A Warm-up Exercise
Please take the time to try this brief exercise before reading the main body of the paper. If you scroll past it, thinking that you can return to it later, you may regret having lost the opportunity to discover how you would have responded BEFORE learning what we had to say on the matter.
1. Imagine the following situation -
Its nine in the morning. Sally has just arrived at the conference center where she will be participating with co-workers in a mandatory day-long session which the agency that she works for is conducting. It is part of an extensive strategic planning effort that the organization initiated over a year ago. Like all of the other employees in all of the other departments, Sally has found herself participating in a number of activities related to this effort during the past year. She was invited to join a 'fact-finding' committee, in which she was asked to compile statistics regarding the pay scales offered to workers in comparable positions in rival agencies. Other members of this standing committe were responsible for compiling other forms of information that were valuable to the agency. She was also a part of a focus-group one evening, along with staff members from other departments and consumers selected from various populations that the agency serves. They were asked to critique the services that the agency provides. Today she was asked to attend something a little bit different from the usual fare. With board members, administrative staff, and selected consumers, she would spend an entire day participating in something called a 'Futures Search'. In a methodical way that will require the entire day, participants are going to visualize what the agency, and the environment in which it exits, might look like ten years from now.
Using your knowledge of MBTI/Jungian type, what inferences can you draw from the above description? [If writing your answer helps you to clarify what you think, you can click here , and use an email form to do that. If afterwards you choose to send us the comments you've written, we'd love to see them. If not, just 'x' the message and scroll on.]
It is our purpose in writing this paper to explain why we have come to think of the 'functional preference order' that is associated with each of the 16 MBTI Types (eg, the N-F-T-S for the INFJ) as suggestive of a characteristic way in which that Type 'structures' experience by 'nesting' function-related frames of reference, like a series of Chinese boxes, one within the other.
This new way of seeing things permits us to use the MBTI-Jungian system to 'type' entities that are not persons but can have similar 'structures' - including, but not limited to, organizations, theories, and works of art. Jungian typology thus becomes a much more powerful tool - one which has applications in diverse disciplines. It can be used to expand appreciation for the impact that psychological type has on theory-building and practice in such such diverse disciplines as science, management, and art. It also has the potential to render meta-disciplines like the 'philosophy of science' sensitive to psychological type.
The exercise that we presented above is, in a sense, a 'trick question'. Very little information is actually given about Sally or Sally's type. But since most of us who use personality typologies have become so thoroughly habituated to using these tools for typing PERSONS, we would not be surprised if the first reaction of most readers who stopped to do the exercise would be to try to type Sally on the basis of the information provided.
How many who read the paragraph put the question of Sally's type aside and use their knowledge about psychological type to try instead to 'type' the organization for which Sally works? Indeed, how would one even begin trying to do that? The organization described in the exercise is a progressive one, as organizations go. It appears to be capable of designing projects that make use of its differently gifted employees in a way that seeks to regularly exercise all four of their functions. Nevertheless, it is an organization with an overall approach that has a distinct personality 'type'. In order to clearly discern the type of this organization, however, it is first necessary to make a very slight shift in how we go about understanding what type IS.
'Functional Preference Orders'
Elsewhere we have shown that every MBTI type can be uniquely identified with respect to a particular preference order, combined with an orientation (E or I). For example the INTP is an I/T-N-S-F. There is no other MBTI type that can be defined as an Introvert with an 'T-N-S-F' preference order. What can be said about these 'functional preference orders' that are so important in distinguishing type?
As the words imply, the individual's 'functional preference order' tells us how he or she ranks functions with respect to each other. We think of the INTP, who has a T-N-S-F preference order, as inclined to use Thinking over iNtuition, if given the choice - in the same way that we would expect someone who is said to 'prefer' chocolate ice cream over vanilla. How do we go about telling if someone 'prefers' chocolate to vanilla? We could, perhaps, count which flavor they choose over a long enough period of time to warrant a conclusion. Or, alternatively, we could ask them which they usually eat.
Employing a similar methodology in order to determine the individual's functional preference order, we might look at which function the individual spends time using. Is she usually involved with the expression of feeling (F), or in mulling matters over intellectually (T)? Does she characteristically entertaining possibilities (N), or gathering facts and check out details (S)? If we don't have the opportunity to directly ask the individual, we might look at the words she uses, interpreting them as clues to which functions she prefers. Whereas one person might make frequent mention of what they have been thinking, another will tell us about their feelings.
