The Way People Think – Round 2

In the Honor’s Seminar last semester, we took the DISC (dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance) test, which helps you see some of your personality traits. These tests are always fascinating, especially when taken with 50 other people.  This particular test categorizes you by your most dominant trait, which could be any of the four listed above.  Here is what wikipedia says about the personalities:

Dominance: Perceives oneself as more powerful than the environment, and perceives the environment as unfavorable.

Inducement: Perceives oneself as more powerful than the environment, and perceives the environment as favorable.

Submission: Perceives oneself as less powerful than the environment, and perceives the environment as unfavorable.

Compliance: Perceives oneself as less powerful than the environment, and perceives the environment as favorable.

Who can guess which I am? The answer is below!

Once everyone was categorized, we broke into groups and answered a few questions.  One of the people in the Honor’s office told us a few trends that we would see.  For example, the D group would finish first. I think that the others were that the S group would be the most organized with a bulletized list and that the C group should be put into another room because they would be loud.  All true.

I am a D.  Our group finished first. And we were super proud of that.  It was silly.  In fact, when I was in school I always wanted to be the first one done with tests.  It turns out that there are a whole bunch of people who are like that.  These people are goal oriented!

It probably won’t surprise you that there is a whole group that is not necessarily as goal oriented.  This group likes to talk about things and often wanders off into completely unrelated topics.  They have a hard time staying on topic.

If you are a very goal oriented person, such as I am, these people drive you insane.  When you are trying to accomplish something, you are supposed to be working on that thing and that thing only.  To discuss other things just distracts from the goal and is inefficient.  But, there are some good aspects to this that I don’t fully appreciate very often.  For example, by discussing other things and going off topic, new ideas are brought into the mix, so the solution that is being worked on may evolve with time.  These ideas and solutions may be much better than the original ideas.

If I can put my physics hat on for a minute, let me make an analogy.  Solutions to problems often look like potential wells for physicists.  Visualize a mountain valley with lots and lots of hills on the mountains.  You can think of different solutions to problems being like all of the little recesses in the hills and mountains:  some of those valleys are quite deep and are good solutions, while others are shallow and are not great solutions.  The optimized solution is the valley that is the absolute lowest of all of the valleys.  When you are walking around in this region of hills and valleys, you can’t tell if you are in the lowest valley until you go out of your valley and climb into another valley.  When you are solving a math problem numerically and you are trying to find that lowest valley, the way to do it is to perturb the system and see if it kicks you into a new valley, which hopefully is lower than the old valley.  When you first start out, you perturb the system a lot, since you want to just check out all of the valleys if you can.  But, as time goes on, the perturbations become smaller and smaller and it is harder to climb out of the valleys, and your solution begins to solidify on one answer.  Hopefully it is the best, but it may very well not be the best.

People like me tend to constrain our solutions very quickly, being happy to be in some (any relatively deep) valley.  As long as we get there quickly, we are happy.  Other people tend to wander around for a long time, looking for valleys.  These people drive people like me insane.  But, they take their time and find really deep valleys.  They also point out all of the birds and deer and bears and etc along the way.

Having a group with all driven people is horrible, since you will arrive at a solution very fast, but it might not be the best solution.  Having a group of people who wander is also horrible, since you will most likely end up with no solution at all, but lots of extremely interesting ideas.  The perfect group has some of each type of person, with the driven people going towards solutions, and the wanderers perturbing the system to find new, possibly much better, solutions.  Once again, diversity is a very good thing.

Finally, it has always driven me insane to see people taking a break from work to chat.  For example, our department has Tea and Coffee every day (every day!) at 3:00.  People gather and chat for 30+ minutes.  (Who has that much time to waste on chatting?)  Well that is clearly the D in me talking, since these people are probably making all sorts of connections and new solutions that I am not coming up with since I am in my office working on whatever.  Intellectually, I see that chatting can be quite valuable.  But, I still sit (well, stand) in my office working on project X, Y or Z, while others chat about A, B or C.  It will probably take me a while to overcome my personality and go chat with others.

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About aaronridley

Professor at the University of Michigan, Department of Climate and Space Science and Engineering.
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