16Personalities Insight: An INFP Addiction

What I Have in Common with Johnny-5

Who is Johnny-5? A sentient robot from the 1986 movie Short Circuit.

Early in 2018, I attended an immersive bootcamp for UX Design through DevMountain in Salt Lake City. For the first day of class we were supposed to present on some pre-course work and our results from the personality test from 16Personalities.com. I shared a general overview to the class but there was one specific line that stuck with me that I wanted to dive into a little deeper.

But First…Caveats

I’d say I’ve done an unusually high number of aptitude and placement tests over the years. They’ve mostly just been OK, but have provided some nice direction from time to time.

Although I really like the Clifton StrengthsFinder for it’s proactive and team-building focus*, I also added a few links at the end of this article to alternate views of the value of these tests that I think are also valuable to keep in mind.

Even so, my experience with 16Personalities was unique in it’s flattery and the results matched with a lot of effort I’ve made over the last few years to improve and be better—although that probably biased how I answered the questionnaire, the results were still very interesting and insightful.

*CliftonStrengths results: Input, Adaptability, Individualization, Ideation, Context—heavy on strategic thinking and relationship building.

INFP-Assertive (Mediator)

“Wow, they’ve got you pegged” -My Wife

The Mediator, Diplomat, Confident Individualism

According to 16Personalities.com, I am a member of the Mediator (INFP-Assertive) tribe. A rare-ish breed of quiet, principled do-gooders who enjoy time alone to ponder on the beauties of the universe and make good things happen…more or less.

“Poetic, kind and altruistic people, always eager to help a good cause.” –16Personalities.com

Very Flattering…Even in Critique

How good of a Mediator I actually am is up for debate, but I quite like the person it describes. Even most of the criticisms are fine by me—I prefer to work in teams anyway, and that is a perfect place for a diversity of specialists.

Being “too idealistic” and “too altruistic” are certainly problems if left unchecked, but sprinkling in a few more of these people around to solve problems seems like a good idea to me—obviously. Adding an “empathy specialist” to the same team as a “nuts and bolts guy” is a great example of where 1 + 1 can equal more than 2.

The one critique I do bristle at is in the suggestion that Mediators are weak with logic and facts. Those may not be natural strengths but I’ve found them immensely valuable and a lot of fun to work on, but we’ll come back to that later.

Most Interesting Line

Within the context of everything else, this little nugget grabbed my attention:

“INFPs combine their intuitive nature with their open-mindedness to allow them to see things from unconventional perspectives…being able to connect many far-flung dots into a single theme.” –16Personalities.com

This sounds an awful lot like a math equation—repeatable and predictable. If true, it removes the mystical voodoo of how to get good ideas.

Intuitive Nature + Open-Mindedness = Unconventional Perspective

The results may feel like magic at times but the ingredients aren’t.

Take two cups of good, solid information; sweeten with one cup empathy and understanding; season with a teaspoon of examples; simmer for two hours. The result is consistently unique and helpful and, just like with cookies, better ingredients yield better results.

“Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.” –Nicholas Negroponte

If cooking ingredients can equate to research and input this should be pretty easy to replicate over and over again. Let’s take a closer look at the two types of input needed in this formula.

Johnny-5 got a rush from new input—I feel him. Those lightbulb moments are wildly energizing!

Intuitive Nature: Maybe this comes more natural to some people but it always requires effort to hone and can definitely be improved. It seems to suggest a sensitivity and awareness of things outside of ourselves and requires some understanding of how the world actually works. Some take the easy path of knowledge and learn just enough of the answer so they can tell it to someone else — the higher road is continuing beyond a simple “answer” to understand the inherent nuances and implications. This is my favorite description of wisdom and wisdom has to be proactive.

