I think Sherlock could dance rings around Sheldon, all the time.
I have never been enthusiastic about personality tests or typing. However, much as I dislike being boxed in, or categorized, I do value the information and knowledge some of these tests offer. Myers-Briggs is one of the more common and, I think, one of the more useful. Myers-Briggs addresses four dimensions of personality types: Introversion-Extroversion; Sensing-Intuition; Thinking-Feeling; and Judging-Perceiving (J-P). Today I want to focus on J-P aspect.
Let me start with two popular fictitious figures, one well-known and the other, a modern figure of lesser reputation: Sherlock Holmes and Sheldon Cooper. Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes is the ultimate embodiment of “perceiving;” Sherlock sees a great deal that eludes the majority of people, including the police. The Sheldon Cooper character is one of the four scientists portrayed in a currently popular comedy TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” Sheldon is the genius – confirmed by test! – physicist whose world, both scientific and social, has to be in perfect order (his order) for him to function comfortably. Part of the premise of some comedic moments is based on Sheldon’s social ineptitude as he is driven by total and pure logic, which is constantly incongruent with the irrational human behaviors and interactions.
Why should we care about fictitious characters? Because they provide us with some baseline examples, their popularity makes it easier to compare and contrast, and they can’t hire lawyers to sue for defamation.
Judging–Perceiving (J-P) concerns our preferences in decision-making process, and ways in which we live our lives. Do we prefer a more spontaneous and flexible approach to allow additional information to modify our perspectives? Or, do we favor planned, decided and orderly manners of running business or social life? Most of us would say, “Well, it depends.” However, we do have tendency to seek, or at least prefer, certain approaches. Hence, the Myers-Briggs test emphasizes preferences rather than a fixed state.
In Sherlock Holmes stories, Mr. Holmes’ investigative realm touches on many human interactions; where scientific data is called for, there is much less mystery, although elusive to most other eyes. He perceives and updates his data constantly. Where he himself has to interact with others, it’s usually curt and downright rude at times. Yet, when Mr. Holmes needs to be, he is charming and engaging. So, one can deduce that his predilection may be anti-social because he chooses to be “rude” at times. Mr. Holmes is impatient with social interactions because he’s always onto something. But Sherlock doesn’t insist that others should all behave and operate like he does. (Indeed his very livelihood depends upon his uniqueness.)
Not so with Sheldon Cooper; he insists on everyone behaving in accordance with his principles and worldviews. His roommate has little say over how their shared living arrangement should be; Sheldon actually draws a multi-page document/contract on this matter. And because everything Cooper insists upon is based on (his) logic, he sees little need to have others’ perspectives. Like Mr. Holmes, Mr. Cooper is also impatient with the “useless” social conversations, but he doesn’t see any need to update his worldview which, of course, is superior to everyone else’s. Sheldon considers his roommate to be his “friend,” and two other scientists in their circle to be his “tertiary” friends. These friends usually go out of their way to accommodate Sheldon, not necessarily because they like him but mostly because they are exhausted with attempting to argue with him and can just barely stand to listen to his pontifications. To me, this is tantamount to intellectual bullying. The only saving grace is that Mr. Cooper doesn’t intend to harm people around him; he just wants them to do what he thinks is right and then to get out of his way. Not terribly amusing.
Now, how does this tie to the management issues? Look around, most managers fall heavily on the “J” side. Many managers have in mind how their direct reports “should” behave; what level their performance should be; what their work should be focused on; when they should be reporting project milestones; etc. This is not at all to criticize that these expectations are unfair. We need boundaries in any system and clarifying expectations is an important key to delineate these boundaries. However, how to work with the unexpected differentiates between a “judging” type of manager and a “perceiving” type. For example, a manager more comfortable with “P” may regard sympathetically Susan’s needs to attend to a sick child or suspend her work to pick up her son because the principal’s office called. This manger’s consideration of the lost time when evaluating Susan’s work is this: As long as Susan gets the job done and done well, she still gets allotted evaluation rank. At the same time, this “P” manager may assign more favorable points to Susan’s colleagues who demonstrated their support during the time of needs.
A “J” type of manager may let Fred take time to attend to Fred’s grandfather’s medical appointments and emergency trips. But after four such requests in three weeks, Fred’s manager might say, “Hey, I understand your dilemma, but we have work to do here. You are managing to get things done, but I am afraid that I have to dock some points in your evaluation. When you are out, sometimes others have to cover for you, or wait for your return and input before they can continue.”
So, why would Sherlock have advantages over Sheldon? Because Sherlock could adapt easily, and his ability to keenly perceive his surroundings would allow him to manipulate Sheldon into a tight corner if necessary. Mr. Holmes would never be above some manipulations, for a cause.
Is one type better than the other? Of course not. Besides, this is but one of many dimensions on which to assess people. However, in my perception (yes, pun intended), when there is a clash between two different styles, of thinking, decision-making, or assigning values, one style usually prevails while the other tends to adapt or accommodate. Such is the case between judging types and perceiving types: Judgment, and judging types, dominate the foreground, perception and perceiving types recede to background. There are many other seemingly incompatible dual/dichotomous types resulting in lop-sided outcomes; for example, extroversion prevails whereas introversion accommodates. Do you have additional examples?
The conventional diversity categories focus largely on our visible differences. I personally find the invisible differences much more thorny, challenging, and therefore more fascinating.
Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.
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