But simple counting can get us into trouble and lead to mistyping. Because Hillary thinks all day long in her job as a lawyer, does this make her a 'thinking' type? Because Newt talks incessantly about 'family values', does this make him a 'feeling' type? We all use each function in almost every activity that we do. One minute you may be talking about the food at the great new restaurant on Third Avenue, and the next minute fantasizing about a relationship with the new person at the office who accompanied you to lunch there, or turning your attention to your checking account, which had a real dent put in it on that occasion. When we observe another person how can we even expect to take all of this information into consideration, sift it all out, and arrive at a conclusion about the individual's preference order, and hence his or her type?
Sometimes we rely on 'buzz words' that we have learned to associate with type. We hear a person talk about 'merging', and it might suggest to us that that person could be an Enneagram Nine. Or we learn that someone is in 'administration', and we think immediately of the ESTJ. What else can we do, really, short of administering the tests?
Well, there is one method that we have found particularly helpful in this regard. Instead of thinking exclusively in terms of how frequently one uses a function or how often one chooses it over another function, we have come to believe that it is actually more helpful to consider how experiential 'frames' that are associated with each function are characteristically 'nested' by the individual.
One of the skills that we share as human beings is the capacity to use multiple frames of reference simultaneously - by nesting one within the other in a heirarchically ordered series. Even in the most simple, taken for granted, everyday activities of life, there exists for individuals a multiplicity of contexts, one embedded within another, like smaller boxes placed within larger ones. For example, imagine that it is your intent to go home after a hard day's work (frame 1). You get into the car (frame 2 - driving, road politics). You turn on the radio and listen to a talk show (frame 3), which reminds you of something that you have recently read (frame 4). While you are involved in thinking about the second chapter in that book, you shadow the radio conversation well enough to remain in touch with it at some level. And you also continue to be at least SUBSIDIARILY aware of events taking place on the road - red lights, passing cars, turns you must make. You are thus able to arrive safely at home, which is, after all, your 'bottom line' goal in this example. But you are also more or less free to simultaneously attend to other matters of interest.
It is a signficant fact that the 'bottom-line concern' of the individual - the larger frame in which the other frames are embedded - is often relegated further and further into the background consciousness of the person as more auxiliary frames are simultaneously utilized. But that does not mean that this frame is thereby any less important to the individual - just that its presence may be less obvious to the casual observer, OR the person trying to type the individual. Indeed, it is often the case that the frame that is most highly valued is the frame at the bottom of the pile, furthest in the background. In the example above, it is getting home that is most important at that moment, and if the other activities - the radio talk show or the thoughts about the book - cause you to fail to get off the freeway, you become disturbed and describe yourself as having become 'distracted'. Or, alternately, your thoughts about what you have been reading take on such importance that you experience a shift in which the priority of the frames are re-ordered - and you decide to stop off at the bookstore instead of going directly home.
We can, of course, think of alternate scenarios to the one above - in which the frames are differently valued, prioritized, and nested. You may in fact be thinking about your new hypothesis about the Enneagram and MBTI hypothesis when you get in the car to go home, eager to solve some particular problem with it. But in that case, it is no longer getting home that is the primary frame. The creative work on the theory is what is more important.
We could of course also delve deeper into the matter by asking WHY that particular theory is so important to you. In the process of doing that, we are likely to discover yet deeper frames of reference which underwrite your interest in it. When asked 'why is the MBTI-Enneamgram theory important to you', you might say 'because I am interested in the process of paradigm shifts'. And when asked 'and why is that important?', you reach deeper, for a more basic frame of reference. The deeper you go, the less 'specific' is the goal attached to the frames that such an analysis unearths. So at some point you seem to be able to go no further. When asked, 'and why is THAT important to you', you resort to saying something like, 'well, because otherwise life would have no MEANING!' And if asked again, 'but why is THAT important to you', you shake your head and say, 'well, I can't go any further than that in explaining it to you; if you don't understand why that's important, I don't know what to say'. It is at that point that you have discovered a relatively 'basic' frame. And, presumably, if Jung was right, the word that you will use to describe that that most-fundamental frame will be one like 'Meaning', 'Value', 'Truth' or 'Beauty' - one that can be translated into what we might call a basic 'preference' for one of the Jungian 'functions'.
