Alone in the woods with my MBTI

MBTI score Vermont foliage 1425557604_b18c1c3fde_z

My MBTI score doesn’t tell the whole story.

I’ve spent the last 10 days living alone in the woods. (No, not what you might be thinking: my home is surrounded by fall foliage, and my marriage is fine.) Quite a contrast from the previous week, which featured two cities, two events, and two meetups.

If you’ve met me, you’ll know that I love to schmooze in company. So you may wonder if it’s hard to be suddenly on my own. Not at all. Although I love bringing people together, I also am comfortable living by myself for a spell, talking to no one except for an occasional phone call.

This makes sense in terms of my testing on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®.) As I’ve shared before, I score pretty neutral on the extravert <–> introvert axis of the test. Someone testing highly extravert prefers to draw energy “from the outside world of people, activities, and things”, while an introvert prefers to draw energy “from one’s internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions” [all quotes taken from”Introduction to Type in Organizations“, Krebs Hirsh et al.]

What a neutral axis MBTI score doesn’t tell you

What the MBTI doesn’t provide is any indication of the intensity of anyone’s aspects. Because MBTI is about personality preference it’s perfectly possible for someone who tests neutral on a specific axis to have strong desires or abilities around the poles of each test dichotomy. As it turns out, I am comfortable not only when I’m socializing with others, but also for extended periods alone in creative, thinking, and feeling modes—I enjoy and need both states.

Consequently, a neutral “weak” score on an MBTI axis may indicate greater flexibility and comfort with the range of preferences associated with that axis. And those of us with a strong preference on axes (in my case, Intuition and Feeling) may have a harder time communicating and working with people whose preference lies at the other ends of the scale—for me, these are folks who prefer Sensing (“taking in information through the five senses and noticing what is actual”) and Thinking (“a preference for organizing and structuring information to decide in a logical, objective way”).

While my clear preference for MBTI’s Intuition and Feeling axes feeds my energy to pursue the congruence, facilitation, and consensus that inform my mission to improve what happens when people meet, its shadow side can be increased difficulty in relating to people who prefer sensing and thinking modes. One’s strengths invariably point to one’s weaknesses. In general, there seems to be a tradeoff between well-roundedness and drive.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to be alone in the woods. Well, until Celia returns later today…

Photo attribution: Flickr user paulmoody

A short critique of Open Space

“Cool, even though it seems like he has reinvented Open Space.”
Chris Corrigan comment about this blog

Here is a short critique of Open Space, probably the most well known participant-driven meeting design. Devised by Harrison Owen around the same time as Conferences That Work and presented in his 1993 book Open Space Technology: A Users Guide, this simple approach has become a popular way for participants to choose and discuss topics during their time together.

However, I think that Open Space does not work well for many participants. This has been corroborated informally over the years by every facilitator that I’ve spoken to who has used it. Here’s why.

Open Space poorly serves introverts

Open Space session topics are determined by individuals who stand up in front of the entire group and announce their chosen topic. Generally, this is much easier for extroverts, who have few difficulties speaking to a group extemporaneously, than introverts who tend to shun such opportunities. The end result is that introverts are largely silent during the opening process. The subsequent Open Space sessions tilt towards those proposed and often dominated by a comfortably-vocal minority.

Since introverts make up ~25-50% of the population (higher in some industries, such as information technology), this is not good.

A facilitator told me recently about her experience at an Open Space conference she was running. The acknowledged expert on the conference topic was present. But he was so uncomfortable with the process that he hardly spoke during the entire event.

We know that introverts can bring much to the table (for example, there’s research that indicates that introverts do better on intelligence tests). Using participant-driven process that favors extrovert participation is a disservice to everyone present, not just the introverts. In my opinion, it’s a significant shortcoming of Open Space.

How can we engage introverts at participant-driven events?

Being a recovering introvert (according to the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory these days, I am a weak extrovert, but I didn’t always test that way) has sensitized me to the needs of introverts at participant-driven events, and the Conferences That Work design contains numerous small features that largely level the playing field.

For example, creating a safe environment is vital for attendees to become participants at an event. Conferences That Work’s six explicit ground rules provide a safe, confidential environment that makes it easier for introverts to share at an event.

Another example: I have participants answer roundtable and personal introspective questions alone, in writing before they share their answers. Asking for written responses allows introverts to do their reflective work internally, rather than externally as extroverts prefer.

One more important feature of Conferences That Work is that during the roundtable at the start of the event: a) everyone is invited, in turn, to share; and b) each person gets the same amount of time to speak. (Yes, I have a timekeeper present.) This prevents extroverts from monopolizing group time, and models that sharing by all is an integral part of the event.

Conferences That Work is not Open Space!

Although Open Space and Conferences That Work are both participant-driven designs, there are significant differences between them. Perhaps the biggest advantage of Open Space is that you can use it in a short time period; a few hours are often enough time to do useful work. For events lasting one-and-half days or longer, however, I believe that the additional structure of Conferences That Work creates a more intimate, powerful, and useful experience for participants. Including introverts!

Photo attribution: Flickr user arvindgrover