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On Materialism

It is what it is. If the shoe fits, wear it. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. A rose by any other name….

Our language is peppered with such phrases that urge authenticity. Perhaps Shakespeare said it most eloquently (Hamlet, I,3, 564-566) with

This above all--to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

On the one hand, political correctness would have us find the least offensive words to describe one another—pleasantly plump, not fat. On the other hand, and particularly today in an era of alternative facts and fake news, critical thinking demands that we describe the world as accurately as possible, in order that we might make the most effective decisions.

shoes of markos

Imelda Marcos Shoe Museum. Manila, The Philippines.

So, I have a problem with one of our assessments—the WorkPlace Values Profile™ (for a free tryout, ask at info@centacs.com) . This profile measures the relative importance of 16 values for an individual—things like Power, Beauty, and Relationships. My problem—one of tact vs. truth—is with Materialism, one of our 16 values. Many people just don’t like being associated with that word, in spite of answering relevant questions in support of materialism:

 

  • Having possessions that are the envy of others
  • Having really nice things around me
  • Being able to shop at the finer stores or other venues
  • Maximizing the amount of luxury in my life
  • Being seen in settings that are fashionable

When someone’s answers endorse these items, they get a high score on Materialism. Too many clients have told me that they squirmed when they saw their high score, saying “I’m not really that materialistic!” In processing their results, we review how they answered each question, yet they wouldn’t change their answers. “Compared to others,” I then say, “you are more materialistic than the norm.” That is what these statements define—materialism is an emphasis on having nice things, shopping at finer venues, maximizing luxury, being fashionable, having possessions. While they may also have high scores on values such as Relationships, Helping, or Intellect, it is as though many people feel like the materialistic label overshadows their other values, that being seen as materialistic negates other values. You can’t be true to two, they feel. You can’t value Intellect and be Materialistic. The appellation of materialistic seems to taint its bedfellows—guilt by association.

Just as “Something there is that doesn’t like a wall” (Robert Frost, “Mending Wall”), there something that many people don’t like when they are described as “materialistic.” Materialism is both a philosophical and an everyday term. In philosophy, a materialist asserts that nothing exists beside the observable, physical world. As an everyday word, a materialistic person typically describes someone who values things, especially nice things. A materialistic person in the everyday sense could also exhibit other values, such as Relationships, Spirituality, and Intellect, that might appear to be the opposite of Materialism. The often-thought opposites of Spiritualism and Materialism were conjoined in the Rev. Jim Bakker’s dictum that “God doesn’t like junk.” Monks are examples of non-materialistic spiritualists. Bakker was a materialistic spiritualist, with his gold-plated bathroom faucets.

I should say that I do see Materialism as neither a good nor a bad value. Like any other value, it can be used for good or ill. Some materialists set standards that are motivating to others, while other materialists exhibit a greed that crushes motivation. Some of my best friends are materialistic! I had a colleague once who chided me upon hearing that I was headed for Europe one summer. “I wish I had that kind of money.” “You do,” I quipped, “but you spent it on a Cadillac. I drive a VW beetle! And, I go to Europe on the difference in price.” Desire for Status drove his Materialism to have things that made others envious. My desire for intellectual stimulation took the same money and applied to travel and books.

I have searched thesauri for synonyms that would be more neutral/less offensive—worldliness, acquisitiveness, object-orientation, possessiveness, physicalism, greediness. None quite worked. One that I did like—materiality—has a fixed meaning in auditing—small discrepancies are immaterial, while large ones are material, or show materiality. I think “materiality” is the best of the words I’ve considered—the most neutral. “Materiality” suggests that something is way out of line—an egregious mistake, intentional or otherwise. Should I not be concerned about this special meaning of a word that otherwise is the most objective way of saying “Materialism”?

What do you think? Should I/we keep using “materialism” and shrug at complaints, saying, “Hey, a rose is a rose is a rose….” Or should we replace it with “materiality”? Or something else?

Managing Micromanagers

August 24, 2016 1 comment

“Get off my back—I can’t fly when you are weighing me down!”