What we are proposing here, in other words, is an understanding that conceives of each 'function' as intimately associated with a frame that can be nested within other frames, in sequences that are habitual and related in very specific ways to type. The type-related ways of 'structuring' experience can be represented by simple formulas that are very much LIKE 'preference order' formulas. But instead of using the 'dash', which we shall reserve for preference order sequences like the T-N-S-F order that is characteristic of the INTP, we have elected to use the 'forward slash' mark to symbolize nesting orders. By this convention, the phrase 'A/B' would mean 'B is a frame that is nested within the larger frame, A'. If, then, 'C', an additional frame, is then nested within frame-B, we could signify this by using the formula 'A/B/C'.
Using this convention, we can write a very simple formula - like 'T/N/S/F' - that describes a specific nesting order in which a F-related frame is nested within an S frame, which is in turn nested in the N frame that is included in the largest frame, the T frame. This particular nesting order - the T/N/S/F - is intimately associated with the 'T-N-S-F' functional preference order that is characteristic of the INTP and the ENTJ.
All that we are really trying to suggest in this article, then, is that instead of thinking of Type in terms of functional preference order (eg, F-N-S-T) it often might be more helpful to think of Type in terms of habitual frame-nesting structures (eg, F/N/S/T). There are two reasons for this -
With all of this in mind, we can return to the exercise with which we began this article, taking the organization mentioned in it as an example of non-human entity that can be 'typed'. In the exercise we are told that the organization is involved in an extensive 'strategic planning' effort, spanning more than a year's time, involving many individuals in a multitude of activities. 'Strategic Planning' is a primarily T-based methodology. Organizations do 'strategic planning' for the purpose of asserting pro-active control over the future direction of their organization. According to the description, the Strategic Planning effort is 'extensive', and this hints at the fact that a sizeable investment is being made in this project. All of this amounts to good evidence for the hypothesis that the 'T-frame' is the bottom-line frame being described in the scenario presented in the particular exercise.
We are also told that in the earlier phases of strategic planning, within the wider context of the 'T' frame, various 'fact gathering' activities were aggressively pursued, and it was implied that this was done at a certain level of detail (researching comparative pay-scales) and with substantial human effort (a standing committee) that signals a commitment to empirical methodologies associated with the 'S' frame. The brainstorming (N) activity, which is described as being somewhat unordinary in the life of this organization, thus appears as a tertiary frame within the heirarchy of frames that structures the cross section of this organization's activities under consideration. The 'expressive art' workshop, although a quality F-based activity, is relegated to a comparatively insignificant place in the scheme of things - it is being offered at lunch time, which is what an organization will do to appease those who are interested in this type of thing, without having to 'take time out from more pressing concerns', as we've heard it expressed. The nesting order, thus, is T/S/N/F. As the T-S-N-F preference order defines the ESTJ, it is not unreasonable to guess that the cross-section of the organization's activities described in the exercise may be 'ESTJ'.
We first began to think in terms of 'nested frames' in 1993, motivated by a desire to explore variations in 'organizational form' using Jungian typology. Our first paper on that topic appears on this site. It rather quickly occured to us that we were doing something quite different in using the 'nested frames' model to type organizations, cultures, and management paradigms.
Some early anthropologists at the beginning of this century thought of cultures as manifesting something similar to a 'personality', but did not use the Jungian framework. Their approach went out of fashion for various reasons - not the least of which was the fact that such attempts tended to stereotype cultures in a way that became increasingly uncomfortable to witness. Jung himself, who occasionally 'typed' groups and cultures, was sometimes as a result subjected to severe criticism along these lines, and was even charged by some with both anti-semitism and racism. Although contemporary Jungians sometimes still engage in the practice of typing cultures - like the analyst Robert Johnson, who wrote about India as an INFP land - this is usually done in the context of casual anecdotal conversation, not as a serious study or cultural critique. An exception to this rule is the interesting material authored decades ago by Marie Louise von Franz, who argued that Nazi Germany was the product of an introverted iNtuitive culture (leaning distinctly toward INTJ). In the early 1980s two organizational development theorists presented particularly interesting work related to Jungian typology. Ian Mitroff connected the MBTI 'core types' (ST, SF, NT, and NF) with four distinct forms of organization, and Robert Denhardt identified the E, S, T and J principles as the ones underwriting contemporary corporate organization. But neither theorist focused on the 'preference orders' associated with type, or conceived of these as related to how an organizational culture might typically be said to 'structure' reality by nesting type-related frames of reference in a particular way associated with preference order.
