To thine own self be true

Are you really who other people think you are?

A few weeks ago, I was in Hong Kong to teach a few classes and to meet with some companies. While there, I demonstrated my company’s new innovation people profiling method TIPS,  which categorizes people’s innovation styles. One person who saw the demo thought that people might try to skew their results, and suggested a way to prevent that. This made me wonder: Who should perform personality assessments? Before I get into that, let me describe innovation profiling and how it works.

What is innovation profiling?

A decade of watching people innovate, coupled with the research in the area, has led me to see that people’s innovation styles can be categorized by looking at two factors. First, to what extent is someone interested in, and excited by, each of these four basic dimensions and energies that are at the core of TIPS: theories, ideas, people, and systems? Second, what are that person’s preferred thinking style, work style, interaction style, and lifestyle preferences? We use a set of carefully selected questions to discover a person’s cognitive preferences.

Once those questions are answered, the person can be matched with an innovator profile. The list of profiles includes theorist, ideator, partner, systematizer, conceptualizer, promoter, organizer, technocrat, coach, experimenter, and all-rounder.

Knowing a person’s innovation style gives that person, and their organization, these insights:

  • Talent awareness — the person’s natural gifts and strengths
  • Innovation awareness — how the person can best contribute to innovation efforts
  • People awareness — how this person acts and reacts when working with others
  • Self awareness — how this person thinks, and what motivates and de-motivates them.

What about peer assessments?

What the person at the demo asked was, “Why don’t you use 360 degree peer assessment? Then any attempted skewing of results would be balanced by feedback from the person’s superior, peers, subordinates, clients, etc.” She showed me another assessment tool that assessed skills using both self- and peer-assessment. It made me ask: Who is best suited to assess a person? The person? Their peers? Or both?

Peer assessment provides more information about someone, and can reduce the effect of self-delusion, but it can also fall prey to herd thinking and stereotyping, and it costs more. So is it worth it? Aside from cost, is it even better? Does it provide better, more accurate feedback than the subject can themself provide?

Self-perception vs. external perception — who is right?

Suppose your peers see you one way, but you see yourself very differently. Should you assume they’re right, and adjust your behavior to match? Or should you live according to how you see yourself? This question arose for me many years ago, when I was doing a very different job from today.

The problem with external perception

In 1999, I had a newly minted Ph.D. in International Financial Management, but little practical experience. Still, I was able to get a job with Deutsche Bank Asia-Pacific. After three years working in two countries, I had earned some labels from my regional boss and other senior colleagues: “very academic”, “highly analytical”, “intellectual”, and “theoretical and conceptual”.

When I heard this, images of esteemed scientists and fellow academics at my alma mater, Saarbrücken University in Germany, came to my mind. I don’t doubt that’s how my co-workers saw me, but those labels felt wrong to me. Eventually I realized that I am neither a theoretical scientist nor a career banker. I knew I was different. When I created an innovation profile for myself, I found that I was classified as an extreme ideator, which is about as far from a bank executive as one can get.

Although a 360 degree assessment would have rated me highly as a banker, despite my unusual — for a banker — clothing and lifestyle choices, this profile showed that I had made the right choice in leaving banking in 2004, and was lucky I had the courage to trust my own judgment over the assessment and labels of those around me.

Conclusion: Peer assessments have their place, but they are prone to bias and distortion, especially if used to assess inner qualities. No one knows your mind as well as you. As long as you are as honest as you can be, innovation profiling will reveal your preferred ways to think, work, interact, and live. I have found my calling as an innovation expert who creates creators. How about you? What kind of innovator are you? Discovering that will help you become who you were meant to be. And once you understand who you really are and how you can add value and make meaning by playing on your natural styles, strength and talents, then wholeheartedly follow William Shakespeare’s advice: “To thine own self be true”.

Would you like to find out more about our innovation people profiling method TIPS, and how it can help to make best use of your organization’s human capital? Then contact us and ask us for more information on TIPS. Or would you be interested to do the TIPS online personality test to determine your personal innovator profile? Get in touch with us and drop us your contact details in a brief message, and we will let you know once the TIPS personality test will be online (target date: 10.2014).


© Dr. Detlef Reis 2014. 
This article is published in parallel in the Bangkok Post under the same title on June 19 2014. All rights reserved.