Such is the lament of the underling suffering from micromanagement—the uninvited incursion by a manager into the how to’s and wherefores of a subordinate’s day. Just last week a client asked me, “How do I get her off my back? I’ve about had it.”

The problem with managing micromanagers is that their motives—the needs they are satisfying by micromanaging—vary among individuals. I call this a “multi-source behavior”—a phenomenon I did a series on recently (“Appearances Can Be Deceiving,” or, “What You See Isn’t Always What You Get”). Just as smiles don’t always convey liking, micromanaging doesn’t always convey judgment on the employee’s work. Hence, one needs to address micromanaging based on the trait, or combination of traits, that drive the manager to take over your wheel while driving.

You begin the process by understanding their trait profile. We use the WorkPlace Big Five Profile 4.0, which provides information on 23 subtraits of the Five-Factor Model. Here I highlight the traits that, in my experience, tend to lead a manager into pastures best left alone (names of the actual WorkPlace Big Five Profile 4.0 dimensions are italicized):

The Micromanager spaceship, Software Testing Club, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0,

The Micromanager Spaceship, Software Test Club, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

  • High anxiety (N1+, high worry). Some individuals live out their days in perpetual fear of less than desirable results. This was true before they were promoted into management, and it continues after their elevation. An effective way to manage one’s boss’s anxiety is through active listening—as in, “You feel doubtful that my approach will lead to the right results—is that right?” And keep listening, paraphrasing, asking narrative questions (Where, How, When, What, Who, Which…). Anxiety is often calmed by talking it out, as discovered through brain research.
  • Low trust (E5-, low trust of others). Some are born skeptical of others, and it isn’t going to change…much. The key to avoiding the crushing feeling of being mistrusted is to understand that it is not personally directed at you—micromanagers typically mistrust everyone! I know that doesn’t excuse it, and it doesn’t make it hurt any less when you hear their mistrust of you, but in your rational self you can tell yourself that you’re not being singled out for special treatment of the mistrust variety. Internally laugh it off and say (silently) to yourself, “Yeah, this is just Barb being Barb” (or Barb sending barbs!)
  • Detail orientation (O4-, low scope). Some can’t see the forest for the trees—they love to wallow in the details. And, if you don’t play that game, it can be infuriating. On the other hand, if you are a big picture person, you may find that a detail person can become a partner, whereby they help complete your where that you didn’t have the patience to dot every “I” and cross every “t” for. Often individuals are promoted into management because they were best at handling the details of their job, and now they are mishandling (or overhandling) the details.
  • Personal agenda (A1-, low others’ needs). Some are more concerned with getting their personal priorities met than addressing the priorities of their associates, subordinates, or customers. It is all about them. When this is the case, ask them what is so important about their involvement, so that you can help to shape your work in a way that helps to address their priorities. If their priorities conflict with yours, then discover their motives AND share your motives in order to negotiate an agreeable compromise.
  • Competitive aggression (A2-, low agreement). Some people just have to win, to have the last word, to perhaps even put others down. They can be real pills, a cod-liver-oil-type-of-foul-tasting-pills. Like mistrust, it is not personally directed—it is just who they are. Normally it is testerone-driven, so approach them at a time when they are lowest in testosterone (after they’ve been defeated at something. Men begin their day with high testosterone levels that gradually decrease throughout the day, with lowest levels in the evening. Work at home in the mornings and go to the office after lunch? Just kidding. Women are highest in testosterone around ovulation time, so wait a week or so after a particularly difficult incursion before approaching them again.
  • Pride (A3-, low humility). Goeth before the fall, right? Pride is associated with wanting to look good based on the sterling work of one’s team. Some micromanagers hover over subordinates because they want to shine after the work is done. Begin as assignment from them by asking what their standards are for success. Make it a joint effort for achieving star status, yet be prepared that they may take credit for your work.
  • Assertiveness (A4-, low reserve). Some managers just talk a lot. It is not that they are anxious, dubious, competitive, or any of the other traits we’ve mentioned, but that they just can’t keep their mouths shut. Talkativeness can come across as micromanaging. I once had a manager who went on and on. I tried establishing false time limits, as in “Yes, I can meet with you now, but I need to go take a call in ten minutes.” It worked.
  • Perfectionism (C1+, high perfectionism). This is probably the most common motive for micromanaging—the obsessive need for every output to be flawless. Buy the person a copy of Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice for their birthday. It is about maximizers and satisficers. Hopefully, your micromanager will learn to be less of a maximizer and more of a satisficer.

