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 profiling method, which categorises people’s innovation styles. One person who saw the demo thought 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 categorised by looking at two factors. First, to what extent is someone interested in, and excited by, each of these four areas: theories, ideas, people and systems?
Second, what are that person’s preferred styles of thinking, working, interacting and living? We use a set of carefully selected questions to discover these factors.
Once those questions are answered, the person can be matched with an innovator profile. The list of profiles includes theorist, ideator, partner, systematiser, conceptualiser, promoter, organiser, technocrat, coach, experimenter and all-rounder.
Knowing a person’s innovation style gives that person, and his or her organisation, the following:
- 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 demotivates them.
What about peer assessments? What the person at the demonstration asked me was, "Why don’t you use 360-degree peer assessment? Then any attempted skewing of results would be balanced by feedback from superiors, peers, subordinates, clients and so on." He showed me another tool that assessed skills using both self- and peer-assessment. It made me ask: who is best suited to assess a person? The person? His or her 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, plus it costs more. So is it worth it? Aside from cost, is it even better? Does it provide better, more accurate feedback than subjects can themselves provide?
The problem with external perception: suppose your peers see you one way, but you see yourself very differently. Should you assume they’re right and adjust your behaviour 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.
In 1999, I had a newly minted PhD 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, Saarbruecken 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 realised I was neither a theoretical scientist nor a career banker. I knew I was different.
When I created an innovation profile for myself, I found 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 I had made the right choice in leaving banking in 2004. I was lucky I had the courage to trust my own judgement over the assessments and labels of those around me.
Peer assessments have their place but 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 to become who you were meant to be.
And once you understand who you really are and how you can add value and create meaning by playing on your natural styles, strength and talents, then you can follow William Shakespeare’s advice: "To thine own self be true."
Dr Detlef Reis is the founding director and chief ideator of Thinkergy Ltd (Thinkergy.com), an ideation and innovation company in Asia, and a lecturer in business creativity and innovation leadership at Mahidol University's College of Management (www.cmmu.mahidol.ac.th). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org