Predicative Index Behavioral Assessment

There are many different personality and behavior assessment tools. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and DISC assessment are two of the most popular. Managers use them to understand their employees better. Individuals use them to understand themselves better. The idea is you learn about personality traits and tendencies so that you can be smarter about matching those tendencies with situations which play to your strengths. In other words, these assessments tend to treat revealed tendencies as innate and therefore permanent.

One reason I've held off taking such a test is that I am intuitively skeptical of how effective any survey or test can be at accurately capturing the nuances of a person. Also, I've seen these tests be overinterrepted by managers. For example, manager adminsters a test to subordinate, the test suggests subordinate avoids exerting authority and is introverted, manager concludes he's not fit to be a leader, and the subordiate defers to the test and shelves any leadership aspiration. These broader concerns aside, I do think that if one treats personality test results with appropriate distance, they can be a useful check on intuitions and a good starting point for a conversation.

Yesterday I took the Predicative Index test. Frederic Lucas-Conwell studied all the various tests for his PhD and now administers and consults around the Predictive Index, which he believes is the best. He was kind enough to do my test for free. It is remarkably short — it only takes about 10 minutes to complete, as you check off adjectives that describe how you believe others expect you to act and then adjectives that you think really describe who you are. After entering my results into a computer, Frederic displayed the following three charts. They're meaningless unless you know how to interpret this particular test.

Piscreenshot  

Below the fold is the automated written report that accompanies my results (ie, "Ben" is plugged in a blank space for a pre-written report for my type). I think it underplays my introverted streak and underplays my interest in details and precision. Otherwise it emphasizes pretty typical entrepreneur traits. Note it focuses solely on professional and management issues, no "personal" situations or attitudes.

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A Morning of Self-Consciousness…

Here’s a quick diary-esque blog post. Experimenting with the style.

When I wake up at 10:15 AM, as I did today, the first thing that pops into my head is whether or not I am a “morning person” and whether, by waking up late, I had missed out on hours that might have been enhanced by a more naturally alert cognitive state.

The fact that this is my initial thought leads me to wonder what it means that productivity-maximizing drives the day’s first neuron-firing on a blue beautiful day. Why can’t I just wake up, breathe, eat breakfast, and be passive? Which then leads me to wonder why I must take every thought to the meta level (ie, question the validity of the thought after thinking the thought) and whether one day it will be possible possible to somehow squash the little voice in my head that does play-by-play commentary on each thought as it develops. Like right now the voice is asking whether the prior couple sentences and this entire mini-exercise in raw stream-of-consciousness blogging are just amateurishly self-indulgent. Whether people might laugh at the perhaps implied assertion that the little voice who does play-by-play is unique or noteworthy. Might find it sweetly naive that I seem to see this internal peanut gallery commentator as on or off whereas wiser ones know the trick is controlling the volume and timing of self-consciousness? Fine, so how do you control the volume and timing? How do you really control what and when thoughts enter and leave your mind? (If only the mind could be partitioned into compartments like the Titanic was…) One more level up: on the premise that informs the last few sentences: the importance of what “others” think about you / me / our ideas. Don’t we all struggle to achieve the optimal point on the I’m-independent-screw-what-others-think versus I-am-a-slave-to-your-opinion spectrum? I laugh at those who claim to be wholly intrinsically motivated and who claim to lie unmoved in the face of external judgments / perceptions.

So it’s 10:15 AM and I have not yet figured out whether I’m a morning person. A gap in self-knowledge. A calamity of epic proportions! The diminishing returns of hyper self-awareness. Neuroticism? OCD-ish? The pleasures and perils of playing host to an in-the-head performance whose actors will perform, audience or not. (I.e., Boredom = impossible, regardless of external environment.)

I take a shower because I need to and because that’s where “living in the moment” seems to come pretty easily. Why else do so many good ideas pop to mind when standing under hot water?

And in the shower I am naked and alone.

2008 Personal Executive Summary

Executive summary of my 2008, a bit late. Off the top of my head and somewhat random. Representative photos below of my brother and me swimming in the Amazon and of me signing books in San Antonio.

I traveled to Quito and the Ecuadorean Amazon jungle, Zurich, Prague, all over Costa Rica, Alaska, and rural Tennessee. Re-visited and spent time in Washington D.C, New York, and Colorado. Gave a dozen paid speeches in various U.S. locales. Read 60 books. Signed hundreds of copies of my own book. Wrote a hundred thousand words on my blog. Completed two semesters of college. Turned 20. Won an essay contest. Made new friends. Tried to become closer still to old friends. Cried a few times. Laughed a lot. Dined with famous people but enjoyed the no-name dinners more. Got somewhat messily dumped by a girl I had dated for 13 months and was fond of. Lost 5-10 pounds. Lost money in the stock market. Started playing basketball again. Voted Bob Barr and No on 8 in the election. Ziplined through a forest canopy. Fished for halibut off a boat. Hiked around an active volcano. Met one-on-one with David Foster Wallace and then mourned his death. Thousands of minutes on treadmill and thousands of push-ups. Took in a few sunsets. Played 30 games of chess and too few games of ping-pong. Recorded a few commentaries for NPR. Philosophized. Watched too many Seinfeld episodes. Ate peanut-butter Clif bars. Worked on my tan. Plotted world domination.

