He’s not a jerk, he’s an INTP

August 1, 2013

In an April 2013 McKinsey Quarterly discussion about new research, fresh frameworks, and practical tools for decision makers, Stanford’s Chip Heath and McKinsey’s Olivier Sibony float a a tool similar to the “personality profiles” widely used in team-building exercises (e.g. Myers-Briggs, DiSC, Keirsey Temperament Sorter).

Example profile: "Visionary"

Example profile:

In this case, managers would be categorized into 1 of 5 decision-making styles:  Visionary, Guardian, Motivator, Flexible, and Catalyst (see “Early-stage research on decision-making styles”).

Rather than telling someone he’s hopelessly biased, you say, for example, “Look, you’re a certain kind of decision maker—a real visionary—so you make fast decisions breaking with convention. The downside is that you could be wrong, so when you make an unusual decision you might want to stop and listen a bit.” Whereas someone else will tend to fall into the opposite trap…

If you and I are around the same table, rather than telling you that you’re out of your mind, I can tell you, “We know that you’re a visionary, right? So you would see things in this way. Well, I’ve got a different style, so here’s how I think about it.” A bit like the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator… People love personality approaches. Psychologists have always had this approach–avoidance relationship with them because we can’t get them to be as predictive as we want, but they provide this tremendous social language.

Is this just HR nonsense or could it be a brilliant feat of social engineering?

…Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky listened to a group of consultants telling them about the Myers–Briggs. The consultants didn’t know they were talking to two Nobel-caliber psychologists, so they were a little condescending as they explained MyersBriggs to their dinner companions, who should have known about it already. Kahneman and Tversky listened. And they weren’t telling the consultants, “Decades of social-psychology research says that it’s really hard to design a personality test that predicts anything useful about behavior.” Danny Kahneman walked out of the room and turned to Amos Tversky and said, “You know, that was a brilliant feat of social engineering. Instead of saying, ‘So-and-so is a jerk,’ they say, ‘Oh, he’s an INTP.’”

Most executives won’t be interested in using behavioral research to change their processes to overcome biases – no one wants to be told they’re biased because of the negative connotations, even while they’re quick to believe others (e.g. direct reports) are subject to a “zoo of biases.”  But they could be more open to helping their teams make better decisions:

So we will say, for example, “Let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t work in your strategic-planning process.” We don’t talk about biases, because no one wants to be told they’re biased…  Instead, we observe that people typically make predictable mistakes in their planning process—for instance, getting anchored on last year’s numbers. That’s OK because we are identifying best practices…  It’s a lot easier to say, “Let’s build a good process so your direct reports have better recommendations for you” than “Let’s come up with a process for you to be challenged by other people.”

The authors emphasize that it’s important to “see yourself as the architect of the decision-making process, not as a great decision maker enhanced by the knowledge of your biases.”

The analogy (we) like is how we handle problems with memory.  The solution isn’t to focus harder on remembering; it’s to use a system like a grocery-store list. We’re now in a position to think about the decision-making equivalent of the grocery-store list.


N.B. – “Fake-O-Backend

Unrelated to the topic but elsewhere in the piece, when discussing broader issues related to decision-making, Heath & Sibony had an amusing anecdote about how Intuit built more experiments into their DMPs:

Before they add a feature, say, to TurboTax, they will test out variations and see how people respond. They call it “Fake-O-Backend.” Imagine that they put up a Web page for a new “deduction analysis” service, and when people plug in their information on the Web site, the company goes to a tax attorney for the answers instead of programming all the computations. The back end is fake. The front end tests whether people would purchase a new service.

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