Monday, May 29, 2017


[I'll be adding links as my schedule permits.]

Many epochs ago, when the world was young, and I still had to schlep through the hoops capriciously laid out by Human Resources-types, I ran across something called the MBTI.

It's supposed to predict (or at least give a good indication) how someone will work out at a given position. I'm not especially convinced it'll do THAT, but I find it quite useful (in a sorta Cliffs Notes way) to understanding people.


Those among the assembled who know me well will not be remotely surprised that in the MBTI universe, I come out as an INTJ. You can Google a ton of stuff about this, but the main focus of this evening's symposium is how INTJness is manifested in what I do, think, etc.

MBTI types don't all move in lockstep and there are variations in attitude and behaviors depending on life experiences, circumstances, family/romantic/work dynamics, etc. Just like not all guys who wear a 40 Regular will have an identical physique, not all INTPs or ESFJs will behave identically all of the time. These are (literally) "types" that you may better understand the person in front of you, once you have gotten to know individual traits and quirks and all that.

So, here are some things about me-as-an-INTJ to keep in mind.

In general, I pay attention to the "patterns" I see in the information I take in. In my head there is a LOT (actually, a near-constant barrage) of "This new thing is very similar to that previous thing in Aspects X, Y, and Z, and a lot like that other previous thing in Aspects A, B, and C." Then I can put said new thing in the most appropriate mental drawer and file it away.

In a way, I'm always looking for the meaning behind information, beyond just the plain facts. I enjoy learning new things and pondering what might be done with this knowledge, so I think more about the future (what can I come up with?) than the past, which is really more of a parts bin for the future.

I'm happy with analogies, symbols and abstract thinking, even before I know how I'll use the information conveyed thereby. Remember, I'm just putting away mental parts in the right drawer.

- I remember what I read “between the lines” about a thing.
- I solve problems by going between different ideas and possibilities, in other words, going through all of those parts-bin drawers and testing each part for fit in a new something that is meant to fix whatever I'm working on.
- I am interested in working on things that are new or different or both.
- I like to see the big picture first, then to derive facts therefrom.
- I trust my impressions more than what I actually experienced, always keeping in mind what is an impression and that my experience of something may be colored by myriad factors.

What the MBTI types call "Introverted Intuition" is the main lens through which I view the world. This is always working in the background of my mind, noticing patterns and analyzing them. This often results in “eureka!” episodes, wherein ideas materialize in my mind seemingly out of nowhere. 

I’ve had tons of “eureka!” moments. While doing something dull and workaday, a solution to a seemingly intractable problem (from a client issue, to a storyline thing on which I've been stuck forever) will suddenly, like Aphrodite from the foam of the Aegean, rise before me. So much so it seems almost magical.

This means I know things without really knowing how or why.

Dr. A.J. Drenth of Personality Junkie explains (all emphasis mine):
“What seems to be occurring is that many IN_Js have a highly sensitive inferior function, Extraverted Sensation (Se), which gathers copious amounts of sensory information from the outside world, including subtleties that other personality types tend to miss. Their [Introverted Intuition (Ni)] then subconsciously processes this data in order to make sense of it, like assembling pieces of a puzzle. Once finished, Ni generates an impression that seems to come out of ‘nowhere.’” 
One of the most frustrating things about being an INTJ is that I can see, "plain as a pikestaff" what is going to happen, and other people can't. (We'll discuss the Cassandra Syndrome anon, but suffice it to say my biggest pain points in life is People Just Don’t Listen to Me.)

"Person A is going to yell at Person B, and then will be surprised when Person B really goes off, Person A will try to appeal to other parties for aid, but not realize this rant has now opened a Pandora's Box with Person B that nobody will ever be able to close and Person A will live to regret that decision."

At the very least, I'm forever biting my tongue to not say, “I told you so.” (Some days, I don't bite it, and on those days you will deserve it.)

This is because Introverted Intuition is the most thinking-ahead of all the cognitive functions. It is holistic and sees the big picture. It does a spectacular job noticing patterns on a panoramic scale. But it’s not sufficient for me to just marvel at what I envision. The “eureka!” moment leads me to work on making it (whatever that may be) a reality.

Dr. Drenth notes this is when my auxiliary function (Extroverted Thinking) comes into play. In my head I create a complete framework for my solution to a problem or situation, with all its parts (remember the parts bin?) and processes.

Introverted Intuition features a very powerful visual element. For me it's as easy to think in images as in words. (Because, hello...patterns.) The visual nature of Introverted Intuition makes INTJs highly sensitive to beauty, whether it’s aesthetic, metaphorical, linguistic, or otherwise. However, this is a subconscious thing, more like being aware of beauty when it is absent. Therefore INTJs are often driven to be in an environment they consider not just beautiful, but -- get this -- immersively so.

Likewise, INTJs are alleged to have very particular tastes (not necessarily what other people like, either) and may be serious collectors and patrons of the arts or culture. As a result, my tastes have always run toward classical and elegant things. There is something about timeless aesthetics (and it's not price!) that meets a need in my psyche—and I can spot the failings in what falls short. The result is a desire for high quality (again, NOT PRICY) things in my life.