All of these traits have the potential to appear in micromanagers. At CentACS (Center for Applied Cognitive Studies), we especially track Low Trust of Others, Low Scope, and High Perfectionism in our Consultant’s Report.

 

Communication Practices of Great Teams

October 14, 2015 Leave a comment

At the Human Dynamics Laboratory of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, researchers pinned electronic badges on 2,500 team members from diverse industries. These badges collected a wide range of team-relevant data such as tone of voice, length of talking episodes, who was addressed, body language, standing versus sitting, and so forth. Lab director Alex “Sandy” Pentland summarized their findings in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review. Perhaps you might use this list as a kind of report card to assess your current team’s functioning, with an eye towards how you and others might behave differently in order to be at your best.

On high-performing teams, regardless of the team’s composition and purpose:

  • Members are more engaged with one another when not in meetings—visits, breaks and meals together, water-cooler conversations, and adhocracies.
  • Creating social opportunities within the work contexts (e.g., adequate space/seats for breaks and meals) is more predictive of performance than non-work contexts (e.g., beer busts).
  • Talking, and therefore listening, is evenly distributed among members.sociogram
  • Each talking episode is shorter rather than longer.
  • Members talk facing one another.
  • Members gesture enthusiastically.
  • Members vary their tone of voice, which is generally described as energetic.
  • Members address each other, not just their leader.
  • Members engage in side conversations.
  • Members leave the meeting on occasion and return with new information.
  • Adherence to these communication patterns is more strongly associated with productivity, regardless of team goal, than does the talent and intelligence of individual members.
  • The best predictor of high performance is frequency of face-to-face communication; second best is frequency of telephone or video communication (but as the number of participants increases, the contribution to performance decreases); number of emails and text are the least predictive.
  • Frequency is everything, however—a team can have too few or too many face-to-face communications.
  • The entire team holds forth no more than half the time.
  • Higher performing teams look outside their team for information and judgment—fresh perspectives.
  • Managers encourage equal, face-to-face participation and model all of the above.
  • High performing teams have members who are “charismatic connectors”—natural leaders who circulate throughout the day with frequent, short, face-to-face encounters in which they both talk and listen. The more of them on a team, the higher its performance.

As we at the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies (CentACS) are in the business of personality assessment, I would like to know what personality traits predict these behaviors, and which traits predict the ability to learn them. Clearly higher extraversion is associated with many of these behaviors (length of contributions, frequency of talking, variation in pitch and volume, wandering around), and listening tends to be associated with mid to high levels of Big Five Agreeableness/Accommodation. I have designed a questionnaire based on these bullets, and I am collecting responses from persons who’ve taken our WorkPlace Big Five Profile as well as my Team Communication Profile. I want to see which traits are correlated with these team communication behaviors. Interested in helping me collect data?

Pentland groups these team behaviors and practices under three categories—energy, engagement, and exploration, with the best teams showing equal attention to all three. How’s your team doing?

The What and How of Motivation

September 2, 2015 1 comment

Motivation is a complex concept with many definitions. I have a simple definition: People are most motivated, or engaged in what they are doing, when they are 1) acting in accordance with their values and 2) acting in a way that builds on their strengths and not their weaknesses.

Values are what we hold as most important to us. I do not mean them necessarily as moral values—some are, some are not. At CentACS, where we focus on personality assessment, we have identified 16 broad values terms. While you may prefer a different word than one of our 16, these terms cover pretty much the gamut of what folks hold as important:

  • AchievementDisney on Values
  • Activity
  • Beauty
  • Competition
  • Health
  • Helping
  • Independence
  • Intellect
  • Justice
  • Materialism
  • Pleasure
  • Power
  • Relationships
  • Spirituality
  • Stability
  • Status

So, step one of motivating someone is to know their top and bottom values—that comprises their values “style.” Knowing what values to build on and what values to avoid is critical to motivation. Want to motivate me? Then make sure to ask me to do something that builds on my passion for Pleasure, Beauty, Intellect, and Independence, and don’t expect me to resonate on anything that smacks of Power, Competition, Materialism, or Status.

