Category Archives: General Management

Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein: Behavioural Economics

Arguably, behavioural economics is Richard Thaler’s baby. And an important baby it is too, being part of an essential late twentieth century trend. At last, economists – spurred on by psychologists and social scientists, stopped seeing people as ‘rational units of intelligent decision making’ and started seeing us as part rational and part irrational bundles of ideas, knowledge, feelings, desires and biases.

It is with these filters, rather than pure rationality, that we make decisions. And that insight was an essential correction to classical economics. It won the psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel Prize in economics. His collaborator and mentee, economist Richard Thaler, then led the development of the ideas.

Writing with University of Chicago colleague, Cass Sunstein, they together produced the massive selling book, Nudge. But why is co-authorship enough to justify Sunstein’s place in a management thinker pair, when Thaler led the charge on behavioural economics? The answer lies in Sunstein’s contribution: he’s a constitutional and administrative lawyer with a strong interest in social policy. His thinking helped bring behavioural insights out of the classroom, ad agency, and boardroom, and into public policy.

It’s not just in the supermarket that we get nudged to buy stuff, but when we interact with Government too. And between them, Thaler and Sunstein’s conception of liberal paternalism inspired a number of benign behaviour changes, with no whiff of compulsion. Their ideas were picked up by governments all over the world, including the US, where Sunstein (a former colleague) served in Barack Obama’s administration, and here in the UK, where Prime Minister David Cameron established a Nudge Unit within Government.

Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

Richard Thaler & Cass Sunstein

Richard Thaler

Richard Thaler was born in 1945 in New Jersey. He studied at Case Western Reserve University, gaining his BA in 1967. From there, he went to the University of Rochester, for his MA (1970) and PhD (1974).

In his PhD, Thaler started the work that still occupies him today, investigating the economic value of a life. What he found was a huge disparity in people’s evaluation of the worth of one week of their life. When asked to put a value on a week lost, or on a week gained, people needed a high payment to be prepared to give up a week of life. Yet they would be prepared to pay far less to gain an extra week.

This imbalance is, of course, irrational. And that interested psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. They researched all sorts of biases and shortcuts in our thinking. Thaler became a long term collaborator with the pair.

Thaler stayed in the academic world, holding teaching and research positions at many institutions. His permanent academic homes were the Universities of Rochester (1974-8), Cornell (1978-95) and then Chicago, from 1995 to the present day. It was at Chicago that Thaler met Cass Sunstein.

Cass Sunstein

Cass Sunstein was born in Massachusetts, in 1954. He gained his BA at Harvard College in 1975 and his JD from Harvard law School in 1978. Before returning to academia, Sunstein clerked for justices in the Massachusetts and US Supreme Courts, and served in the Justice department from 1980-1981.

In 1981, he became an Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago, becoming a full Professor in 1985. He remained at Chicago until 2008, when he formally moved to a post at Harvard Law School. However, having become friends with another Chicago Law School professor, Barack Obama, he headed up the Whitehouse Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs from 2009 to 2012.

Behavioural Economics

In 2008, after working together on the ideas in the book for five years, and having known each other for ten, Thaler and Sunstein published a best-selling book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. This brought the ideas of behavioural economics to a wide audience, and introduced many of us to the term ‘choice architecture’.

Choice Architecture

Choice architecture is a beautifully simple idea. By framing choices in a certain way, we can make it easier – physically, cognitively, psychologically – for people to make one choice rather than another. It’s how supermarkets channel customers and how governments secure compliance.

Choice architects study the heuristics people use to make decisions. These are the mental shortcuts we apply, that save us from having to think too carefully, expend too much effort, and take time over mundane choices. Except these heuristics effectively hard-wire biases into the way we make decisions. These are the biases that choice architects can exploit.

Nudges

A ‘Nudge’ is simply a selection of how to frame (or architect) a choice, so that people can more easily make a choice that will satisfy them. Setting up nudges that satisfy you, at the cost of the chooser is manipulation. If you can avoid forcing your outcomes upon anyone, but make it easy for them to make a choice that suits them, Thaler and Sunstein refer to this as ‘libertarian paternalism’.

The tools that choice architects use are:

  • Setting the right defaults, so the easy choice is the best one
  • Anticipating errors, and therefore making correct behaviour easier
  • Setting up complex choices to highlight the right ones
  • Creating positive incentives for beneficial behaviour

The Behavioural Economics Context

Choice architecture is a subset of behavioural economics. This is the study of how real humans (not the artificial idealised, wholly-rational ‘econs’ of earlier economic theory) behave. Given economic choices, we are not wholly rational. This distorts markets and creates dynamics that do not conform to rational economic theory. This may seem like an obvious observation, but to economists through most of the twentieth century, it was not obvious at all. Year after year, new models and theories worn prestigious prizes. All were based on the myth of the ‘rational actor’.

