Personality tests

I’m reading the wonderful book Principles by Ray Dalio. It deals with the very personal views and practices of the legendary hedge fund manager, applicable to life and work. The book is full of insights and I certainly recommend you go and buy it right away. You´ll probably be shocked the extreme rational approach to decision making, including a somewhat scary computer aided process where he argues that in a few years we will be delegating most of the heavy lifting of our personal decisions to machines, based on algorithms we will control and program. He argues: only the people that will be fluent in computer programming will be competitive in that future. Ok, I’m on the good track then.

But while the previous point deserves a post on its own, it is the approach to people management that I wanted to highlight in this one. In Dalio’s company, Bridgewater, people go through up to 4 different psychological tests in order to profile them (for the curious: Myers-Briggs, Workplace Personality Inventory, Team Dimensions Profile, Stratified Systems Theory.) Each person’s profile highlights her inclinations, strengths and weaknesses. Those profiles get printed on cards (like baseball trading cards he says) and are publicly available to everyone. The result is a very granular management of people based on what they like and do best. Teams are assembled to mix the skills required. Sessions are held so people with different profiles learn to deal with one another. As I mentioned, a super rational approach to decision making.

I compare this approach to other reductionist. People get evaluated using one number, which reflects whether they are excellent, good, normal, mediocre or weak. That’s it. At Bridgewater, for instance, people get profiled on whether they are: creators, advancers, refiners or executors. There’s no expectations that people can do the 4 well. In the most habitual reductionist approach, people’s performance will end being a blend of everything and nothing in particular. We average everything, just as it happens in school, and end up being mediocre in our management.

This more granular approach seems more human to me, as people find their natural space in the organization, getting entrusted with responsibilities that fit them properly. By missing out this granularity, we tend to alienate people that do not have a CEO type broad range of skills. This is obviously bad for the person and for the company. So this is not only more human, but more productive too.

My wife’s school has started to apply (within the constraints of law) a similar approach, endorsing the multiple intelligences paradigm to teach. This model is founded in the fact that intelligence cannot be reduced to a number (famous IQ) but is a combination of different intelligences (logic, linguistic, kinetic, musical, … wikipedia can help you know more.) By acknowledging this and approaching teaching from different angles, every kid gets to fit in some of them and does not alienate. Sounds good to me.

I couldn’t resist doing the Myers-Briggs test and found the results sort of obvious but enlightening still. My type is INFP for those curious. I can recognize the natural strengths of the type in me: bias towards opportunities, catalyst of new ideas, willing to understand people and lovers of creativity in general. More interesting perhaps, is to be aware of the drawbacks: too idealistic may not land the ideas into actions, too emotional in decision making, too detached from facts and reality. It gives you a hint on who should you partner with to be effective, what stresses you out, and what strategies can you adopt to deal with that. Useful stuff.

I understand this approach is still too reductionist, but better than what we have today. No matter what, it makes you think about yourself and how you deal with others, which is a good thing in any case. I believe this direction only makes sense. We spend weeks profiling IT tools before we make a decision on which one to choose but we pick people for a job because ”that guy is good”. I’ll be looking for ways to endorse this idea when assembling teams in the future.

See you next week.