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March 24th 2018
I really hate Myers-Briggs tests, and everything of their ilk. While I have had them pressed upon me at various times throughout my working life and elsewhere, I avoid them whenever possible (and, the last time we were asked to complete one, immediately forgot what my result was and made no secret of the fact that I was not engaging in the process).
There are (at least) three reasons for this. The first is that I don't enjoy self-analysis. The second is that, for the majority of questions, the answer I give on any given day - at any given hour - might be completely different to what I'd answer the next. The third, and biggest, reason is that I think all such tests are incredibly crude in their attempts to divide humanity into a very small number of subgroups. We are much, much more complex than that. And yes, I know that every time I've done one of these things it's been prefaced by the acknowledgement that it's an oversimplification - but, again, every single time it isn't long before such caveats are thrown out of the window, and we're told that HG/IO people respond one way, and green triangles respond another way, and people in the A5-B2 quadrant are just like that.
Supposedly this is useful in helping us not only to understand which of the four, or maybe even eight, human personalities we have, but also will show us how to react to other people. For example, some people don't believe things that are logically true. There is a word for such people, and - without wishing to spoil the outcome of your next dalliance with Messrs. Myers & Briggs - I can reveal that that word is 'wrong'. Logic is always right. That's basically the definition of logic.
There is also a word for people who don't have emotional responses. That word is 'dead'.
Perhaps I am unique amongst all humanity in being more complex than the narrow groupings I've come across every time these things have been forced upon me. Perhaps I am an outlier in being both logical and emotional, to different extents at different times. But I don't think so. Indeed, from my interactions with other people for 32+ years, I am sure of it.
The problem with putting people into such narrow boxes - boxes can be narrow, right? - was exemplified by a HR manager at a company I used to work for, when I went on a management course that I had (erroneously) thought would be helpful. Once she discovered that my colleague and I were actuaries, she decided immediately what kind of people we must be: dispassionate, coldly logical and emotionless. This meant that, whenever either of us questioned any of her conclusions (which we had much cause to do), she didn't need to take our points seriously: we just didn't understand, because of the people we were, and it was her job to try and make us see from her point of view. I gave up questioning after a while.
That was bad, but by far the worst of the Myers-Briggs-esque things I've had to go through was one where we picked five descriptive cards at random, and had to go round the room swapping them until we got the five that we felt would describe us. Perhaps this was supposed to be teaching us a lesson in self-awareness, or the image we project, but in reality it meant people rushing over to me - and others in Finance - to pluck from us any cards containing words not taken directly from Spock's Wikipedia entry. "Listen", I wanted to say, "I've never made it through the final scene of Homeward Bound without tears streaming down my face. You'll have to prise the 'sentimental' card from my cold, dead hands".
Perhaps the adjective that most frustrates me is 'creative'. A while ago I read a Times article about the number of maths students falling, and the number of those studying "creative subjects" rising. This is a ridiculous dichotomy: if you don't think that maths is creative, you aren't doing maths right. I made this point to someone once and they thought I was making a joke about 'creative accounting', but that wasn't what I was getting at at all (not least because accounting isn't really maths...). It makes me wonder what non-mathematicians think mathematicians actually do. Just multiply increasingly large numbers together?
Sure, if all you're doing is stating theorems and regurgitating proofs, there's nothing very creative about that - in the same way that, in a history degree, if you just wrote out a memorised essay answer it wouldn't be creative. But if - to give a variation on a first year question I vaguely remember - you're asked to give a sequence xn such that the series converges to an irrational but the sum of |xn| diverges, you have to think. You have to play around with ideas; see what works, reject what doesn't; explore possibilities. You have to be creative.
I think we're all creative, at least a little. Sure, I can't draw something that looks like the thing, or sew in a straight line, or bake a cake that you'd choose in preference to hunger; but I can write a crossword, or a comedy sketch, or this blog post. Friends at work who might not think they are creative can still build exquisite spreadsheets, write comprehensive reports, and create macros from scratch.
So... please look further for creativity. And stop believing that mankind is so simple.
what am I listening to?
Very Best Of - Buddy Holly
what am I reading?
Far From the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
what am I watching?
The Secret Garden
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