We are not aware of any recent attempts to use Jungian typology in order to shed light on culture or organizational structures, other than our own work, presented in 1994 and subsequent years - not until recently, that is, when Lenore Thompson, a Jungian with recently published book that utilizes Jungian typology for the purpose of cultural analysis and commentary, intiated a conversation with us on these matters, which was included in the last issue of this Journal. But as interesting as Lenore's thesis is, it does not appear to utilize the concept of nested frames - although in the dialogue with her John invoked the concept in order to offer a possible explanation of the 'rising influence on cultural assumptions of the P attitude' that Lenore had identified. "For a while now Pat and I have been emphasizing 'nested frames' in our analysis of organizations (and their relation to type)", he said, "Might it make sense to say that within a larger 'E(S/N)TJ' frame, a significant 'ES(F/J)P' groundswell is occuring?"
The further we became involved with using Type to explore the profound differences between competing organizational forms and/or cultures, the more difficulty we had in separating out the culture or organizational form proper from the management paradigm that supported it. The unique language associated with any given paradigm, the methologies and epistemologies with which it shares its life blood, all tended to bring into relief an 'object' (the 'organization per se') radically different from the object brought into relief by rival paradigms. We discovered that to type the 'organization' was in some sense to type the 'theory' that legitimated it! And the two tools that we created as supplements to Jungian/MBTI theory - 'nested frames' and the 'five-level developmental theory of the four functions' - seemed particularly suited to this endeavor.
We have found the concept of 'nested frames' indispensible not only in our attempt to analyse large-scale trends presently taking place in the culture, and in organizations, but also in discerning a typological dimension related to shifts occuring in theories and/or 'paradigms' within specific disciplines.
There is, for instance, a relatively recent debate that has taken place in that area of psychology devoted to 'theories of emotion and feeling'. What is at stake in this debate, when everything is said and done, is whether an explanatory paradigm with an 'F/T' nesting order will prevail, or one with a 'T/F' nesting order!
As we have described this particular debate in another paper, it involves the "role of cognition in the 'appraisal' processes involved in emotion". As the reader may recall, we have previously mentioned our view that all four functions have five 'levels of development', and have established a convention in which the least developed level of each is called 'level-one'. We have also shown that the five levels of the 'feeling function' correlate to five types of 'theory of emotion' that have been proposed by psychologists and philsophers over the course of this century. Level-two theories of emotion conceive of feeling as 'emotion', and characterize it as an 'appraisal process'. One side in the debate wants to see the 'appraisal processes' involved in emotion and feeling (F) as essentially 'cognitive' (T) processes, and can thus be seen to be advocating a 'T/F' nesting order of explanatory frames. As we say in that paper,
Insofar as this [debate] is decided in such a way as to favor the primacy or priority of cognition, emotion can be explained as a 'secondary' phenomenon arising out of rudimentary COGNITIVE capacities. This would herald a REGRESSION to a level-one theory [of emotion] - remember that one particular level-one strategy that is used to "DEVALUE the role of emotion was to regard it as a 'secondary' phenomenon reducible to other, more primary phenomena."
But this approach to understanding feeling and emotion is contested by adversaries who, in effect, give the 'feeling frame' higher priority in the way that they have structured their explanatory paradigm. As we go on to explain,
Robert Solomon, a contemporary philosopher, ... appears at first to agree that emotion might contain a cognitive element:
We have no independent knowledge of Solomon's psychological type, but would venture a guess, on the basis of his theory, that he is an 'F' type - or at least that, for some reason, he finds it necessary to defend how F-types experience the world. He does this, of course, at a profound philosophical level. This is not to say that his work is suspect as a result, since his adversaries are obviously doing the same thing - defending the priority of the 'cognitive' (T) frame in the explanatory paradigm that they are putting forth as their candidate for the best 'theory of emotion' in psychology.