I invariably sense the weak link in a situation as soon as I look at it—doesn't matter what it is; how the store counters are set up, a client’s business plan, or what functions a computer program or an app has or lacks. This is not to say I'm an expert on these subjects, but I DO have "a sixth sense for inefficiency." So, I get an almost ecstatic feeling when I experience a display of absolute competent mastery. Doesn't matter if it's at a burger joint or a boardroom.

Also, generally, I have absolutely zero desire to meet a friend’s friend. Unless they happen to be fascinating, I can't be bothered.

Quick side story.

Early on in my friendship with the lovely and gracious Poppy, I was visiting her in Chicago. I was staying at the Drake, and for some reason she was going to be late and she roped me into waiting for her to finish, at the bar with her husband. Purely out of politeness, I said yes. Sat down with him and, immediately, by the way he ordered his cocktail, I could see he was one of nature's marvels. We stayed at the Drake bar, talking about the horticultural differences among limes, German expressionism, and other very cool things until La Poppy barreled in, rather tense that we had kept HER waiting for over an hour.

Also, there’s always a “right way” to do things, whether it’s how to assemble a hamburger (ketchup and diced red onions on the bottom, mustard and diagonally sliced Kosher dill pickles on the top) or loading the trunk of the car. Developing a system makes small tasks more efficient, and guarantees I get the specific results I want.

The problem is I don't see there is a need for explaining to anyone why. As a consequence, I get terribly vexed when someone doesn’t follow the plan or worse, starts badgering me with lunacies like "How do you know?" or worst of all, start questioning my every step. If I knew how I knew everything I know, then I would only know half of what I know, since the other half of my brain space would be taken up with how I know it.

One of my greatest pleasures is in immediately fixing something with which someone else has been struggling for ages. Whether it's a hollandaise that always breaks, to something "unfindable" on Google

I also casually but thoroughly devour information on a given topic until near-expert, then I move to a new topic. When I was a kid, I would look for something in the encyclopedia and something else would arrest my attention along the way and I had to read everything about THAT before continuing on with my original search.

Therefore, there’s nothing -- and I mean absolutely nothing -- I enjoy more than someone taking my advice and executing it as I hoped. In terms of everyday doings, my greatest superpower is eyeballing a problem and almost immediately seeing the way to make it better, or even solve it outright. I can spend all the livelong day spouting great suggestions or insights, only to be told I'm wrong. (And look who dares tell me that.) This is a wildly frustrating feeling. In fact, many of you have often seen me change my social media avatar to Cassandra, the prophetess of Greek mythology who was cursed, in that she could see the future but no one would believe her. It’s probably one of my biggest pain points. So when someone takes my advice to heart, nothing feels better. Fixing and improving things is what I'm best at.

Surprisingly to most people, it doesn’t make me feel good to be told how clever I am. Anyone who knows me knows I generally don’t take compliments well and this is extra true when I'm being praised for my intelligence. Gee, you’d think there’d be no higher compliment you could give than to tell me how smart I am.

But (and there's no way to say this without sounding like an arrogant jerk) I already know I'm smart; I’ve been told that all my life. What matters is what I do with that intelligence. As a consequence, accomplishing things is what matters to me. It's like going into a Michelin-starred kitchen and telling the chef how wonderful his stoves are. Achievements are the measure of applied intelligence.

So, as I hold myself to those standards, so do I hold the rest of the world. That means that precision is a non-negotiable item. When I order a Philly cheesesteak and request Provolone on it, I mean Provolone. If you’re out of Provolone, don't sub out Mozzarella and hope I won’t notice and/or care. This sounds trifling, but it's a really big deal. It’s not so much about the thing, it’s about the way my request is treated. If I have a preference, it's for a reason. Usually a carefully thought out and thoroughly developed reason. Either you haven’t bothered to note my preferences as carefully as I’ve done with yours (and if you’re in a close relationship with me, I assure you I’ve taken note of your likes and dislikes). Or, worse, someone jumped in and made a decision for me on my behalf ("Oh, he'll be fine with Mozzarella."). Oh, how I detest when other people make decisions for me.

Here we get into the thorny issue of emotions. Basically, the way I see it, emotions are your mind's private parts. I'm not going to wave mine around, and I sure as Hell would prefer to not see yours. Again, it's not that I don't have them, it's that they are not for public consumption. They are not a legitimate part of the decisionmaking process. (They may coincide with the logical decision, fine. But they cannot substitute for it.) I have occasional outbursts, and you will think they are weird. For a type considered “robotic,” INTJs, have a deep emotional core. I keep this to myself, not as a defense mechanism but simply because my feelings are private (see above). Expressing them in public is distasteful, like walking around without clothes below the waist. The problem is that those feelings are surprisingly (to you) sensitive.

The ingredients list in this matter includes:

a) A very strong sense of personal dignity
b) Extremely particular tastes (we'll discuss shopping for me anon)
c) Very unorthodox insecurities
d) A code of morals that I don’t talk about unless something violates it

Imagine what you get "if you cross a samurai's code of honor with the idealism of Gandhi and then give it impostor syndrome, you have a working model of the INTJ’s emotional core."

