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About Me

Back in the dark ages, when I was at Harvard Business School, a professor there was studying “How Manager’s Minds Work.” He recognized that people have different cognitive styles of thinking, and these differences often interfered with communication among members of a team. His focus was not on personality (leave that to Briggs-Meyers and others), but on cognitive style: how people think, how they solve problems and make decisions.

In his model of cognitive style he distinguished between how people gather information and how they use information to develop solutions. In terms of information gathering, some people are perceptive—they look for patterns, filter out irrelevant detail, and quickly catalog incoming information. Others are receptive: they crave detail and have no preconceptions. In regard to problem-solving, some are systematic—they are process-oriented, they like to find a proven method, apply it and because the method is tested, the solution has to be correct. Others are intuitive. They prefer to use trial and error: they come up with different solutions, then test them, refine them until they find a solution that works.

The professor had developed a battery of tests to assess how test-takers come out on the perceptive vs. receptive scale and on the intuitive vs. systematic scale. We all took the tests, and he outlined the results he expected: in the systematic-receptive quadrant there were auditors and accountants—people who loved processing lots of detail on a systematic way. In the intuitive-perceptive category were the marketing types—people who relied on hunches and loved finding big-picture trends. In the systematic-perceptive group were the production managers and financial analysts—people who liked working through problems in an organized way but avoided the clutter of a lot of detail. The professor speculated that all the prospective MBA types at HBS would fall into one of those three categories, and no one would show up in the last quadrant: intuitive-perceptive. He was right, with one exception: me!

I was then, and still am, a disorganized, creative type (there’s the intuitive), but crave detail, and am often overwhelmed by it (there’s the receptive). Over the years I found homes in computer programming, writing, photography—fields where precision and details matter, but where there is also room for originality and creativity. Of course, as that assessment of cognitive style suggested, I was a bit of a misfit at Harvard. My class included many luminaries, including the CEO of Boeing, President of the United States, chairman of Costco, founder and CEO of a large private equity firm, and an ambassador. But, alas, I am the only poet.