Now, we know for sure that  this rational actor is an ideal at best and a mythical creature at worst, we can start to do messier, but more realistic economics. That’s behavioural economics or, as Richard Thaler points out, Behavioral Economics: ‘why do the British need a superfluous u?‘, he asks. Because we are not rational, I suppose.

Richard Thaler on Nudge

A lot of great content, though edited with some disconcerting cuts.

 

 

Christopher Bartlett & Sumantra Ghoshal: Managing Across Borders

In the 1980s, globalisation was the ‘Big New Thing’. Never mind that Chinese and Levantine traders had traded across half the globe at the start of the first millennium BCE. At the forefront of thinking about how multi-national corporations could organise themselves to prosper were a truly multi-national pair: an Australian, who’d worked in London and Paris and now occupied a professorship in the US, and an Indian who’d studied in the US and was a professor in France.

Christopher Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal surveyed the way multinationals organised themselves and categorised when each of the structures would be appropriate. Their legacy is visible on our high streets, in our back-offices, in factories and in building services today. A huge proportion of the goods we use are sold by multinationals.

Christopher Bartlett & Sumantra Ghoshal

Christopher Bartlett & Sumantra Ghoshal

Christopher Bartlett

Christopher Bartlett was born in 1943, and grew up in Australia. He studies Economics at the University of Queensland, gaining a BA in 1964. He worked as a marketing manager for the Alcoa company in Australia, before becoming a consultant with the London office of McKinsey and Co, and then a General Manager in France, for Baxter Laboratories.

But academia called to Bartlett, and he travelled to the US, to do a Masters (1971) and then PhD (1979) in business administration at Harvard, joining the faculty of Harvard Business School in 1979. He remained there and is not an emeritus Professor.

Sumantra Ghoshal

Sumantra Ghoshal was born in Calcutta, India, in 1946. He studied Physics at Delhi University, gaining his BSc. From there, he worked from 1969 to 1981 at the Indian Oil Corporation.

In 1981, a Fulbright scholarship took Ghoshal to the US, where he took a an SM at MIT in 1983, then did something extraordinary. He worked on and completed two different PhD theses at two different universities, at the same time. He was awarded a PhD by MIT in 1985 and a DBA by Harvard the next year.

And in 1985, he took up a position at Insead, where he became Professor of Business Policy in 1992. Two years later, he moved to the London Business School to become Professor of Strategic Leadership. He remained there until his untimely death from brain haemorrhage in 2004.

Managing Across Borders: Strategies for Multi-National Corporations

Surveying 250 managers from 9 multinational companies, Bartlett and Ghoshal concluded that there are three principal models that multinationals followed:

The Multinational – ‘Multi-domestic’ – Corporation

The Multinational structure is a decentralised, federal organisational structure that focuses on local markets and has only loose central control. They later called this model ‘multi-domestic’, and is most responsive to local demand. The corporation looks most like a portfolio of different companies. Now, these will be seen as band portfolios in which the brands have a lot of autonomy and much of their own infrastructure.

Food and drink, and household appliances are products that most need this strategy.

The Global Corporation

The global organisation tries to gain maximum economies of scale by centralising as many of its functions as possible. This often results in brands sharing infrastructure and services, leading to a lot of strategic decisions being driven by functional expertise and priorities. Brands therefore become increasingly global and undifferentiated in local markets.

Plant and heavy machinery, technical equipment, and raw materials production are products that most need this strategy.

The International Corporation

Here, there is a lot more centralisation than in the multi-domestic corporation. But there is also more local autonomy than in the global model. One role of the centre is to facilitate knowledge transfer among the trading divisions, so they can share technologies and achieve economies, while making some of their own choices to optimise use of domestic supply chains and expertise.

Textiles, light machinery, and printing and publishing are products that most need this strategy.

A Fourth Model…

Bartlett and Ghoshal considered that these three models left open the possibility of a new, fourth structure. This would combine elements of all three, and they also assessed which of the four models would work best, according to two pressures:

  1. Pressure for Local Market Responsiveness
  2. Pressure for Global Integration

Their book on this topics, was the 1989 best-seller (often reprinted): Managing across Borders: A Transnational Solution.