What ensues when these emotions get worked up? As far as you can tell, nothing, most of the time. I keep that quiet and deal with it privately. But sometimes emotions come out in a sudden burst that shocks everyone.

This usually happens when:
1- Someone insults me personally (especially an insult to my intelligence, cf. lying to me or taking advantage of my kindness)
2- I have to endure a pathological display of incompetence
3- Something is fundamentally and horribly unjust

You don't want to be around. You really, really don't.

This might be the number one most overlooked trait of INTJs. Because we have the Dr. Moriarty stereotype stapled to our collective foreheads, people assume I have some kind of force field and nothing can disturb my cold, robotic heart. But just because I don’t outwardly show a whole bloody lot of emotion, that doesn't preclude me from being still "highly sensitive" and bothered by particular scents, certain noises (clock radios on AM stations...gaaaaaahhhhhh!!!!) and itchy clothing — and especially disruptions in my schedule and routine. Because I naturally don't go around giving my feelings much outward expression, it’s easy for people (Hi Honey, I love you!) to miss the warning signs of a meltdown (irritation, withdrawal). I often have to think-through what I'm feeling and that takes even more alone time than just regular ol' brilliant thinking. So you've been warned.

There's a flip side to all that, too.

In his book The Five Love Languages, author Gary Chapman suggests that there are five main ways people express their love: physical touch, gifts, words of affirmation, quality time together, and acts of service. Your average INTJ will have “acts of service” as the main love language. This means having me in your life is a semi-Faustian bargain. A) it's pretty much guaranteed I won’t ever whisper soothingly with sympathy (and if I do, it's as though I'm speaking a ninth language, phonetically) when you’re having a bad day, but B) I will help you crush that horrid day and to make future days like it less probable.

Here's a great example from an online piece: “It was Christmas Eve, and on top of family obligations, I was still working on a past-deadline project for my job. I told my boyfriend how stressed out I was, and all I really wanted was a hug. Instead, he thought for a minute, took the shopping list, and proceeded to do every errand on my plate—so I could finish my work. It ended up being a really good Christmas.”

The funny thing about this love language is it goes both ways. All of us INTJs have the experience of telling a our beloved one about a problem with which we’re dealing, only to get a response of kind words and a hug. That's not helping. It leaves me wondering how long to endure the hug before I can break the clinch and start working on a solution. I get it. I know these gestures of sympathy are expressions of how much you care, and you want me to feel better.

But the problem is that the only thing that makes me feel better is solving the problem.

My reflexive response to any personal problem is to look for answers and solutions, not to sympathize with, or seek sympathy from, the other person. If someone is having a terrible day, to me it's useless to hug you and say "there, there" instead of fixing whatever is the problem. If you need emotional validation from me, this may not end well. When I'm upset, and someone tries to comfort me with words, I want to recoil as if they’re offering me a venomous spider. I am reminded of an old cartoon from National Lampoon, where a Roman prisoner is being crucified and his friends hang a canary in a cage from the crossbeam: "We thought a little birdie would cheer you up." That's what it feels like: getting a canary at my crucifixion, instead of someone coming over with a ladder and pliers.

There are upsides, too. Massive ones. I'm ferociously, yet methodically, loyal. This is a major component of my wiring. This sort of loyalty I expect is not just merely dreamy or romanticized but practical. Any breakdown in "our" system means someone cannot be predicted or relied upon. A relationship is a system and we both need to be able to make long-term projections. And, like everyone else, I have been burned in the past. I don't bother to let just anyone into the “inner circle,” and when I do, I have colossal expectations. A single let-down leaves lifelong scars.

Loyalty doesn’t mean merely fidelity. I have a sense of personal dedication to my loved ones, and I expect that in return. I believe competence and loyalty are two sides of the same coin; I cannot trust someone who just cheers wildly for me if I can't also count on that someone's advice and judgment. If you provide this, there will be no question of my loyalty in return. I will drop everything and come to you in your time of need (or more likely, adjust my stuff if possible so nothing winds up dropped).

If you're one of my can count on me.

But please leave me to myself. Like pretty much all INTJs, I need a staggering amount of alone time, which means time with zero distractions. I don’t make small talk during alone time. This is how I can get my mind to do what it does. Without it, I can’t accomplish squat; I know this can be aggravating.

Finally, if you have to get me a gift, get me a gift card. I'm a PITA to shop for, and I know it.

Summary: Don't lie to me. Don't ask me why I am doing whatever it is I'm doing. Don't doubt me. Don't whine. Don't have a freak-out. Don't seek emotional validation from me. Don't self-sabotage. Don't "drown in a glass of water." Don't interrupt me when I'm reading. Don't interrupt me when I'm working on something. Don't move my stuff. Don't reschedule at the last minute. Prioritize correctly. Have a sense of urgency. Press on regardless. Don't stall out. Be expedient. Don't make me repeat myself.

Posted by JMG at 6:28 PM


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