Thursday, April 8, 2010

Personality: Zare the Physical Type

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I've taken some heat for entries on this blog which a few have taken as an indictment of the entire "physical world" of personality types, in particular my assessment of Senator John McCain back in the 2008 US Presidential campaign. I guess I haven't written enough that healthy examples of all types are required to keep the world functioning well, and that people demonstrating the "high traits" of any given personality have a lot to contribute to the world. So, just to keep the physical types off my case for awhile, let me present how Richard N. Zare, a scientist that I clearly admire as an professor demonstrates a physical world view.

Earlier this year, Zare gave the Priestley Medal Address to the American Chemical Society, which was published in Chemical and Engineering News and is available on-line. The speech was entitled "Fostering Creativity," and in it Zare expresses his belief that "creativity can actually be taught, or at least fostered." (This, incidentally, is consistent with Bob Cooley's Genetic Personality Types theory, as Cooley's whole point is that while certain personality types may naturally be more creative, anyone can take on that trait more readily by becoming more flexible in the meridians associated with that type.)

Zare describes a "creativity cycle" that starts with inertia, where perhaps a problem is recognized, but one feels good about overall understanding anyway. Next comes irritation, in which the problem starts to seem very real and one decides to solve it. In perhaps the best image of his speech, Zare points out that, "It really is true that pearls come only from irritated oysters." Next often comes imitation, when analogies to ideas tried before are tried.

The next stage is key, and where personality comes in to this discussion. Zare calls it intuition, and I cannot improve upon his words: requires you to adopt an attitude of playfulness. You put forward wild hypotheses, and then you work to show how these hypotheses are ridiculous. Two extremes must be avoided. If you believe too much and do not question, you can easily delude yourself. On the other hand, if you are too critical, you do not dare to try anything. You need to become a "contented schizophrenic," believing and doubting at the same time.

The contented schizophrenic can accept a messy situation and even revel in its ambiguity. All that is needed is an unfettered imagination. You follow your hunches and see where they lead. You accept that most of the time you will fail--fail miserably--but you do not fear failure...
Zare is invoking all four worlds here. The wild hypotheses come from the thinking world, which specializes in non-linear connections between ideas. He views it as required, but it's not enough to get one to the solution. The extremes that he cautions against come from two other worlds. The process of believing too much and engaging in delusion comes from the down side of the emotional world, which can be more interested in feeling good about a situation than dealing with intellectual inconsistencies. Being over-critical and hamstrung from action come from the down side of the spiritual world, which is more interested in energetic harmony with the world than finding novel solutions.

So how does one get through the intuition phase and find a solution? Good, old-fashioned physical type action. Go with one's "hunches" and test things to find out what works. The duality of "fear versus doing" inherent in the physical world comes into play, with the "doing" overcoming the "fear." Not only does Zare describe a fundamentally physical-world process, he uses vocabulary straight out of the personality theory.

Zare's speech represents balance as well. Besides the upsides of the thinking and physical worlds, he goes on in his speech to cite the upsides of the two other worlds as part of the formula for problem-solving as well, citing spiritual-world practice to build confidence and passion from the emotional world as ingredients for creativity. Yet, it's the intuition stage that is clearly key.

Maybe it's my own spiritual-world bias that is attracted to the upside of the physical world, but I think Zare has brilliantly described not only creativity, but everyone's favorite buzz word these days--innovation. The best genuine innovators I have encountered in my life--Zare is amongst them--are physical types, because they do the "intuition" phase more naturally than anyone else. Lest anyone think I disparage physical types, the future of society depends on their creativity and innovation as described and exemplified by Richard N. Zare.

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