Strategic Options for Multi-National Corporations - Bartlett & Ghoshal

Strategic Options for Multi-National Corporations – Bartlett & Ghoshal

When both pressures were high, their new model would be most suitable:

The Transnational Corporation

The transnational corporation is the most complex. It balances widespread global integration of technology and supply chains against the need to adapt products and services to local market preferences. It is supported by a strong central headquarters, that is able to move managers around to gain international experience and share knowledge.

Cars, consumer electronics, and pharmaceuticals are products that most need this strategy.

From Systematic Efficiency to Responsive Innovation

Bartlett and Ghoshal also discerned powerful shifts in the fundamental needs of a business strategy. Where Michael Porter had laid out strategies that would allow companies to win the largest share of a market, Ghoshal and Bartlett argued that corporations need a strategy to create value anew, and grow their market as a way of winning business. They said companies need to innovate their way out of market pressures, rather than push against them.

They also challenged the orthodoxy that began with the Scientific Management movement of Taylor, Gantt, Adamiecki, and the Gilbreths,  and then the efficiency drives of people like Ford and Sloane. Sloane’s approach of Strategy, Structure, and Systems became the McKinsey 7S model. But Bartlett and Ghoshal wanted to replace Strategy, Structure, and Systems by Purpose, Process, and People.

The three Ps were the new building blocks of a corporation. In a series of articles for the Harvard Business Review, they placed responsibility for each of these firmly on the shoulders of top management.

So here we are, in 2017. And our world is dominated by a range of global, multinational, and transnational corporations, whose focus is on process and whose mantra is people. Not a bad body of work to act as a symbol of what multinational collaboration can achieve!

Michael Hammer & James Champy: Business Process Reengineering

Continuous improvement had been around for a long time. And that simply built on generations of work to improve the way businesses do things, going back to the Gilbreths and Taylor. But in 1990, a Harvard Business Review article exploded the idea of incremental change, with its provocative title: Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. It was written by an MIT engineer called Michael Hammer.

And three years later, the revolution was well underway, with a book he wrote with top management consultant, James Champy. Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution was as much a rallying cry for the consulting industry as anything else. But in the few years that followed, hundreds of companies employed thousands of consultants to reengineer their processes and, in so-doing, remove tens of thousands from their workforces.

Michael Hammer & James Champy

Michael Hammer & James Champy

Michael Hammer

Michael Hammer was born in 1948 and grew up in Maryland. He went to MIT to study maths, receiving his BS in 1968. He then took an MS in Electrical Engineering in 1970, followed by a PhD in Computer Science, that he was awarded in 1973.

He remained at MIT becoming a professor in the Computer Science department and also a lecturer at the MIT Sloane School of Management. From there, he formed links with a Boston-based consulting firm, Index, led by founder, James Champy.

In 1990, he authored one of the most influential Harvard Business Review articles,  Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. This called for a radical approach to creating competitive advantage. It built on thinking that was already around among consulting firms like Index and Boston Consulting Group.

It was so successful that Hammer and Champy collaborated on a follow-up book that was hailed as one of the most important business books of its time: Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution.

Other books followed, along with his own consultancy, and a commentary on the reengineering story as it grew, reached its peak, and then diminished amidst a certain sense of distaste. Hammer confessed to having been naive about the impact his ideas would have on people’s lives, once in the hands of corporations motivated primarily by profit for their shareholders.

Michael Hammer died unexpectedly in 2008, from a brain haemorrhage.

James Champy

James Champy was born in 1942 and studied Civil Engineering, also at MIT. He gained his BS in 1963 and his MS in 1965. He then went to Boston College Law School and received his JD in 1968. From there, he went on to found the consulting firm Index .

In 1988, Index was bought by computer systems giant Computer Sciences Corporation, and became known as CSC Index. Champy stayed on as Chairman and CEO until 1996.  He then went to lead another giant IT consultancy, Perot Systems, until 2009, when it was acquired by Dell.

Champy currently has a wide range of corporate roles, is an independent consultant, and research fellow at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute.

Business Process Reengineering (BPR)

A company can get competitive advantage if it can improve its customer service or reduce its operating costs. Continuous improvement methodologies like time and motion studies, and the Japanese Kaizen, had done this for years. But reengineering is a methodology for rebuilding the way a company does things – its business processes – from scratch.

In particular, it emphasises removing whole processes that do not deliver value. The result of this radicalism was obvious in hindsight, though not what Hammer and Champy intended. Companies not only reduced the scope of processes and found significant shortcuts; they removed whole cadres of staff who had previously carried out the tasks that were no longer needed.

