A Pair Of Ruby Slippers

February 7, 2007

Contemplating Navels?

Filed under: MACMP — author @ 9:02 pm

office4.jpgGuardian of the Emerald City Gates: The wizard? But nobody can see the great Oz, nobody’s *ever* seen the great Oz… even I’ve never seen him!
Dorothy: Well then, how do you know there is one?

Good grief… it’s been an interesting couple of weeks looking at personal development and reflection on the MA. I feel like this has been sent to try me. It has only been a couple of weeks since the last munchkin do where I had to do this stuff in practice and now I have to reflect on it in the forum…. I can hear my boss, who is in Oz (not the real Oz) sniggering at the irony of it all.

Alongside the discussions on reflection there are other debates emerging, are we including enough theory? Are we too frivolous? This is tricky, whilst this is an academic course; it is supposed to be about work practice. The balance is a fine one. I want to understand the theories, their applications and their limitations, but more than that I want to learn from my fellow students and their experience. One wizard has pointed out that each of us will have a natural bias towards learning from theories or experience, I am realising that I have tended to value the latter more highly in the past but am starting to wake up to the role that theory can play. Its not easy though.

Due to limitations of time (and word count) I am going to pick one of the reflection theories we looked at. The reason for choosing this one is that I have used it, with varying degrees of success, at work. It is the Myers Briggs Theory (MBTI). We discussed in the forum that this form of personality typing could be restrictive and simplistic. Whilst that is clearly the case, each time I have worked with the Myers Briggs theories the practitioner has been at pains to point out that these types are an indicator and not to be taken too literally. The way the MBTI theory works is to assess how you see yourself, with no input from how others see you and (I am told by an experienced certified practitioner) that you are discouraged from guessing someone else’s profile so the element of how you see someone else is also removed. Do we know ourselves independently from those around us? This sort of theory will give you a certain type of answer that could well be different if other people were consulted. In the workplace this is something that is often addressed via 360 degree feedback as an attempt to get a fuller picture, the Myers Briggs theory lacks that viewpoint entirely. It bothers me that this element of personality is not elicited in this theory. Looking back over other theories of self it seems that there has always been recognition of the importance of other people’s viewpoint as an influence in our construction of how we view ourselves. Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self for example and Symbolic Interactionism would assert that we are who we are purely because of the role we play and have played in “society”. I should declare that this idea works for me and I have particular empathy with Goffman and his explanations of self using a theatre analogy, but then I would, wouldn’t I? Life’s a stage after all, marvellous. Whilst perhaps it could be argued that this sort of analysis is implicit within MBTI, there seems to be little formal recognition of this.

In the forum we discussed how we would (possibly) enhance our CVs to give the impression we thought was desired by whomever we were submitting them to. This hints at us consciously (or unconsciously) acting or changing our behaviour depending on where we are, who we are interacting with and what we are doing, that the way we behave is maybe not fixed. Goffman’s dramaturgical theory draws on this and believes that unlike Myers Briggs we do not have a set way of acting but rather that we play at a role for a while and then as we get proficient at it it becomes internalised and develops into a facet of our personality. A further criticism aimed at the Myers Briggs theory is that it is sometimes applied to areas it was not designed for, for example it was designed within a Western culture and as such may not be applicable in different cultures. Fromm’s work on personality theory also places a great deal of importance around the effects from each society in shaping personality which would seem to be in opposition with the Myers Briggs approach. Fromm argues that different societies produce different types of personality.

With these limitations in mind, I still think the Myers Briggs theory has something to offer reflective thinking in the workplace. I have a simple example of this, two of the Lollipop Guild were on an MBTI course with me, one reported into the other one and she drove her manager nuts. This was because she had a relaxed, laid back attitude to work, never writing a plan for anything and never stressing about what there was to be done. The manager on the other had was a stickler for detail, liked a plan and was happy to see a flurry of activity before a deadline. What the MBTI course gave them was a better understanding of although people work in different ways they can still achieve the same results. This is an unsophisticated outcome that could have been reached in a different way, at an appraisal perhaps or during a vending machine moment. But this course was specific time set aside to purposefully look at how we like to work and how that relates to and affects others in our guild. Myers Briggs, with its Jungian approach, was an effective tool to start that discussion. I often heard the two of them joking about their differing approaches after the meeting and I am convinced that it gave them enough reflection time and space to find a way to work together more efficiently. Whether it was the theory itself, the fact that we took time out (literally out in a different and neutral location) or if any half decent theory of reflection would have had this outcome is not clear. I am not sure that it matters as this combination was effective.

