Thursday, October 15, 2009

Huffington Post Column 2: The MBTI of the USA

If you've been around the business world you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) - by means of a relatively short set of questions it comes up with a "type" based on four bipolar dimensions:

  • Extraversion - Intraversion - basically how you renew your energy - from outside (other people) or by going inside.
  • Sensing - Intuition - how you process information
  • Thinking - Feeling - the basis on which you make decisions
  • Judging - Perceiving - how you make sense of the world

From these eight poles you get a four letter profile - E - I, S - N (the I was taken), T - F, and J - P. I, for example am ENTJ and from that, someone who is versed in the MBTI can draw a host of inferences about me.

The remarkable thing about the MBTI is how uncannily accurate and consistent it is. I recently took an abbreviated version on Facebook - just about eight questions - and it came up ENTJ just like the full version. Most people find it at least about 80% accurate, usually better.

So what about us as a nation? As I thought about it, I decided that the USA is ENFJ

  • Extraverted - we draw our energy as a people from outside; isolationism has never really gained a foothold here.
  • Intution - we trust interrelationships, theories, and future possibilities more than we do facts, details, and present realities.
  • Feeling - we like our decisions to create harmony even if they're not logical and objective - more McCoy than Spock.
  • Judging - we orient to the world by making decisions quickly and sticking to them.

One standard work on the MBTI (Working Together by Isachsen and Behrens) calls ENFJ "the Mentor." They describe the Mentor as responsive and responsible, popular and sociable, charismatic, communicative, and warmly enthusiastic.

The weakness of ENFJ is in taking care of oneself and in taking care of details. ENFJ's don't value objectivity overmuch and aren't good at setting priorities and sticking to them. We are frustrated, as a people, by cold, impersonal logic, by being excluded, and by criticism and lack of appreciation. We value cooperation, harmony, and self-determination, and we irritate others by being overly emotional, moralistic, and wanting to be seen as knowing everything.

Viewed in this way, the unhappiness of most Americans with the Bush years makes sense - how Bush/Cheney wanted us to be goes against our national character - isolationist, ignoring reality (why else would we have gone to war in Iraq when the enemy was funded by Bush's friends the Saudis?), making decisions that turned the world against us and sticking to unpopular or illogical choices (climate change, health care, torture, Guantanamo).

Conversely, when you look from here Obama's Nobel Prize makes sense. After eight year of irritating the rest of the world, we now have a President who is an expression of our national character - open, optimistic, communicative, warm, charismatic. We are once again in relationship with others and with ourselves, and oriented toward collaboration and harmony.

As Polonius said, "to thine own self be true, and it follows as the night the day thou canst be false to no man." Maybe he had something there

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