The two principle effects of the 1990s’ obsession with reengineering were substantial layoffs and redundancies (described by the now-infamous euphemism ‘downsizing’) and a bean-feast of highly paid work for armies of recently graduated consulting analysts at all of the big consultancies.

By the end of the 1990s, the reengineering bubble had burst, to be replaced by a second wave of technology enhanced cost-saving under the guise of another three letter acronym (TLA): Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP.

Business Process Reengineering - Michael Hammer & James Champy

Business Process Reengineering – Michael Hammer & James Champy

Some of the Principles of BPR

We can get a sense of some of the principles of Business Process Reengineering from Hammer’s original HBR article. There, he said:

‘At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking—of recognizing and breaking away from the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations. Unless we change these rules, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We cannot achieve breakthroughs in performance by cutting fat or automating existing processes. Rather, we must challenge old assumptions and shed the old rules that made the business underperform in the first place.’

The principles Hammer and Champy articulated included:

  • Organize around outcomes, not tasks.
  • Have those who use the output of the process perform the process.
  • Subsume information-processing work into the real work that produces the information.
  • Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized.
  • Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results.
  • Put the decision point where the work is performed, and build control into the process.
  • Capture information once and at the source.

What was clearly missing was a recognition that some changes were always going to be more impactful than others. If you fail to address the principal workflow constraints, or make too many changes, then the resulting corporate carnage can be detrimental. This is something Eli Goldratt had realised ten years earlier.

And whenever I think back to my times at a major international consultancy* in the late 1990s, I cannot help but be reminded of something another friend and colleague (Tony Quigley) used to say:

‘The alternative to incremental development is excremental development’

 


* I was involved in Programme Management, not BPR

Frank & Lillian Gilbreth: Time and Motion

In the modern world, we often wonder how we maximise our productivity, so we can have a successful work life and also a thriving family life. Two people who could have told us about that  were Frank and Lillian Gilbreth. They did not just, together and separately, make significant contributions to management theory.

They also had (together) 12 children. Cheaper by the dozen, Frank Gilbreth was once reported to have said. But it was Lillian’s work that continued after Frank’s early death after only 20 years  of marriage. And she continued as a researcher, as well as being a single mum!

Frank Gilbreth & Lillian Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth & Lillian Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth

Frank Gilbreth was born in Maine, in 1868. Passing up on the opportunity to study at MIT because he wanted to support his mum, he became a bricklayer. But his intelligence meant that, by the age of 27, he had his own engineering consultancy, Gilbreth Inc.

He had been watching how bricklayers laid bricks, observing as many as 18 independent movements. Gilbreth would later label these motions ‘therbligs’ (see below). By deploying unskilled labourers, Gilbreth radically reduced the number of motions and increased bricklaying rates from 1,000 per hour, to 2,700. It is the same principle that means surgeons no longer riffle through a tray to find the implement they need: now nurses find and pass the instruments.

In 1903, Gilbreth met Lillian Moller in Boston, and they married the following year. Gilbreth soon got his wife interested in the new ideas of Scientific Management and Taylorism – the scientific management principles set out by FW Taylor. They met Taylor in 1907 and were in Henry Gantt’s apartment when the term ‘scientific management’ was coined.

Gilbreth believed that companies which gained from his time-saving advice should share the benefits with employees, rather that use the gain only to increase profits. So he only contracted with companies that promised to increase wages where his methods brought results. Among his clients were Eastman Kodak, U.S. Rubber, and Pierce Arrow. When the United States entered the First World War, Gilbreth enlisted and was commissioned into the Engineers Officers Reserve Corps.

While his focus was on the time and motion aspects of work efficiency, Lillian would come to focus on the human aspect. They complemented one another well, and also adopted the Gantt Chart in the work, extending the idea to develop  the first flow charts. They were convinced that there was a best way to do anything and in timing everything and tracking processes to reduce steps, they pre-empted the late 20th and early 21st century fashions for continuous improvement, process re-engineering, and lean management.

Frank Gilbreth died in 1924, of a heart attack.

Lillian Moller Gilbreth

Lillian Moller was born in 1878, in California. After a period of home schooling and then high school, Moller commuted to the University of California, Berkeley. There, she achieved her BA in English literature. after a short time at Columbia, where she first studied psychology, she returned to UC Berkeley to complete an MA in English Lit in 1902 and then studied there for her PhD. Denied it on a technicality, she went travelling and met Frank Gilbreth in Boston.