As with the wizard’s statement about people having a preference for theory or experience, so too will people have preferences for the way they work. Myers Briggs would argue that whilst you can change these to some extent and for a certain amount of time – like one of our wizards in his car dealing days, you will eventually revert to your “type”, particularly in stressful situations. A link here with an old saying about people showing their true colours in times of difficulty perhaps? However, I discussed this with an experienced Myers Briggs practitioner and she pointed out that people agree to their types too easily and enthusiastically (see next paragraph about Forer) and this she felt diminished its value as a personal development tool with particular reference to the nature versus nurture debate. Another issue with the theory is that people often know about the types (or just read ahead in the booklet they are filling out) and try, when taking the test to head for the type they fancy.

Similar to the limitations mentioned above, the forum introduced the Forer effect to us. I suspect this will be a factor for many people going through MBTI. We discussed the fun elements in identifying with a type especially one that makes you feel good. None of the Myers Briggs types are officially held up as better than others, although I know on our course some of us wanted to fit into the corners as the practitioner announced (dubiously) that these were often occupied by leaders. I wonder if you can get the Forer effect by proxy? I mean if I am told that leaders occupy the corners of the Myers Briggs grid and I see that that is where certain colleagues of mine sit, will I project values of leadership onto them and henceforth see them in that light?

This leads to another thought. The theory can only be as good as the person delivering it. Scarecrow, whose job it is to deliver this type of training has flagged in the forum how many of these trainers are not as good as they could be. How is this assessed? Myers Briggs trainers have to be certified, so there is a degree of measurement, but knowing your theory and delivering it in a lively and engaging way are two different skills. Additionally there are also issues if the trainer is extremely talented in delivery, as Forer again points out, we could confer misplaced authority on them and on the theory they are training us in – i.e. the influence of the particular trainer becomes more important to the trainee that what they are actually training, perhaps a kind of transference as referred to by Lacan that can occur between teachers and students.

Another question, does the workplace care? Are these courses just a way to pacify senior managers that employee development is being carried out and tick the right boxes on the HR form to prove this fact? If any of the Lollipop Guild read this I would love to hear your comments of the experience within our environment. I suspect for us that this is true to a certain extent. The Lollipop Guild is a small team within a large organisation which needs to be seen to be carrying out these kinds of activities. I sincerely doubt that my upper management who never even take the time to see me (well one visit to one meeting and then left early) really gives a stuff about my personal development (although at a basic level it is cheaper to keep a decent employee than replace one (yes I am decent)). I think this changes as you come further down the tree though, I genuinely believe that my line manager completely cares about my personal development and that of the rest of the team. So hopefully then he feels that the upper management care about him and maybe that is enough caring for all of us? It is important to be careful what you wish for after all, I don’t really want The Mayor of Munchkinland popping in too often; he might get in the way of my projects.

Something else that troubles me about these formal exercises is the extent to which they are delivered unchallenged by the Munchkins. No one seems to question why we are doing them or if what we are doing is appropriate. Is this because we trust our manager to do this for us? I rather suspect that our manager would encourage a little more debate around this and not to blindly delegate this authority solely to him. It seems to go against his ethics of team play. I also wonder if it is thought of as “unprofessional” to question too much. I have a theory about that; I think it can be a useful phrase to stop employees rocking the boat. I think Fromm might have had similar thoughts when he wrote about Automation Conformity, when you lose who you really are to become the preferred type of personality of your society (and be warned he said this would make you crazy). I have questioned the other members of The Lollipop Guild about their silence and they tell me that they enjoy the opportunity to leave the office and spend time doing something different. They felt they got more from it when they were doing it for the first time and now were less fond of the reflection exercises as they felt they were going over old ground. They explained that they didn’t openly challenge it as it wasn’t that important to them and they didn’t want to not be doing it at all, but possibly would be more satisfied if it was done in differing ways (they didn’t like my conspiracy theory, tsk). So this implies that we need a way to keep this work reflection fresh. This is something I have not encountered in the theories I have looked at, an element to allow for boredom. We need to vary what we do, this means that no theory will work each and every time no matter how effective it is deemed to be, a longer term approach needs to be adopted. Someone should tell the trainers…

Enough of Myers Briggs.