What is interesting about all of this, however, is how the philosophy of science presently ignores this TYPOLOGICAL dimension of the theoretical debates going on in various quite diverse fields. Despite the fact that the work of Thomas Kuhn and others in the 1960s, and since, has succeeded in revealing a 'sociological' dimension to the process whereby competing paradigms are put forward in science, and decided upon, the 'psychological' dimension of the process (and, in particular, the 'typological' dimension), has been virtually ignored. The 'paradigm-wars' that are constantly taking place in various disciplines are the arena in which the type-preferences that decide which 'psychological types' will be dominant in a culture, are decided. This recognition circumscribes a new field of study that overlaps the interests of the philosopher of science and the personality typologist.
There is not room here to pursue this matter in further detail. But we would like to present, for your consideration, a few additional examples of theories that invite an interpretation utilizing the concept of 'nested function-related frames'.
Consider the following argument excerpted from an exciting new book by Richard Harvey Brown entitled, Toward a Democratic Science: Scientific Narration and Civic Communication (Yale University Press, 1998) -
"With the rise of [positivist] science in the modern period, however, theoretical inquiry was joined with empirical research, but only at the cost of separating scientific from moral inquiry. The effect of this separation was to advance science by retarding ethics. ...scientific calculation has been applied not only to matters of natural philosophy but also to social policies, programs, organizations, and human beings. In the process, moral discourse was banished... Values are thought to be either self-evident or posited arbitrarily or manipulatively ... No longer culturally taken for granted, no longer even the ends that all means are expected to serve, democratic values now become utilities, costs, benefits, and risk. ...But governance through social engineering, scientific techniques, and expert calculations construes persons as means or utilities, not ends or agents. Such rational governance thus undermines the cultural integument of democracy - the pretheoretical belief in the ethical significance of human agents in a world that is meaningful".(p. 2-4)
How would you type the society that Brown is describing? How would you type his theory? If you had to guess, on the basis of this passage alone, what MBTI type(s) would you say that Brown is?
In a famous treatise entitled 'Concerning the Spiritual in Art' (1910), Vasilly Kandinsky, who is sometimes referrec to as the 'father of modern art', talks about three sources of inspiration in painting -
"1. A direct impression of outward nature. This I call in IMPRESSION.Herbert Read comments -
"From the first of these sources flowed Kandinsky's own work up to 1910 - his 'fauvist' paintings. From the second of these sources flowed the expressionistic abstractions of 1921 and later. From the third of these sources flowed the constructive abstraction of 1921 and later".
What information about Kandinsky's type, and the development of his personality, can we gleen, if anything, from this information?
Less than four miles from here is a small town called 'Watervliet', once the center of the Shaker community that took root there in the late 19th century. Known for their technological innovations (the invention of a washing machine) and the elegent furniture, which now sometimes commands spectacular prices in auctions, one of their motto's was 'hearts to God, hands to work'. Members lived in separate communities, where they pursued their religious beliefs and spiritual practices. Utilizing the concept of 'nested frames', what possible MBTI types might we use to characterize Shaker 'organization'?
When we use typology to organize information about an organization, a theory, a movie, a spiritual practice - it should not necessarily be with the purpose of assigning a distinct MBTI type to that entity. Sometimes, as in the example of the 'theory of emotion' debate that we described above, it is enough to see that the tension at the core of the dispute is between an 'F/T' model and a 'T/F' one; or that the real issue might be between one level of an organization (say, the marketing department) which seeks to operate according to priorities reflected in an N/T/F/S (ENTP) nesting order, versus some other level of the organization (say, the board of directors), which operates according to priorities reflecting an S/T/F/N (ISTJ) nesting order.
What interest can any of these matters have for the Enneagram practitioner? When one has some idea of how the two systems interface and respective types correlate, this kind of analysis can be used to shed light on Enneagram issues, and vice versa - as we attempted to do by suggesting that the E(S/N)TJ frame that appears to continue to prevail in the upper echelons of corporate culture can be reconciled with Lenore's observation that there is also a significant influx in our society of 'pop-culture' values associated with 'P'. This analysis, which takes the latter frame as a subsidiary one nested within the former frame, also goes to show how one might reconcile the claim it is the Enneagram Eight (in which the EXTJ predominates) who plays the critical role in the corporate sphere, with the claim by others that it is the Enneagram Three (associated with the EXXP).