good Learning Environments

All of us need to keep learning, not only for our careers but also for our lives (continuing to exercise your brain can keep you young(er), remember?!). If part of that learning includes participating in or conducting a face-to-face classroom session, you might want to consider this five factor framework for an effective learning environment. 

1.  Format. 

This is the design by which the learning material is presented.  Does the session include the relevant theories (NT), ways to help participants develop their potential (NF), opportunities for participants to feel “at home” with their fellow “classmates” (SF), and efficient and clear ways to get the material across (ST)?  Is there time for reflection (I) as well as action (E)?  Is there structure (J) to cover the essentials as well as options (P) to meet needs as they arise?  Is there a mix of material and activities that appeal to different types?  Is there a theoretical overview (N) and examples of applications (S)? 

2.  Facilities. 

Is the venue conducive to learning (and to fun – remember when learning is fun, it is more likely to stick!)?  Can people see and hear (not only the presenter but each other), and be physically comfortable? Does the equipment work? Here’s hoping there are no pillars in the room, loud construction noises outside, uncomfortable chairs, power failures, etc. Tuning into the Sensing function helps here.  SPs seem particularly adept at finding facilities where fun and learning can combine.

3.  Facilitator. 

Does he/she have a command of the material as well as the skill to get the information  across?   Are participant questions encouraged and respected?  Is the facilitator able to use Perceiving (keep it flexible and follow the group’s needs) as well as Judging (know when to keep it on track and moving along)?  Every type can potentially be a wonderful facilitator.  Facilitators need to be true to who they are, and not try to use a style that is not their own. It is painful to watch someone try to be a stand-up comic when their strengths are elsewhere.

4.  Fellowship. 

Have the attendees coalesced to the point where they are free to share their views, laugh at themselves, or admit their mistakes or vulnerabilities?  I’ve always liked the concept of “The Courage to be Imperfect” from Rudolph Dreikurs, an Adlerian psychologist.  Participants can learn so much from one another when that fellowship is there and when they feel safe and are willing to risk making a mistake for the sake of learning.  Where there are a variety of types who have achieved fellowship, the training (at least when the topic is type) almost runs itself.  Good fellowship can often overcome or at least mitigate many of the previously mentioned challenges.    

5.  Fate. 

There are certainly things beyond anyone’s control.  I’ve been in a session where a participant collapsed from ill health and required the paramedics.  I’ve seen hurricanes threaten to blow in and the participants spending more time rearranging their travel than concentrating on the material. A recent class I attended was led by a presenter trying to overcome food poisoning. 

What other factors make a learning environment more effective for you?  When you make the list, stop to consider how your type influences both your ability to teach and to learn.


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Type Under the Tree

My best Christmas had to be the year I first learned about type. I traveled back to my childhood home in Ohio, anxious to share the new knowledge with my large family of ten brothers and sisters. I had a lot of fun as, one by one, they were able to identify their types. 

Happy Holidays!The best moments, however, happened after that. In response to what I told them about their type, they started revealing things to me that I had never known about them. The one that really sticks with me is my ISFP sister. When I pointed out that she was the only perceiver among six judging sisters, she said something to the effect of, “I always felt like I was different from you guys. You were always so sure of things, but I never thought it was that simple.”

This sister had shared a bedroom with me all through my childhood. They used to call her “Me too, also,” because as a little girl she followed me around all the time and wanted to do everything I did. We often talked late into the night, and shared all of our thoughts. In those two decades of being close friends, however, I never knew her as well as I did after she told me that she was an ISFP. I never knew that she wasn’t just my little follower; she was a strong individual with a strong belief in staying open to life and its uncertainties.

When I told my ISFJ mother that her type values tradition, she told us how much it had hurt her in the last few decades to see her traditional ideas of womanhood being trampled on by screaming Beatles’ fans, bra-burning feminists, and the smart-mouthed character of Roseanne. We were all surprised to hear that the cultural changes we had found so exciting were a source of pain to her.

When I told my ESFJ sister that her type was very attentive to people’s needs, she revealed that she used to have nightmares about not being able to take care of all of us. None of us knew that underneath her confidence and social charm there were such feelings of responsibility for her family. 

When I told my ISTJ sister that she was the only thinking type among seven sisters, she could suddenly understand why she had such difficulties with us. “All I’ve ever wanted is to be able to be honest with people,” she said, “and not have to waste time being nice.” After that we understood her direct speaking style much better, and we realized that it was motivated by a desire for efficient solutions, not a desire to hurt. 

When I told my family that I was an INFJ, and intuitives prefer to be original rather than conventional, my mother said, “I never knew what you would be when you grew up, but I knew it would be something different.”

I sometimes take psychological type for granted, as if the knowledge it brings was always there. It’s good to recall how little I knew about people, even the people closest to me, before I knew their types. It’s good to remember those conversations when thinking about the sudden realizations that came from learning about type. The people who meant so much to me came to mean so much more, because I could see not just what they were to me, but what they were to the whole human race.

It’s the best Christmas gift I ever gave, and the best one I ever received.