Continuing her travels, the Gilbreths were married in 1904, after she returned, and moved to Rhode Island in 1910. She resumed doctoral studies at Brown University, starting again, and achieving her PhD in psychology, in 1915. Her focus was far more on the human side of workplace efficiency.

After Frank Gilbreth died, Lillian continued their joint work, accepting consulting work through Gilbreth, Inc. In 1935, she became the first female professor in the engineering school at Purdue University, becoming known as ‘The First Lady of Management’. She was, without doubt, a pioneer of industrial psychology. Lilian Gilbreth died in 1972.

Time and Motion

The Gilbreths took a rigorously scientific approach to understanding the way employees carried out work, sometimes measuring time and motion to 1/2000 of a second, using photography and  a ‘microchronometer’ that they devised. With flow charts and therbligs, they analysed to a fine degree.

Therbligs

In many languages, the ‘th’ sound is one letter (theta in Greek, for example). Replace the th in Gilbreth with a single phoneme and reverse the word, and you get ‘therblig’. This is a coinage by Frank Gilbreth that never made it to the mainstream. But the idea is ingenious.

Each therblig is a distinct motion that a worker makes. it is a fundamental element of work and there are 18 of these basic motions. Today we’d no doubt add moving a mouse and hitting return. Ever since I heard the ugly word and looked it up, I’ve loved the concept and the list of movements. Look up therblig on Wikipedia to see the list of 18, and their symbols.

Chip Heath & Dan Heath: Made to Stick

Chip and Dan Heath have a writing style that turns important ideas into simple formulations, and illustrates them with compelling case studies. Their three books (to date) are all best-sellers and each is well-worth reading for any manager, professional, or entrepreneur.

Of the three, the first is not only the one that made their name, but the one that, for me, has the stickiest ideas: Made to Stick.

Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Chip Heath

Chip Heath is a graduate of Texas A&M University where he studied Industrial Engineering. He went on to do a PhD in psychology at Stanford University. He is there today, as Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the Graduate School of Business, having also held academic posts at The University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (1991 to 97) and the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University (1997-2000).

Dan Heath

Dan Heath has a BA from the University of Texas at Austin and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He has been a researcher for the Harvard Business School and also co-founded an innovative academic publisher, Thinkwell, whch provides school level textbooks. He now works at Duke University, as a Senior Fellow at The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), where he also founded the Change Academy.

The Heath Brothers’ Books

Chip and Dan Heath have written three books together:

Each of them describes a series of steps for being effective in doing something – communicating ideas, making change, and taking decisions. I strongly recommend you to read these books – I have gained a lot from each of them. Here, all I’ll do is summarise the main content.

Made to Stick

Why is it that some ideas circulate easily? People like to share them and, when they do, the ideas are memorable, compelling and soon become pervasive. They seem to be almost made to stick.

If we can understand the answer, perhaps we can also make our own ideas sticky. This is the substance of the Heath’s ideas, which they present in a handy acronym: SUCCESs.

Simple: We need to simplify our ideas by whittling away every superfluous detail to find their core, which we can then communicate to others.

Unexpected: One way to get attention is with surprise, and then we can hold that attention by stimulating curiosity.

Concrete: Real stories and examples make our ideas solid. Abstract theory is the enemy of engagement with your ideas.

Credible: People need to believe your idea for it to stick, which means giving them examples they can relate to, demonstrating your authority, and providing ways they can access proof for themselves.

Emotional: We make choices and remember ideas, when they trigger powerful emotions, so you need to demonstrate what’s in it for your audience, in terms of self-interest and emotional payback.

Stories: We are story-telling creatures, and we use stories to guide us in how to respond to situations. They make things real and inspire us.

Switch

One of the key roles for managers is to make changes in our organisations. But it is fiendishly difficult. The Heaths argue that the reason is a conflict that’s built into our brains, between our rational mind and our emotional mind. This idea will be familiar to readers of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking: Fast and Slow.

The Heaths use the metaphor of an elephant and its rider. The elephant is the powerful emotional aspect of our brain, which can easily take us where it’s going anyway, while the rider is our rational side that needs to motivate the elephant to go in the right direction. They offer a three way prescription to:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

Direct the Rider
Here, we have to find out what works and repeat it, discover specific steps that will get people where you need them to go, and create a direction to go and a reason to go there.

Motivate the Elephant
We don’t do things because we know they are right, we do them because they feel right. So we need to appeal to people’s emotions as well as their reason. We also need to make change easy, by presenting small, simple steps. Finally, they advocate instilling a growth mindset.

