Monday, June 28, 2010

For the Jung at heart, another personality classification system

If you've been around business for a while, you've probably run across Myers-Briggs, the whole Mars-Venus thing, or some other type of personality classification system. The underlying concept of these systems, when applied to business, is as follows:
  1. Your behavior can be classified as falling into one (or more) groups.

  2. The behavior of others (customers, competitors, whoever) can also be classified.

  3. Your relationships with these others are governed by your respective classifications, some of which are more compatible than others.

This line of study can be traced back to the work of Carl Jung, who probably never envisioned that his work would eventually be adopted by Type A businessmen trying to get ahead. (Types A and B, incidentally, are a post-Jung concept.)

So anyways, my job change resulted in my rejoining the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), and I recently attended my first APMP meeting in ten years. This meeting of the Southern California chapter was conducted via webinar at locations throughout the Southland, and our presenter also dialed in remotely, from Colorado. Dr. Charles Pellerin has developed a personality classification system of his own. Pellerin's story picks up around 1990:

In 1990, the world discovered that NASA's crown jewel, the Hubble Space Telescope was useless because of a flawed mirror. The author mounted the daring space repair mission that fixed the telescope. Hubble is now in its 15th year of productive scientific research with more than 3,500 technical publications. NASA awarded him a second Outstanding Leadership Medal, an honor bestowed on less than 50 people (including astronauts) in NASA's History.

In the long term, however, the important question was WHY the mirror was flawed. In an attempt to avoid a second Hubble, Pellerin set out to find out what went wrong.

He looked back at other failed NASA missions, such as the Challenger explosion, and he found a common ingredient to each failure: the “normalization of deviance.” For some reason, errors were not only accepted, but they were standard operating procedure. Pellerin dug deeper and determined that a “flawed social context” was the root of this problem.

With Hubble, the social context that existed between NASA and its contractors discouraged contractors from reporting problems.

Continuing to explore the topic, both in academia and with his own consulting firm, Pellerin created his model:

The 4-D System aligns with Carl Jung's theory of personality development (1905). He posited that we build our personalities on our innate (present at birth) preferences for deciding and the information we use to decide.

Pellerin derived four categories:

"Green" for Cultivating personality foundations -- as in growing, developing people

"Yellow" for Including personality foundations -- the color association is unfortunately unfavorable -- lacking the courage to stand into conflict (We ran out of core colors identifying the other three personalities.)

"Blue" for Visioning personality foundations -- as in blue sky thinking

"Orange" for Directing personality foundations -- as the way our sun directs (organizes) the movement of the planets in our solar system

During his talk to the APMP Socal chapter, Dr. Pellerin spent some time on some examples in which the customer and the bidder were of opposite color types. If I may butcher one of his examples, let's say that a government agency is soliciting bids for the study of a "visionary" topic. Furthermore, let's say that the proposal team assigned to the bid is a results-oriented, practical ("directing") group of people who perceive that the agency's vision is completely impractical.

In addition to violating the "customer is always right" rule, such a proposal team will, in Pellerin's view, be predisposed by personality to lose the bid. Rather than affirming the customer's vision, the proposal team will be naturally inclined to demonstrate a better way to the customer - a message that the customer ultimately does not want to hear.

This is just a small part of what Dr. Pellerin discussed during our 90 minute meeting. Much more information can be found at his website,, and in his book, How NASA Builds Teams (affiliate link below).

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