The Moral Molecule

Neuroscience and economic behavior

Why Every “P” Needs a Few Good “J”s

Cognitive Diversity Strengthens Teams

Last summer, I spoke at a camp for entrepreneurs called StartupOnomics. Dan Ariely, one of my favorite scientists and human beings, organized the meeting. I couldn’t say no.

Rather than working with these early-stage entrepreneurs to help them attract venture capital, the other speakers and I taught them behavioral economics and cognitive science.

Like everyone, entrepreneurs—even really brilliant entrepreneurs like those at StartupOnomics—make plenty of mistakes in judgment. And so some education in how to identify these lapses can be very useful.

The first error I observed was that many of the StartupOnomics participants didn’t know their customer. They all had built amazing apps. But few had a clue as to which customers would pay for their product. They didn’t know how to market it. They didn’t know how it would integrate into others’ businesses.

It’s a classic blunder—looking at the world solely from the inside out (that is, with the great idea that sprang from your head) rather than from the outside in (specifically, by figuring out who your customers are and what they really need and value).

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“To satisfy the customer is the mission and purpose of every business,” Peter Drucker wrote. “The question, ‘What is our business?’ can, therefore, be answered only by looking at the business from the outside, from the point of view of customer and market.”

And therein lies the rub: Often, the skills required to design and build a great app from a technical standpoint have little to do with understanding your customers (as someone with a knack for marketing would) or putting in place the strategies, policies and procedures that will ensure your business delivers on those customer needs in an efficient and effective way (as a well-qualified CEO and CFO would).

That’s why one piece of advice I gave to those at StartupOnomics was to go out and find a “J.”

In the Myers-Briggs typology, those with a “Judging” personality are organized and will follow a plan. Entrepreneurs, by contrast, tend to be “P”s, or “Perceiving” personalities. They are great at logical leaps but tend to avoid process.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is based on flawed theories, and it measures traits poorly. But, as a shorthand, it works pretty well, and especially for identifying J’s—the process people.

In the end, we all have different cognitive styles, and designing a cognitively diverse team can help facilitate success. Every P needs a few good J’s.

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This article first appeared in The Drucker Exchange on May 2, 2013.

Paul J. Zak is a neuroeconomist at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA.  His book The Moral Molecule will be published in 2012.

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