Shape the Path
Change people’s environment to shift behaviours and make the changes feel easier. Then turn the new behaviours into habits, by making repetition easy. Finally, use successes to spread the ideas and engage others.

Decisive

Back to Kahneman! Our decisions are disrupted by an array of biases and irrationalities. We jump to conclusions and then become overconfident that we’re right. We look for confirming evidence and disregard other information that conflicts with our prejudices. We’re distracted by  emotions – which make emotionally resonant ideas sticky.

In short, we’re rubbish at making good decisions!

And knowing it doesn’t help, ‘any more than knowing that we are nearsighted helps us to see’, say the Heaths. But luckily they also give us a four-step framework to help us make better decisions: WRAP.

Widen Your Options
Yes or no, this or that, big or small. Narrow choices make bad decisions, so the first step is to explore a wider space of options. And the book shows you how.

Reality-test Your Assumptions
Stop trying to show you’re right and start trying to prove you’re wrong. Only if you fail, then you can start to be confident in your assumptions.

Attain Distance Before Deciding
Shift your perspective in time, place or emotion. How will this decision look in five years, what do people do somewhere different, what would you tell your friend to do?

Prepare to be Wrong
Overconfidence hides the flaws in your thinking, so look for the things that can go wrong and find ways to alert yourself when events mean you need to shift decision.

Summary

What? You want more of a summary than summarising three chunky books in a thousand words. Just go out and read them!

By the way, there are lots of great resources linked to their books, on the Heath Brothers website.

Isabel Briggs-Myers & Katharine Briggs: Type Indicator (MBTI)

Psychologists and, before them, philosophers have spent centuries trying to divide us into types. Whilst their attempts have had somewhat less of the hocus-pocus and downright prejudice to them than the racial typographies of some early ethnographers, many systems have advanced little beyond Hippocrates’ theory of four temperaments based on the bodily humours.

Rigour in Personality Testing

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that scientists had the statistical tools to analyse and understand personality with any rigour. Even so, the strongest, most widely used personality classification system – the so-called ‘Big Five’ Personality Factors – is still a matter of much research and debate as we reach approach the third decade of the twenty first century.

So perhaps the biggest change that the twentieth century wrought was not in reliability, but in accessibility and application. Personality assessment tools became widely popular and, through the second half of that century, widely used in workplaces to support selection, group development, team-building, personal development, marital counselling, and a range of other uses. Not all of the uses have been endorsed by the developers of these tools. And not all tools are widely supported by the more rigorously trained academic community of psychology.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

And so we come to Katherine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs-Myers. Their tool, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is very widely used. Every day, trainers and development professionals introduce it to new cohorts of staff and managers. These employees often take full self-evaluation questionnaire and are then told what this means about them and their colleagues.

The moments of insight are a joy to watch. The MBTI certainly seems to capture something of our personality, and explain something of our behaviours. But does it? This remarkably resilient and successful tool started through nothing less than a mother’s desire to understand her daughter’s choice of husband. What mother can’t empathise with that?

Katherine Briggs & Isabel Briggs-Myers

Katherine Briggs & Isabel Briggs-Myers

Katherine Cook Briggs

Katherine Cook was born in Michigan, in 1875 and was home schooled. Her father was an academic. She went to college to study agriculture and stayed on as a teacher and academic. She married prominent physicist and administrator, Lyman Briggs.

As her daughter grew up, Briggs became interested in children’s educational and social development. This led her to create a vocation test for children, which she thought could guide a child’s future well-being. This thinking focused on four personality types: meditative, spontaneous, executive, and sociable. These are still present among the wider set of 16 MBTI types.

Her quest was to find one unifying theory, and she considered ideas from many philosophers, scientists, and psychologists. Her own big breakthrough was when she discovered the work of Carl Jung. He advocated for four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. This, along with our orientations to extroversion or introversion, give us the Jungian Personality Types, which Briggs and her daughter developed into their own type indicator model.

Isabel Briggs-Myers

Isabel Briggs was born in 1897, and was home schooled by her mother. Following her mother’s discovery of Jung’s work, Briggs-Myers (now married) became interested in the work too, focusing on how character and personality influence the type of work we might thrive in. Together, they developed their framework and the questionnaire that goes with it. They began a long program of observation and discussion, refining their interpretation of Jung’s work.

During World War II, Briggs Myers wanted to help reduce conflict among people, but more pragmatically also to understand why some people hated their jobs in the military and others thrived.

