I have been doing a deep dive on personality types recently. The transition to a free agent career path has imposed a steep learning curve. Lot’s of people will tell you that working independently requires more self discipline. What they won’t tell you is that working independently demands an entirely different sort of self discipline.
The hacks and habits that I had learned previously have not only proved insufficient; in many cases they have proved counter-productive. The habits that lead to success as an employee generally entail suppressing your unique strengths and emphasizing the strengths demanded by your employer. In fact, the ability to (on demand) suppress your areas of divergence and emphasize your areas of convergence is an employment skill in itself. The ability to thoughtfully choose between convergence and divergence is a free agent skill. That may be less true for people who have found particularly fitting professions, but of course the dream-jobbers are not the people adopting free agent life-styles.
The dictum – emphasize your strengths – can however be dangerous. It leads us to seek out people like ourselves and to emphasize divergence at the expense of convergence, rather than thoughtfully switching between the two. It leads us to more isolationism and less collaboration.
How does one discover an optimal balance between convergence and divergence?
What does it mean to switch between the two?
The best principle I have discovered to date is expressed in the title of this post. In the process of traveling deeper and deeper down the personality type rabbit hole I have hypothesized types for nearly everyone with whom I regularly collaborate or socialize. Given a sufficient sample, consistent patterns emerge quite clearly…
People with similar personality types are almost invariably people who speak my language. I can learn from them directly with very little effort. Our conversations feel like I have plugged a matrix jack into the back of my head and I am directly downloading their knowledge. Unfortunately, these people also share my same blind spots.
Communication with divergent personality types is more challenging. Often we don’t speak the same language. If I ask for advice directly, the response I get will feel wrong. Occasionally this reaction is simple resistence, but more often it occurs because our basic mental models are dissonent.
The easy thing to do in such situations is to dismiss the other person’s perspective…to assume I can’t learn anything from someone so different. The more productive response I am learning (and relearning, and re-relearning) is to observe.
More often than not, I can learn from what someone does even if our models for understanding that behavior initially appear irreconcilable. Moreover, if I can develop my own understanding of a particular behavior it will usually turn out that I can reconcile our mental models as well. That process of reconciling mental models is essentially what this deep dive into personality types has been all about.
Effective personal development demands two distinct learning arcs. The first involves discovering and developing our own strengths. This process can be accelerated by learning from people with similar strengths. The perspectives acquired from these cognitive dopplegangers will click instantly and can often be adopted immediately.
The second learning arc demands that we identify our blind spots. These blind spots tend to reveal themselves through interactions with people operating from dissonant mental models. Though it may seem that such people are too different and have nothing to teach us, we do learn from our interactions with them. By observing divergent personalities we learn to emulate the strengths we wouldn’t develop natively.
photo courtesy of Eddi van W.