As strong believers in the process of co-design, we often find ourselves balancing different perspectives, communication styles, and temperaments as we build consensus within groups.

In service of this goal, we recently dedicated two weeks of our  DBT Book Club to exploring three questions:

  1. What tactics do we use to better understand ourselves? 
  2. What about understanding other people?
  3. How can we leverage that understanding to help us collaborate and design better together?

Testing, testing, 123  

We began by discussing personality assessments and profiles, of which there are many. Sara Frisk, a keynote speaker at the recent AIGA Design Educators conference MAKE this past summer, mentioned an application called Crystal, which “helps you learn more about your natural communication style, motivations, and behavioral tendencies.” By creating personality profiles and sharing them with your coworkers, Crystal is meant to help you discover your personality, and see how to work better with coworkers. 

After we each completed the Crystal assessment, and found its insights to be pretty accurate and valuable in how we perceive ourselves, we started to wonder if more assessments would lead to more understanding. 

We looked at 16 Personalities (which helps you to “get a concrete, accurate description of who you are and why you do things the way you do—for free) and Gretchen Rubins’ 4 Tendencies Quiz, (which claims to allow you to improve your life, as well as the lives of others by discovering whether you are an Upholder, a Questioner, an Obliger or a Rebel). After taking several, we found ourselves asking the following questions:

What’s the value in knowing your strengths and/or classifications? What can be the detriment?

While these tests may help you to understand yourself and others, we need to also be mindful that we’re not using labels to simply categorize people. For example, when you look at someone from a Meyers-Briggs profile perspective and saying, “Oh, they’re an ESTJ! That’s why they are behaving that way.”

Have you or anyone else you know taken one of these tests and said, “It’s spot on!” and there are no discrepancies at all?—Maybe… However, we like to believe that you can better understand people’s actions and behaviors based on looking at their traits, supplemental to what they say, do and make (thank you, Liz Sanders!) versus forming expectations based on their “category.”

Is it fate or just traits?

While it’s debatable whether or not a person can change their personality, it seems when we look at these kinds of tests and profiles in trying to better understand ourselves, we tend to accept that these traits or assessments define for us for who we are.

But is that it? Are we merely a reflection of what these tests tell us? Or can you change, adjust or improve on what these say? For example, if a test revealed that someone was highly analytical and independent then should they just accept that’s the way they are and will be? — We say, heck no!

In the book, Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success (from the same awesome folks who wrote Crucial Conversations—a book everyone in the world needs to read, if you ask us), the authors state that every personal change begins with self-reflection. You must be aware of who you are, where you want to go and your goals—focusing on reflection, awareness and habits. In considering how we grow as people, the one section that we honed in on identified six sources of influence to help you transform yourself... Nice and practical, just how we like things. 

Of these 6 sources, 1 especially resonated with us: Start loving what you hate 
There’s always difficult things in life that you have to do, but “hate” to (or strongly dislike). On one hand, you can accept that you don’t like doing this thing and choose that, that’s the way you are. OR, rather than being stuck in a “fixed mindset” (see our past blog posts on The Design Thinking Mindset), you can employ specific tactics to start loving what you hate. 

One specific tactic we liked was: Visit your default future. ¹
To do this, you focus on the outcomes. What will happen if you did that thing that you hate? Can you see yourself far ahead of that thing that you hate—what happens when you complete it? How will you feel? What will you have accomplished once it’s done? 

Let’s look at this example regarding our disdain for “doing the dishes.”
We asked ourselves: How will we feel if the dishes were done? What will our lives be like when the dishes are done?  

We would feel less stressed out. Our kitchen would be less cluttered, therefore making our minds also feel less cluttered and ready to tackle new things. We’d be ready to take on the world… once the dishes are done.

Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

So should we be focusing more on the traits that we can take on, versus the role assigned to us by a personality type? Ralph Waldo Emerson would probably say so. In his famous text, Self Reliance and Other Essays, he says to “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self.”  When it comes to understanding yourself, and forming new habits to become your best self, we believe that employing Design Thinking in your everyday life can have a profound impact. 

Bernard Roth, a prominent Stanford engineering professor, says that design thinking can help everyone form the kind of lifelong habits that solve problems, achieve goals and help make our lives better. “We are all capable of reinvention,” says Dr. Roth, a founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford and author of the book, “The Achievement Habit.” 

Design has been described as “a constructive and optimistic process of searching for possibilities.”² How might we approach our lives in the same way?  If we intend to be our best selves, then through intentional behaviors and actions we can change our mindsets, and form lifelong habits to help us get there. 

Some helpful references:  
1. There’s something to be said for the power of visualization and envisioning. Stay tuned for more on this in future posts 😉 
2. Body, John, Nina Terrey, and Leslie Tergas. 2010. “Design Facilitation as an Emerging Design Skill: A Practical Approach.” DTRS8: Interpreting Design Thinking, University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, 19-20 October, 61–70.

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