Systems Thinking and Personality Types LO22526

Vana Prewitt (
Tue, 31 Aug 1999 09:59:41 -0400

Replying to LO22513 --

Bill Braun wrote:

> After pondering the question Chuck posed and reading some of the responses
> to date, I'd like to build on his question with a trio of friendly
> rejoinders. One, what difference does it make? Two, if we find that one
> type is better disposed toward ST, what do we do with everyone else?
> Three, isn't the question antithetical to ST in the first place?

Like Bill, I've been giving this question serious thought. I admit that
when I was first introduced to MBTI back in the 80's, I thought it was
interesting, but not much else. Later, when I began to manage diverse
groups of people and cross-functional teams, I found some valuable
insights to the personality types with whom I worked.

People who were not like me, and thus hard for me to understand and
accept, were easier to comprehend when I was able to see the whole pattern
of the fabric at once, when I could understand them holistically and not
dwell on the single attribute that was confounding or aggravating me at
the moment. Like it or not, humans constantly strive to reduce
complexities into simple snapshots that make for easier pattern
recognition (thus stereotypes). This is good, because without this
adaptive ability, we would be paralyzed and overhwhelmed with nonseniscal
information. The flip side is that we often make erroneous assumptions
when seeing something that resembles a predefined pattern and fail to
explore the details carefully.

So, to answer Bill's questions:
(1) It may make a difference if a person is considering a career path or
hiring a new employee. It could also help individuals gain insights to
why they are less or more inclined to see "the big picture" or "dwell on
the details." My husband, for example, is a classic details person and
his MBTI profile is totally predictable. His type makes a good
accountant, for example. Me? I can't balance my checkbook (well, I
could, but just don't see the point).

(2) If we know who is less inclined to think holistically and
systemically, we may see that a different approach would be more helpful.
For those of us so inclined, it can be difficult to imagine what would
make sense to a person who doesn't see the big picture easily.

(3) I don't think Chuck's question about personality types is antithecal
to ST at all. It is a matter of mental processes, and whether individuals
are born with certain inclinations that are reinforced with habits. If we
believe that this may be true, then the means we use to achieve the
desired end may need to be adapted to the individuals in the system.

Now, back to Chuck's original question:

>Has anyone attempted to utilize personality typing (Meyers-Briggs or
>Keirsey Temperament Sorter) to determine those in an organization that
>are "built" for holistic or systems thinking?

This brings to mind the issue I always face when implementing large scale
organizational changes. Personality types give us one picture of the
individuals in an organization. There are many other pictures that lend
value to organizational effectiveness and development. The only reason I
would want to correlate MBTI profiles to ST would be if I were targeting
types for OD work. Thus, a type inclined to think holistically may get
one type of intervention while a type with a disinclination would receive
an alternative intervention. This would be a fascinating piece of social
research in OD if anyone could pull it off.

I'm not a big fan of the "one size fits all" mentality. I have found over
the years that what works for Joe may not work for Sally. And Bob could
be totally lost unless he gets the message in a different format. I see
these issues most clearly with learning styles, but often come in contact
with them with personality types, and the "seven intelligences." All of
these approaches are pretty controversial, and a lot of folks think they
are so much mumbo jumbo.

In short, I do think there is probably certain types more inclined to
think holistically than others, but this should never preclude the
possibility of any type being a systems thinker.

kind regards,

Vana Prewitt
Praxis Learning Systems
Chapel Hill, NC


Vana Prewitt <>

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