But knowing what values to build on is not the same as knowing how to build on those values. The how is determined by knowing the individual’s behavioral traits and mental abilities. These days, pesonality traits are most often expressed by the Five-Factor Model, or the Big Five:

  • Need for Stability—calm vs. reactive
  • Extraversion—quiet/solitary vs. in the thick of the action
  • Originality—practical and detail-oriented vs. creative and big picture-oriented
  • Accommodation—competitive and aggressive vs. collaborative and conflict-averse
  • Consolidation—spontaneous and multi-tasking vs. focused on goals

Mental abilities do not have such a succinct model as the Big Five, but a satisfying way to categorize them is Gardner’s eight talents:

  • VerbalBrain with cogwheels
  • Mathematical/Logical
  • Visual/Spatial
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic
  • Natural Observer (as in taxonomies and complex organizational schemes)
  • Interpersonal
  • Intrapersonal

My salient personality trait is high Originality (creative, love of compleCentxity, comfortable with change), and my salient mental abilities are mathematics and taxonomy development. To determine how to motivate me, here’s all you need:

What to do: Something that builds on my value for Intellect, Beauty, Pleasure, and/or Independence

How to do it: Use my creativity, numerical ability, and/or fondness for taxonomy development

Recommendation: Ask me to scan what is being done around the world on a topic of mutual interest and come up with a best practices model.

Rationale: Conducting research builds on my value for Intellect, and the model development builds on my abilities in Natural Observation and taxonomy development.

I suggest you make a little card that profiles each person for whom you feel some responsibility for keeping motivated. On each card, list:

  • What:
    • Values to emphasize or build on
    • Values to avoid
  • How:
    • Big Five traits to emphasize
    • Big Five traits to minimize
    • Mental abilities to emphasize
    • Mental abilities to minimize

Periodically have a dialog with these folks and mutually evaluate the degree to which they are acting in accordance with their values and in light of their behavioral and mental strengths.

Motivation is as simple as that. Know what they value, and how they naturally go about their everyday activities. And if neither is obvious to you, ask us at Center for Applied Cognitive Studies for help.

Change of Life, Change of Personality

August 26, 2015 2 comments

I frequently get this question, for which I’ve had no convincing data to respond: Do personality trait levels change as the result of menopause? I’ve decided to look for an answer. In a recent survey of the published research literature, I found no information. So, in lieu of answers from the known literature, I turned to my database. The U.S. norm group for our WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ personality assessment contains a balanced sample of 1,200 working adults. A detailed description of this norm group is available in our professional manual (available by ordering from info@centacs.com).

Within our sample, we have 167 females in the 32-40 age bracket, as compared with 79 in the 51-60 bracket. I compared their scores on the 23 subtraits of the WorkPlace Big Five Profile™ to determine whether they increased, decreased, or stayed the same over this range.

I found that 15 of the 23 traits changed over this transitional range for females, with eight traits showing no change. The largest change was a decrease in ambition, with an effect size of .37. Effect size is a way of describing how great the difference between two averages is, based on the variability or consistency of individual scores—if everyone scores similarly, then small differences can have a large effect, but if everyone’s scores are all over the place, then you must have a larger difference in means in order to have a large effect size—around .2 is a small effect, around .5 a moderate effect, and .8 or over is a large effect. So, .37 is considered a moderate effect, but by no means large. In everyday language, it means that there is a moderate tendency for some females to show less interest in achievement after the change of life. However, it is highly likely that women who were driven to high achievement before the change maintain their achievement level after the change, and that the decrease among females is to be found among the less ambitious or driven, who would likely tend to drop off somewhat. Here are the 15 traits that showed moderate to small changes, from greatest change to least change for women:

  • Ambition/drive decreased, with an effect size of .38midlife
  • Perfectionism decreased, .37
  • Concentration increased, .34
  • Activity level decreased, .27
  • Reserve increased, .25
  • Interest in others’ needs decreased, .21
  • Trust increased, .21
  • Tact decreased, .21
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict increased, .16
  • Attention to detail increased, .15
  • Organization decreased, .14
  • Imagination decreased, .13
  • Change tolerance decreased, .11
  • Resilience decreased (needing more time to rebound from a crisis), .10
  • Worry/anxiety increased, .09

I would be interested in your observations on these changes. Here are mine:

  • None of the changes are large, so no sweeping generalizations are possible.
  • Yes, some females exhibit changes over the time before, during, and after menopause, but such changes are not inevitable for every female, nor are they necessarily permanent if or when they occur.
  • I would like to find a way to analyze the data to determine which females undergo these changes. For example, I suspect that females who are already at an extreme are likely to stay there, whereas persons not so extreme are the ones who account for most of the movement. A strong neatnik is less likely to back off her neatnikness that a more moderate neatnik.
  • The stereotypical perception that menopause results in major changes in mood or behavior is not justified for females as a group—based upon our full-time working women sample. However, some individuals may exhibit major changes. More likely than not, the mood swings that some women (especially those more prone to the negative emotions, such as anxiety and anger) experience during this transition are temporary, with the typical female returning to the same set points for traits that were exhibited prior to menopause.
  • If a woman’s traits are at different levels after menopause, then it is likely that the changes would be found among these 14 traits. But for the vast majority of women, don’t expect trait changes as the result of menopause. You are justified in expecting temporary states, just as you can expect temporary states among men.
  • We do not if the causes of these changes are menopause, the normal effects of aging, or something else. All we can say is that they follow menopause.

For your information and consideration, here are the eight traits that did not change:

  • Temper/anger/intensity
  • Optimism/interpretation of events
  • Warmth
  • Sociability
  • Tendency for taking charge
  • Comfort with Complexity
  • Humility
  • Methodicalness

Meanwhile, what’s going on with the guys? I thought it only fair to take a look at the men over this same time span. I conducted an identical analysis with the 179 men in our balanced norm group in the 32-40 age group, and the 87 men in our 51-60 group—all full-time working men. As with other studies, males show more extremes than females—larger effect sizes but fewer changes in trait levels. Here is how the males changed over the same period as the females, listed from largest change to smallest, as measured by effect size:

  • Reserve increased, as it did with females, but with twice the effect size, .43
  • Warmth decreased, .34 (no change in the females)
  • Tendency toward agreement/avoiding conflict also increased, and with twice the effect size, .32
  • Interest in others’ needs increased, opposite from the females’ decrease, and with a similar effect size, .26
  • Imagination decreased, as with the females, but with twice the effect size, .26
  • Tendency to take charge decreased, .24 (no change in the females)
  • Sociability decreased, .19 (no change in the females)
  • Activity level increased , .19 (decreased among the females)
  • Ambition/drive decreased, as with females, but with only half the effect size, .18
  • Humility decreased somewhat, .18 (no change in the females)
  • Tolerance for change decreased, .17, similar to the females

What do I make of these comparisons?

  • Males and females changed similarly on five traits: more reserved/less vocal, less likely to embrace conflict, less active imaginations, decreased ambition, and less welcoming of change
  • Males changed in four areas while females showed stability: less warmth and sociability, decreased tendency to take charge, and somewhat more pride
  • Females changed in eight areas where males showed stability: perfectionism decreased, concentration increased, trust increased, tact decreased, attention to detail increased, organization decreased, resilience decreased, and worry increased.
  • Males and females diverged on two traits: females showed a greater priority on their own needs, while males showed greater interest in others’ needs; additionally females showed a decline in activity level, while males showed a small rise.
  • Males and females remained stable as a group on only four traits: temper/anger, optimism, comfort with complexity, and methodicalness.
  • Women, known for their tendency to be more relationship-oriented, exhibited stability in that arena, while men showed decreased warmth, sociability, assertiveness, conflict engagement, and tendency to take charge, suggesting a decreased interest in maintaining quality relationships on the part of some men.
  • Men known for their ambition and self-absorption, showed a movement away from self—more interest in others’ needs, decreased tendency to embrace conflict and more likely to be agreeable, less outspoken/more reserved, decreased bossiness/tendency to take charge, and decreased ambition. Some have called this the “grandpa effect”—goin’ fishin’ with the grandkids more preferable to some than steppin’ out with an adult partner.

