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How We Create Is What We Create

Our preferences and capabilities determine our outcomes.

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there.” (Lewis Carroll)

A trip through the MET or the Hermitage or the Louvre reveals the history of western civilization in the color and form of paint and plaster. Renaissance artists like Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael used scientific instruments and employed the laws of perspective passed down from classical antiquity to create realistic representations of significant religious and secular subjects. Conversely, impressionist painters like Monet, Renoir, and Pissarro emphasized the experience and changing effects of light and color on the subjective perception of nature and ordinary life. Abstract expressionists like Picasso, Kandinsky and Pollock moved away from representation all together in favor of the spontaneous moment of creation, the surface qualities of the paint and the destruction of convention. While these art works hang in the same halls under the general subject heading of painting or sculpture, the methods used to create them and the ends to which they were created couldn’t be more different. Imagine the Mona Lisa painted with the wild palette knife and exaggerated strokes of Vincent Van Gogh. The same holds true in our own lives where we perceive our reality, interpret our circumstances and craft our art via a wide array of experiences and techniques. Through our unique mix of imagination, brush strokes, color and line, how we create is what we create.

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From ancient astrology to modern management theory, we recognize the mitigating affect of types. Our style and propensities attract us to particular patterns of behavior. We explain our preferences, actions and foibles by connecting them to a particular variety or situation—Sagittarius, ENTP or second oldest child. Theories of type often point to the origin or device that produces our categorical differences. These range from our personal experiences to our biological disposition. Assigning an origin to our personality type speaks as much to our world view, how we believe the cosmos operates in our life, as it does to our perception of the type itself. Was it our hard work and diligence that created this attribute or our innate talents or the hand of God guiding us along…or all the above?

So, while we are unsure as to what really produces the mosaic of the Self, we can observe how recognizable types influence how we are going to take action. Typologies don’t reveal much about our competency or range, but rather if we are more prone to use our right or left hand under duress. For example, while most effective leaders utilize a portfolio of management techniques, some focus on vision or values; yet others processes or goals. These preferences reflect deeper views on alignment and balance and influence everything from who gets hired to what methods are employed to get the job done.

By placing the individual at the center of a passive universe, we regrettably animate the debilitating effects of the designation of type without due consideration of the active role that the situation plays. This produces stereotypes, typologies driven by our prejudices which mistakenly connect cultural differences to attitude, aptitude and disposition.

  • Our preferences and capabilities determine our outcomes

Jeff DeGraff

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Jeff DeGraff, Ph.D., is a professor at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

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