I would like to summarise a few of the other points we have mulled over in the forum around reflection. One I touched on earlier here is how the physical space you are in affects how you behave. Had I not had a stinking cold this weekend I would have recorded a short dance piece in a couple of different environments to demonstrate this point simply. Instead you will have to be content with a short written example. When we leave our office and stay in a (usually lovely) hotel we are free to think or “act” differently and we come up with some excellent creative ideas. It is so hard to then take these ideas back into the office and carry on the momentum. Our office is no showpiece, but is certainly not the worst, but it is a natural habitat for doing (or acting) “the day job” and this is what is fixed in our minds. There are in between spaces, we have breakout areas that mix meeting facilities with more important things like table football and Wii machines. These do a good job on a daily basis of providing enough room to feel a change which in itself can be refreshing. They do not replace (and indeed I don’t think they try to) leaving the office periodically because although they are altered spaces from desks they are still an intrinsic part of the office. I would assert that the hotel is back stage and the breakout areas merely the wings.

We also discussed inspiration in the Forum and whether these formal reflection exercises were necessary because people did not receive enough daily inspiration at work. This is a tricky concept. We realised we were inspired by different types of people and that they would have had to do a great deal of reflection and possibly training to have become so inspirational so we talked ourselves fairly full circle. I raised the whole macho element… (then hid under my desk for a bit). At our work and I suspect we are not alone the “softer” skills are taught with a huge element of tough masculine competition. It is straightforward to see that a successful athlete “wins”. This is then translated into the work environment to make us “win”. For example, senior managers at Munchkinland have been on a management course where they have been required to take the bleep test (to do with stress management) and keep food diaries for a week. Whilst this may be useful to some degree, it is clearly discrimination biased towards healthy and fit people. What if the manager taking the course was disabled? Was the bleep test the same for the men and women? Should it be? What the heck has it got to do with anyone what sort of food someone likes to eat? To me this at worst has sinister undertones and at best is discriminatory. It is also a good ruse by a training company using athletic success to sell a dubious course.handbags6.jpg

So where does this leave us? As I said in the forum, I am glad that unlike several of my fellow students, I get the chance to have structured work reflection time. It provides a pause for me to make sure I am doing what I want to be doing, that I am making the most of my time, not missing anything and also fitting in with the team. Or if I am not, it is time to think about what I can do to change things. I would hate to not ever take time to do this in case I let the days pass me by and then suddenly I had been there 10 years and not made the most of things. The other members of The Lollipop Guild I discussed this with agreed. I am sure that doing this formally is not the only way, but it is a way and it does force the point which I see as no bad thing. I appreciate the opportunity to get out of the office environment and meet the team in more neutral surroundings without the usual distractions. In addition it is rather pleasant to be spoiled in a lovely hotel, it makes me feel rewarded and is something I would not be able to do without work (until the lottery win). I sometimes wish the standard of the reflection exercise we undertook was higher, more appropriate, more contemporary and (in the past) less cold and muddy, but if the alternative is never doing it…. I will keep drawing the shields.



  1. well, where to start? stream of consciousness I think. This latest blog illicits a response from any number of my various personality flaws so I’ll start off as toto, faithful and loving dog

    and as is the way when one contemplates these theories too much, and with dogs who have time on their paws, your nose can get a little too far up your butt so I’ll be careful

    I can’t help wondering if the forer effect is at work here, or whether you can get the forer effect about the forer effect? it seems to explain everything at the moment

    I’m thinking that at some point you became convinced that you were the sort of person who hates disclosing information about yourself and feel mildly uncomfortable when others go for it

    I can’t help hypothesising that this is a result of some of the more brutal teaching regimes you were victim of that used various forms of bullying and humiliation to get you to perform. From these sorts of experiences, being open about yourself and looking for feedback may well have become something you’d rather avoid.

