Just spent a day working in Tableau, looking at our some of our aggregated Birkman data and then writing new algorithms and libraries for our two web apps, expresso (for employees in large organisations) and hoozyu (for young people preparing for life and marketplace). Always great to get a clear day for some development work.

But here’s the thing: the story the data tells is one I know well, but which is profoundly important to understanding how people and organisations function; namely, that what you see is not what you get. He / she / it is not what it seems. Appearances are, in fact, misleading, along with first impressions, honeymoon periods and (especially) job interviews. It isn’t that “how I seem to be” isn’t quite the whole story; it may even be hugely misleading, if you want to know who I really am.

We are not talking “good and bad” here. As the late Dr Roger W. Birkman realised decades ago, “how I expect myself to behave” is not at all the same as “how I most fundamentally understand and perceive the world around me”. Neither perspective is better nor worse than the other (although the latter is more profound); it is just that I see myself through one set of lenses - and, unconsciously, everybody else through another. 

And here’s the kicker: if you want someone to develop and deliver their full potential, you have to get them consciously plugging into, and working out of, that previously unconscious perspective. Otherwise, they spend their whole life trying to be one thing, and constantly being ambushed by their blind-spots and unacknowledged expectations.

How many people are we talking about? Well, it depends a bit on how you draw the lines, but looking at the detailed individual data (n. 5,671) I have spent the day immersed in: 

  • 23% should be broadly understood by people who observe them (although only around 7% have complete consistency between what they expect of themselves and of others)
  • everybody else is open to some significant degree of being misread by others (and even by themselves), including that happy segment, of just over 14%, who are really in the realms of “no one could guess who you really are, underneath it all, even in a million years”.

Think this doesn’t matter? I have been working with this approach for 17 years now, and in that time, the number of workplace issues I have been asked to look at and that were not largely explained by this single issue - namely that “how you read me” is not “exactly who I am” - is precisely … zero. 

Originally posted on LinkedIn - Published June 22, 2016