Open-Mindedness: Fortunately, this has zero relation to natural talent, just effort. I am more and more convinced that any time we get too many of the same types of people together for too long, we’re gonna have problems. There is a lot of value in the differences and friction between ideas. That opposition can be painful but it helps refine the good and eliminate the bad to an ever more precise measure. The easy path here is ready acceptance of superficial facts and confirmation bias—the higher road is taking the time to learn and embracing an increased measure of cognitive dissonance. For example, if someone thinks the sky is always purple, you don’t gain anything by simply dismissing them. Arguing about it may be fruitless, but what if you discovered something like a color blindness in either you or your friend? Finally realizing that can release a mountain of frustration and feeling of isolation. A step further might lead to cooperation to understand the deeper science behind the phenomena.

SOAPBOX MOMENT: Both intuition and openness are “input.” In a time where the digital world has spoiled us for access to information, new ideas and fresh perspectives should be everywhere. Sometimes it’s unfortunate when it feels like we’re stuck with only shallow, simplistic insights repeated over and over again.

“Where do new ideas come from? The answer is simple: differences. Creativity comes from unlikely juxtapositions.” –Nicholas Negroponte

Solid Foundation

It is important to point out that gorging on raw input can get very confusing without some kind of rudder or solid foundation. One that is flexible enough to grow with new input but robust enough to provide direction and limits.

Think of a shopping bag blowing down the road.

Now compare that to a kite that has structure and a solid anchor in the video below.

Fancy kite flying at the beach achieved by harnessing constant wind with structure and deft use of anchors.

I would suggest that this is the realm where religions are at their best—providing context and structure for what I learn empirically—but thats a fun discussion for later.

The point is, that the better the foundation, the more powerful input becomes—and they can inform each other. As input becomes more “true” and potent, the results become more exciting. That spiraling mix of excitement and growth is a powerful stimulant and worth chasing.

Conclusion: Bounteous Input Reaps Deeper Learning

OK, OK… Maybe this is all just my “poetic…and altruistic” Mediator tendencies letting loose, but codifying how I have solved the most difficult questions in my life has been enlightening. And helps me prepare for the most difficult problems yet to come. It also validates some of the most valuable traits that I have tried to build, and confirmation bias is always a fun trip.

So here is a quick review on how to gain new insight and free myself from the baggage of weak ideas—at least until my next big idea…

  1. Build up intuition through practice. Master an understanding of how the world works through the social sciences, observation, trail and error, and in-depth critique. Learn to be brutally honest and fair with myself.
  2. Open my mind to new ideas by actively seeking out new learning from people, ideas, and experiences that are different. Figure out the “why” when others have an alternate opinion—even if they aren’t good at explaining it themselves.
  3. Check everything against my core beliefs. Let those beliefs get challenged and let them evolve and stretch but also return often to the root sources of those values to refresh and rejuvenate and make sure I understand them correctly.
  4. Act and iterate on the insights that come and then share with others. Seek out good feedback and let that refine my ideas—they may be new and exciting but are rarely complete fresh out of the box.

“Hey Johnny, here’s a dopey idea…” -Steve Jobs to Johnny Ive

I would love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve got your best ideas. How do you seek insight and new inspiration? How do you build cultures of fearless feedback in your groups?

Counter-Arguments to Personality Tests

In the spirit of challenging my own insights gleaned from personality test results, here are two really good takes on where these tests can go wrong:

Hidden Brain Podcast (Dec 4, 2017): This is one of my favorite programs about how and why we think the way we do. In this episode, Shankar compares the Myers-Briggs test to the Sorting Hat from Harry Potter.

Open Culture Blog (Professor Michael Puett): This is a fun site to peruse and this post explores the value of applying ancient Chinese culture to our lives today. Don’t miss the video of Professor Puett making his argument at TED.


Inside Design Blog (“Keeping Work Weird”, 2015): This little relevant gem popped up while I was searching archives for something unrelated. Glad I did!

User experience and design thinking professional. Curious—with a love for technology, the social sciences and understanding nuance in counter-intuitive ideas.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store