    Anyhow, bar Pavlov’s pooch, the place for dogs in psychology is rightfully limited so I’ll leave you to reflect or reject as necessary

    As trainer , a job you know me to love and hate in equal measure, I can’t help agreeing with most of your observations. I made the decision to focus on project management as it avoids the “everyone meet in a room and get meaningful” situations. For me they’re akin to the office party; mass, enforced emotional output. Ugly and in the main, unimaginative. This sort of “course” falls square into the truest of training truisms. People who attend generally need it least whilst the real head-bangers wouldn’t attend at gun point. and any trainer who can’t think beyond drawing shields certainly deserves the trial of a thousand “whys” from any discerning delegate

    I have found the times we put learners into a real and often bizarre situation (negotiate in French with a Parisian market trader, record and sell a music CD to raise £10k for charity in a day etc)we see true colours, irrespective of labels. If this can be followed with a relaxed (and often booze-fuelled) de-brief the reflection flows.

    I have seen and shared more of your reflections in a short time than I can ever remember since you started this blogging business. I reckon this informal and unintimidating medium may be ideal for those who’d rather reflect in ones. And on your reservations concerning leadership traits and training, many inspirational folk were avid journal keepers (mind you Ann Frank’s bleep test score is crap and her diet was shocking during the War)

    So I’m quite sure that lot’ll get you nowhere fast, but I would like to leave on a question

    I wonder what the link is between reflective learning and memory? Your memory of our most life-defining moments is incredible and never fails to amaze me – so maybe you’re more reflective than you think, or maybe you reflect without thinking ?

    How’s my nose-butt proximity?


    INFP – Introvert and the other three bits I’ve forgotten – still my boss never checked so who cares?

    Comment by toto — February 14, 2007 @ 8:25 pm | Reply

  2. A fair few reflection points for me here, Dorothy! In no particular order :

    1. // When we leave our office … we are free to think differently and come up with some excellent creative ideas // I’ve seen this to be true and have wondered why – maybe the answer lies in one of the papers quoted. I previously considered that the reason we think better when away from the office is that the day-to-day distractions no longer exist and without them, we’re free to concentrate. In short, a new environment allows better concentration.

    Goffman’s paper points at a different answer : “Society is not a homogeneous creature. We must act differently in different settings”. We act differently, think differently because we’re on a different stage. The environment creates the stage. Maybe more time away is the way forward.

    2. Goffman too makes me think of my own career, which has mirrored Dorothy’s in some respects. As a salesman I was ordinary and forever thinking this wasn’t the role for me. Truthfully, my sales figures were better than average but I hated the idea of being a salesman … the role, the suit, the lines, the pay just didn’t suit me. Sales courses taught me the lines and I regurgetated them : I received the applause at the end of the sale and the platitudes for my acting at the end of the year.

    I’m a different person in this current role. I play the part of “Line Manager”. I think I do it reasonably well. Very few people spot the lines.

    And at home, I’m me. No script. No pretensions. No need to be anyone but myself. So we’re all actors, learning from each role we play, adding to our unique set of skills until we almost become the parts we act.

    “All the world’s a stage,
    And all the men and women merely players”

    Shakespeare, (and Goffman?]

    Comment by Jonathan — February 20, 2007 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

  3. So twinkle toes, a few thoughts from the Lollipop Guild.

    1)MBTI – firstly a point of practicality from my experience of MBTI- it assumes that those munchkins attending the session all work together, whilst we physically sit together I would question how many of our our team..?workgroup..? individuals? (whatever you want to call us) actually ‘work together’. We in the main work in a matrix environment and perhaps a point should be to consider more closely the attendees for the MBriggs sessions.

    2)MBTI – Whilst you identify what type you are and the type of those around you, there is an assumption that muchkins are self aware and have the skills to recognise and adapt their style, in order to better work with different types. I wonder in reality how often this happens. I completley agree with mr briggs about returning to type in stressfull situations… i see that happen a lot.

    3) In the real world (not just at work) do you ask each other for their MB type, and think ok so they like to work like this? Erm no, I can’t even remember my type. I make a proposal of this is how i intend to do something, does that work for you? What do you find works best?. So take married life, I have no idea of my wifes type but i sure know who she is and how best to work with her (that sounds kind of wrong, but you know what i mean). Anyway, so my point; theory is good buy you need to blend that with experience to really get this stuff to work.

    good luck – would love to read the final version of your document


    Comment by james — February 23, 2007 @ 9:43 am | Reply

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