Admittedly this is a cross-sectional and not a longitudinal study, and a longitudinal study would be preferred. However, these findings suggest that we should try to find longitudinal data that confirm or challenge these modest changes. My lesson from this brief analysis is that most peoples’ trait levels—male and female—are the same after midlife as before, that a few show decreases or increases, that during the transition some people exhibit temporary states that dissipate, and that, in general most people remain at the same trait level throughout adulthood.

Keeping the Mountaintop Experience Alive

July 22, 2015 1 comment

I invite you, dear reader, to contribute to this list. It is prompted by an associate who asked me last week how to keep learning alive. She lamented that she conducted team building sessions and led participants to great insights based on personality assessments and other items in her professional toolkit. Her people were wowed with their learning and then returned to their jobs with a “well, that was nice” and most tended to leave the learning behind. Back to business as normal. “How can I keep the mountaintop insights alive?” So, let’s suggest some ways:

  • Journaling. Provide participants with a notebook of some sort that contains blank pages but with pithy reminders as insets. Invite them to record ongoing insights, concerns, or puzzlements based on your content. Then invite them to meet with another member once a quarter for a meal and a discussion of some of their entries.
  • Desk Mementos. You’ve probably seen small desk stands that recap someone’s test scores with attractive colors. At CentACS, we use ovals—about six inches high and ten inches wide, with the teammate’s face and Big Five supertrait scores emblazoned thereon and posted on the outside wall beside their office door. It serves as a reminder of our salient behavioral tendencies as individuals while identifying who occupies that office by name and title.
  • Posters. At our team and class sessions, we ask participants to put their names on little sticky circles and place them on a large (24” x 30”) reproduction of our personality assessment’s report form. When a work team does this as a team building activity, we encourage them to take the poster home with them and post it in their conference room or meeting area. It serves as a group reminder of their tendencies as a work group.
  • Novelty Items. Pencils, notepads, t-shirts, “baseball” caps, shirt pins, thumb drives, ballpoint pens, leather folders, mugs, carry bags (like those you get at major conferences), Frisbees, and so forth have been labeled with personality models and test results to serve as reminders. At CentACS, we give our certification program graduates a nice ball point pen and a 3” x 3” foam rubber cube—each face of which presents a different dimension of our Human Resource Optimization model while the malleable cube serves as a stress reliever.
  • Slogans. Create or find and distribute slogans and quotes that illustrate what it is you want folks to remember. Place them at the end of emails, on your signature block, or as insets on newsletters or memoranda.
  • Monday Morning Quarterback Sessions. Identify a recent and significant victory or failure and discuss how individual traits contributed—either by their presence or absence. Then, how can we build on these learnings for current and future endeavors?
  • Drip Campaign. E-mail software can help you send out a series of mailings on pre-defined dates. Each mailing serves as a reminder or refresher of previously learned concepts, or invites the reader to expand to new but related concepts.
  • Leave Behinds. Give participants some reading material that was not covered in class, but that you invite them to read after you have “left them behind.”
  • Letters to Self. Towards the end of the mountaintop experience, make time for each participant to write a letter to themselves. The letter can recap their major learnings, their intentions to change, their goals, and so forth. The facilitator will mail the letters six weeks or so after participants have returned home.
  • Case of the Month. Invite persons who are expected to use the mountaintop material in ongoing planning, mountaintopdecision-making, and problem-solving, to attend a monthly session in which you feature a case based on your mountaintop material (in my case, the Five-Factor Model). The case could entail a selection decision (who to hire or appoint), performance problem, coaching challenge, career crossroad choice, or some other issue. Provide food to encourage attendance.
  • Wuzzles. Wuzzles (word puzzles) make a game out of recalling a concept. Perhaps you’ve seen them in your daily newspaper, as in “FenzaLU” for ‘influenza.’ (“enza” is in FLU, or in FLU enza).
  • Crossword Puzzles. At our annual conference (there’s another way to extend mountaintop experiences!), we often include a crossword puzzle that incorporates our key terms and concepts among the clues and answers.
  • Headers and Footers. In the various documents that you distribute throughout the year, consider using the space in headers and/or footers to place notes and reminders.
  • Content Analysis Competition. Using a well-known or important person in their field (the Wright Brothers in engineering, Lee Iacocca in manufacturing, and so forth), have a group of people who need to keep the learning alive analyze the biography of the key person with respect to your content. I have identified two dozen diverse, international figures, have read their biographies (or autobiographies), and have typed up excerpts from the books that illustrate trait-related behavior (about ten pages for each subject). Then, I ask folks to estimate their most likely Big Five profile based on the excerpts.
  • Holiday Communiques. Every November I identify a secular holiday carol, print it as a greeting card from CentACS, and insert trait symbols that jocularly (or not) indicate how the various words reflect personality traits. For example, “Chestnuts (low Originality) roasting (high Warmth) on an open (high Openness to experience) fire (high Warmth, again).”
  • Goal-Setting Partners. Have each participant set one or more goals by the end of the mountaintop experience, then ask everyone to partner with one (or two) other participants. Ask them to pick a time and a place three months for meeting to report on and support each other on their goal progress.
  • Naming Public Behavior. Develop the habit of naming behaviors during meetings and conferences that illustrate specific learned material, as in “Fran, your O2+ [high score on complexity] has just kept us from making a premature and overly simplistic decision. Thanks!”
  • Guess Who’s Who. After securing their permission, prepare a handout that contains the profiles (traits, values, etc.) of three or so key figures in your organization. Then have your group, class, or team (who need a refresher in your learned concept) dialog around which profile belongs to which person—i.e., a matching exercise.