It wasn’t until 1945 that they did some solid empirical research. With the help of Lyman Briggs, they ran their first MBTI assessment on around 5,500 George Washington Medical School students.   Briggs Myers studied the results for years, searching for patterns among dropouts and successful students.

The Outcome of the Work

Briggs was the primary driving force and inspiration behind the creation of the MBTI from Jung’s original work. Briggs-Myers created the physical test itself, and did the work on validation and interpretation.

The result was one of the best-known and widely used personality tools, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Wikipedia reports that an estimated 50 million people have taken the MBTI. Whilst it is not widely endorsed by the academic community, and is based on largely desk-research and theorisation, rather than empirical trials, the MBTI remans popular. This is doubtless due to the ease of superficial understanding.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI

The MBTI classifies personality types along four pairs of categories. Briggs-Myers and Briggs claimed that we all fit into one of the 16 possible combinations of personality type, and that we have a dominant preference in each pair.

MBTI - Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - 16 Types

MBTI – Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – 16 Types

The Type Indicator is a test  to assess which personality type offers the ‘best fit’ with the assertion that knowing your personality type that will help you succeed in life. The three original pairs of preferences from Jung’s typology (Extraversion and Introversion, Sensing and Intuition, Thinking and Feeling) are supplemented by a fourth pair (Judging and Perceiving), added by Briggs-Myers.

This is a phenomenally rich model and there are many excellent resources online. So here, we’ll only attempt a very superficial outline of the types.

Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
This axis refers to where where we get our energy from, and where we direct our attention. This can be  on people and things in the outer world; extraversion. Or it can be on ourselves and our inner world; introversion.

Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
This axis refers to how we like to deal with information. People with a Sensing preference tend to focus on the basic information, whilst the Intuiting type prefers to interpret the information, and add meaning.

Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
This axis refers to how we like to make decisions. Thinkers like to make objective decisions, using logic and rationality. The feeling style is more subjective, considering special circumstances, and how people feel.

Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
This axis refers to how we like to dealt with experiences and circumstances. The judging style prefers to make a choice, and stick with it. The Perceiver likes to stay open to new information and options, and respond flexibly.

Assessment of the MBTI

The MBTI correlates poorly with more robustly researched psychological traits or types models, like the Big Five Personality factors. So why do so many people readily endorse their MBTI type? The answer, I think, lies in a combination of two factors.

Firstly, while not a strong correlation with rigorous typographies, it is derived from extensive observation and the factors that make up the MBTI undeniably exist – regardless of whether they are truly the ‘right’ fundamental elements of personality.

And secondly, we have our old friend, the Forer Effect. This is the tendency of people to rate sets of statements as highly accurate for them personally even though the statements are highly general and could apply to many people. If this sounds worrying, it is. The Forer Effect (sometimes known as the Barnum Effect (after showman and huckster PT Barnum) is also the basis of much mentalism and fraudulent cold reading.

The MBTI definitely has value as a personal and executive development tool. But if the trainers and specialists who deploy it do not make its limitations clear, they are doing your organisation a disservice.

Robert Miller & Gary Williams: Paths to Persuasion

Robert Miller is one of the people who revolutionised ideas around selling, with his Strategic Selling and Conceptual Selling ideas. But of far more relevance to most managers is his second big idea, which he worked on with Gary Miller.

If you want to sell your message, they found, you need to tailor the way you deliver it to the way  others make decisions. And knowing how to do that is not useful only to salespeople.

Robert Miller & Gary Williams

Robert Miller & Gary Williams

Robert B Miller

Robert Miller got his BA and MA from Stanford University, focusing on education, and his whole career has focused on adult education and training. Following service in the US Navy during the war with Korea, Miller worked his way to become a Vice President at consulting and training company, Kepner-Tregoe. He remained there from 1965 to 1974.

While there, he developed his thinking about the sales process that was to lead to a series of books, and the formation of a new sales training business, which he co-founded with his Kepner-Tregoe colleague, Stephen Heiman. Miller Heiman Group became and remains one of the leading sales training organisations. The thinking that Miller and Heiman developed is massively influential in much sales training today.

However, Miller left the business in 1984, although he has had two extended periods of acting as a consultant and advisor to the business. As well as founding Value Sourcing Group in 1996, Miller also collaborated with Gary Williams to create a customer research consultancy, Miller-Williams Inc. There, they conducted the research we’ll be looking at.