Ec   Booksigning22

Thanksgiving Time: Thanks Dad and Mom

In this post I'm going to do something I've been meaning to do for a long time: express gratitude to my parents and articulate some of the things I've learned from them during my brief existence. Why now? First, Thanksgiving will be soon upon us and expressing thanks is the name of the game. Second, when Tim Russert tragically died a few months ago, there were plenty of touching articles about his relationship with his father (documented in his book Big Russ and Me) and on that day I vowed to write this post. Third, over the years my mentor Brad Feld has written movingly about his father and mother and inspired me to do the same. What follows are informal comments which seems appropriate given that the learning is not over!

Dad

Dad has taught me the value of hard work. So many people talk about hard work. Yet actions speak louder than words. There's no better way to internalize the hard work habit than to witness it first-hand as a kid every day growing up. In building a successful career and life for himself, Dad embodies the value of focused perseverance.

In addition to work ethic, Dad's writing and speaking skills have taken him far, and he's shared those gifts with me. Dad taught me how to write. In the early days of my fledgling business career, I showed him literally dozens of drafts of business plans, memos, brochures. On each page, he deployed his red pen to suggest ways to make the writing more economical and precise. Dad prized clarity above all, and so from age 12 on I have been pushed to articulate my thinking in as straightforward a manner as possible.

I've also learned from Dad what it means to be serious about something. You can't be "serious" about everything, so choose wisely which things deserve your focus and then hold yourself to high standards when pursuing them.

Dad's taught me intelligence matters but effectively communicating the fruits of your intelligence matters more, that dreams and imagination are nice but one must be grounded in the messy realities of life, that most any scenario can be analyzed by evaluating options, costs, and benefits, and that, through it all, you must never surrender your sense of humor. Seinfeld, after all, was the one TV show that we were encouraged to watch growing up.

Dadbensandiego_small (Dad and me in San Diego, December 2005.)

Mom

Mom was the central figure in my childhood. As a kid I went to museums and parks and the library with her. Throughout the adventures she imparted valuable life skills. She taught me how to shake someone's hand and look a person in the eye. She taught me how to sit at a dinner table and be courteous. The little things.

When I began expressing business interests, Mom didn't push me back to "normal" activities, but neither did she irrationally cheerlead like many moms I see. She was happy if I was happy, a sentiment that's easy to talk about but extremely hard to believe, let alone convey, as a parent.

Mom has taught me about frugality, about doing more with less, about how to use coupons at the supermarket and find wearable clothes at Goodwill.

An intellectual through and through, Mom has showed me the pleasures of unleashed natural curiosity. She reads more than anyone I know and brings to bear an outstanding command of history, art, and literature. As a student, she lived overseas and through her example I took an interest in traveling, now one of my greatest passions. Together we delight in the mysteries of other cultures.

The life of the mind aside, above all, Mom has taught me that heart is more important than brain and that who you are matters more than what you know or do. She's taught me that a rich interior life can sustain a person through stretches of solitude. And that a strong family is the best way to feel a little less alone in the world.

Dad, Mom: I love you. Thanks for being there for me every step of the way for my first 20 years on this planet.

Momandmejapan_blog  (Mom and me in the Japanese alps, June 2006.)

A Weekend in the Smoky Mountains

As part of my ongoing commitment to "bulk positive randomness" and my focus on meeting more people under 30 who are at a similar professional point as me, I participated in a retreat in Tennessee last weekend with about 15 other entrepreneurs, consultants, writers, and grad students.

Everyone was under age 30 (most under 25) and we spent three nights living in a huge house (11+ bedrooms, two kitchens, two living rooms) nestled next to the Great Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee.

Besides a couple organized conversations and two yoga sessions (including a 30 min Laughter Yoga session which was fascinating and fun and I recommend everyone do it at least once), the weekend was totally unstructured. The itinerary was: wake up, sit around and talk to others, continue talking, eat, talk some more, eat again, talk some more, go to bed, repeat.Crootofsunset5_2

I was reminded that where you are can affect the quality of what you talk about. Since many of us traveled from California to a very redneck part of the South, it made us more committed to getting the most out of the experience. It also was just culturally interesting and memorable. We smoked a pig for 11 hours and ate with with real BBQ sauce. We went out for lunch one day at a place that served almost entirely meat and fried things. The accent was strong. The religious imagery ubiquitous. These new and different sights and smells colored the conversation in an interesting way, I think.

Right after arriving at the house, I was talking to a young guy about water issues and he did three things that immediately soared through my "litmus tests" for determining whether I’ll like someone. First, he took notes as we talked, jotting down book references and ideas. Second, he revealed he had a blog (usually suggests intellectual curiosity). Third, he referenced the TED Talks which is not an indicator in and of itself but suggests he probably consumes the same kind of online intellectual content as me (like Bloggingheads or BookForum or blogs in general).

I am cautious about attending events or conferences. Most conferences are a waste of time or money. There’s too much variance in the quality of the attendees, the speakers are hit-or-miss, the networking opportunities are rushed, and the actual learning (for me) could be better obtained on my own. But, like the St. Gallen Symposium or two other off-the-record events I participate in, when there’s a strong filter on attendees and when there’s an emphasis on conversation instead of dreadful "expert" panels or keynote speakers, the group dynamic among like minds can be uniquely stimulating.