 

Each of these suggestions is meant to stimulate your thinking. Pick several that appeal to you and adapt them to your model and circumstances. And, I invite you to make more suggestions in the WordPress comment area—what are ways you’ve helped sustain a mountaintop learning experience, either for yourself or for others?

Ancient Wisdom Has Legs

Literally. The ancient wisdom to “Know thyself” emblazoned on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi and carriedelphid forward by Shakespeare’s Polonius as “To thine own self be true” has carried Misty Copeland to be named (the first African-American) principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre. Having broken this color barrier on June 30, she shared her most treasured bit of advice with Bill Whitaker of 60 Minutes (CBS)—“Be you, because you can’t be anyone else.”

In our youth we try being many different people—athletes, musicians, artists, carpenters, gardeners, entrepreneurs, lovers, teachers, preachers, cooks…. We experiment with many behaviors—socializing, solitude, meditation, creativity, methodicalness, spontaneity, reticence…. We expose ourselves to the cafeteria of life in an unconscious quest for our core self. Wesleyan University emeritus professor of psychology Nathan Brody once described the task of growing up as “becoming more like who we are.” Just as Michelangelo described his creative process in terms of finding the statue within each block of stone, so we as individuals must find the strengths our genes express. Every time a peer comments “Hey, you’re good at that!” a teen’s course is corrected, righted, clarified, confirmed.

In spite of an obstacle course (described in her book Life in Motion) that would have discouraged many from their path, 32-year-old Misty Copeland knew herself and fastened herself to the mast like Ulysses to resist the temptations to abandon her core. She hitched her wagon to a star, and now she is a star with the corps de ballet.

At the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, we help people learn to use personality assessments as a way of helping people find their core self, their statue within the misty copelandblock. Perhaps it is not too grandiose to hope that we have helped other Mistys emerge from their fog with greater clarity of vision and sense of self—more rapidly, perhaps, than they would have by employing traditional trial-and-error experimentation over many years.