Gary A Williams

Gary Williams  studied biology at the University of Alabama, and started his career in the late 1980s, in the software industry. He held a number of positions in both small entrepreneurial and large firms, including Glaxo and IBM. In the mid-1990’s, he was a Vice President of The Sentry Group, a consulting firm that was acquired by The Meta Group.

In 1998, Gary co-founded Miller-Williams Inc. with Robert Miller. This was a research firm dedicated to measuring how consumer behaviour affects market movements. Williams developed the analytical research method (for which he holds a US Patent).

Together, Miller and Williams also surveyed around 1,700 executives to learn how they make decisons. This research led to the book, 5 Paths to Persuasion, and the much reprinted Harvard Business Review article, Change the Way You Persuade.

In 2004, Miller left the business and Williams morphed it into its present-day incarnation, wRatings, which ranks business performance according to how well they serve their customers.

Paths to Persuasion

Miller and Williams surveyed 1,684 executives for their study. This is a reasonable sample size, but we must note a potential for cultural bias: 97% of the respondents were from the United States.

From their results, they divided the executives into five decision-making styles:

  1. Followers (36%)
  2. Charismatics (25%)
  3. Sceptics (19%)
  4. Thinkers (11%)
  5. Controllers (9%)

Note that Miller and Williams defined styles of decision-making. These are not the same as personality traits and they did no work on relating the two.

Whether you are trying to sell, negotiate, or just persuade to your point of view, you need to adapt to the other person’s decision-making style. You need to identify what it is, and then tailor your approach to fit. This gives Miller and Williams’ five paths to persuasion.

Followers

Followers like to make decisions based on what has worked before; either for them, or for other trusted colleagues. They are risk-adverse, but are prepared to take responsibility for their decisions when they make them.

They tend to be cautious and therefore like established ‘safe’ brands, but are also bargain-conscious. They like to feel innovative, but in reality prefer safety, with a slight edge of novelty. They trust expertise, track record, and in depth case studies.

To persuade these decision-makers, refer to proven methods and real results. Use references, case studies and testimonials to support your case. They need to feel certain they are making the right decision, so do what you can to reassure them that their choice is the safe one.

Charismatics

Charismatics love a new idea or proposal but will base their final decision on the evidence. Hook them with novelty, but expect a wholly rational analysis of the risks and rewards to drive their decision-making. When they take their decision, they will be prepared to accept risk and responsibility if the potential rewards are right.

Charismatics are enthusiastic, talkative, and dominant. They are results-oriented and able to focus hard for long periods.

So persuade them with a calm discussion of risks and potential results. Use simple and straightforward language, rather than trying to blind them with science. They often like visual aids like diagrams, maps, and graphs.

Sceptics

Sceptics tend to be suspicious of evidence, particularly if it conflicts with their established point of view. They can be aggressive and combative, and like to take charge. They are prepared to take risks, but will often try to shed responsibility if things don’t work out.

Ultimately, sceptics don’t trust data, they trust people. So you need to establish as much credibility as possible. A good way to do this is by gaining an endorsement from someone the sceptic trusts.

Thinkers

Thinkers are hard to persuade. They need rigorous arguments that are supported by solid data. They dislike risk and take their time to make as certain a decision as possible. Once they trust their analysis, they will commit to it. But they are also willing to re-evaluate it, if new data emerges.

Thinkers, as their label suggests, are cerebral, intelligent, and logical. They read widely, and are comfortable with numbers, processes, and proofs.

To persuade them, start with lots of data; the more the better. Include market research, customer surveys, and rigorous  cost-benefit analysis. Case studies can help. But they need to be in depth, with highly pertinent details and a significant statistical base. If not, the Thinker will brand it as merely anecdotal.

Controllers

Controllers are mercifully rare. They hate uncertainty and try to cast things in black and white polarities. Therefore, they like pure facts. They are also insecure, hiding behind an unemotional exterior, until they need someone to blame. They don’t like risk and don’t want to take responsibility.

Controllers are fairly logical, unemotional and detail oriented, but they also value action. Not surprisingly, from their label, Controllers like to be in charge.

Persuade them with care. They don’t like to feel manipulated, and they hate ambiguity. So you must demonstrate credibility and structure your evidence carefully. Never advocate too strongly for your proposal. It’s better to give the Controller the information, let them convince themselves.

Complicating Factors

This simple model belies the complexity of real people.

It can be hard to diagnose a decision-maker’s style. Many would mis-assess themselves. In their book, Miller and Williams give clues to help spot the decision style.
Additionally, many people have more than one decision style. They either blend aspects of two or more, or switch style, depending on the context. Finding their dominant style is not easy.