Dr. Darren Stevens
Constructed Development Theory
13th January 2021
Can personality change throughout one’s career and if so, can it be influenced by the individual? This was the question asked by Dr. Darren Stevens in a fascinating and controversial presentation at the first ABP webinar of 2021. We all know that behavioural consistency does not reflect stable personality, but can personality be regulated to achieve behavioural consistency?
To quote Darren: “Whether you are an SME or a global leader, we cannot react to the current complexities of 2021 without increasing our capacity to think in the moment. Navigating perpetual, pervasive and exponential change is the true test of effective leadership, and we can achieve this by growing our Dynamic Intelligence. Leaders, teams and organisations that are able to adapt to this change will flourish. Together, we can grow our thinking to adapt to the challenges ahead”.
The Jungian model and the concept of extraversion and introversion is now nearly 100 years old. They have become reified and objectified over time. And it is this reification that Darren argues still influences our thinking. Following the efforts by Myers and Briggs to introduce a practical application of the model, these were developed into the “Big Five” by a number of researchers, and MacRae and Costa (1987) had the most recognisable through their OCEAN acronym in their attempt to assign measurement and performance in the workplace:
Darren used the term “Isomorphism” after the mathematical concept of structure preserving mapping which can be accurately mapped back on to itself. This is his benchmark for the validity of a construct and having researched many personality tools and psychometrics, he thinks that most fail the credibility test because there are huge gaps in accurate mapping which render many tests meaningless.
Using the psychological term “Essentialism”, he asked what is the point of test results which do not approximate to performance in the workplace?
An example would be the use of a question to determine Extroversion: “I like going to parties.” The issue is that the question asks if you like going to parties, and then becomes the reason that you go to parties. This is the isomorphism element, that creates the essentialism.
The pervasiveness of essentialism has shaped the thinking of Western psychology over the last century. Models of the mind have become fractured as researchers and psychologists have developed an assumption that emotion, memory, the self, attitudes, temperaments, personality traits and more, are different entities with distinct principles and causes. By focusing on a mental state or behaviour in isolation, it is easy to miss its embeddedness in a larger system that contributes to its nature. This was first observed by James in 1890. He knew that naming something created an essentialism. This meaning can convince the individual that there is a deeper reality to the ‘object’ in the material world. This problem occurs in psychology so dramatically that entire fields are considered immovable and unchallengeable due to the nature of the belief behind the essentialism.
Few would doubt the importance of Cattell’s work in developing the four Jung characteristics into the 16PF model, which is still widely used today. It has stood the test of time in both practical application and theoretical research so much so that it has formed the basis of 21st century gamification assessment techniques, where employees can be regularly assessed for their ongoing ability in different situations and environments.
However, tests will only analyse attributes which are Numerical, Verbal, Inductive, Diagnostic, Logical and Detailed, such as error checking. But what meaning do these have? Numerous examples militate against testing techniques:
- A US survey found that 87% of US companies use psychometrics in recruitment to screen out 30% of applicants who are “unqualified” for the role.
- Erikson’s theory that personality develops in a predetermined way ignores the fact that you could be surrounded by idiots and still perform, again questions the effectiveness of these tests and lends weight to the theory that different trait instruments are simply a thesaurus for psychological thinking, rather than a dictionary, offering up the same solution in a different way (isomorphism again).
- To make matters worse, there can be method bias compounded by cultural bias. The good news is that method distortion can be measured, but are people capable of stepping out of their culture in order to recognise the constructed nature of it? Anecdotally, the indications are they are not in many cases.
- “If I ruled the World”, would it be a better place? With high Dynamic Intelligence it could be. In order to be a high-level thinker, one must move through emotion into cognition. Should one feel frustrated with one’s situation, how are they constructing themselves, and their environment? And are they aware it is a construction?
Darren asks what alternatives are there for one’s propensity to be Detailed, Procedural and Logical? In other words, rather than asking the question directly, we ask a question that glances at one’s awareness of their propensity for logical thinking in order to get a measure of their capacity to think in a logical manner, not just assume that they are logical thinkers.
Situational Judgment Tests might be an answer to the above, whether in digital game form, or on paper. However, if we were to apply the principles of Dynamic Intelligence to SJT’s, we might find that a person at the higher stages of the TQ scale would have a more profound relationship with her thinking than someone at the lower end, and thus have a completely different capacity to answer an SJT question set. We cannot avoid complex thinking in the workplace, and SJT’s do not take this into account. If they did, just like trait theory, they would first measure one’s self-awareness capabilities (DI) as these will directly impact one’s capacity to respond in the test.
Despite efforts made, evidence shows that people don’t change drastically, and personality is relatively stable over time. From a Constructed Developmental perspective, this more to do with the human need for consistency. We construct ourselves today the way we did it yesterday, because we want to project a sense of stability to the outside world as much as for our own sanity. This was made apparent in Darren’s data that demonstrated both quantitatively and qualitatively people regress under duress. Our wellbeing is dependent upon a stable construction of self. What is being argued here, is that there should be a shift in testing emphasis for more complexity-aware results.
So if we accept that personality is largely stable because we are not aware enough of our construction in order to construct a new “me” in the moment, this then begs the question as to what can we change to create actual vertical growth? The mind constructs the psychological niche within which the personality fits. What then, is the consequence for personality once we are made aware of our construction of self via the fifty Cognitive Intentions shown in Darren’s presentation?
It is important to recall what we are measuring specifically.
We are measuring first, the score for Internal. Then the score for External. Thirdly, we are measuring the difference between the two. And finally, we are measuring our relationship with this difference, which is the measure of our self-awareness.
In his factor analysis of over 8,100 profiles, Darren established five dimensions of fifty Cognitive Intentions and what was key was how dimension one and three mapped according to Piaget’s original ideas for disequilibrium. In what can be described as a “Thinking Shortcut” only 12-13 of these traits need be considered and linked together to build a construct for the “(dis)equilibrium”. These then enable the building and measurement of a Thinking Quotient (TQ) score, which Darren contests can be more valuable than traditional psychometric results.
There is some inevitability about some variation between testing techniques but what most tests ignore (or simply do not know is available as a measure) is the complexity perspective. Were we to focus on “Meaning-Making” via the relationship between the fifty Cognitive Intentions, it would tell us specifically how we have changed (in thinking terms) between the ages of 25 and 45, for example. It was the difference between what Calvin meant by “snack” in the cartoon strip, and what his mum meant by “snack” in the third panel. Darren proposed that there are three interactive elements and four pillars of CDT which are pivotal to assessing work and productivity performance: Dynamic Intention, Dynamic Awareness and Dynamic Responsiveness, and the pillars themselves: Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response™.
These can be measured using a new scale of self-awareness, called the Thinking Quotient™ (TQ). What is particularly interesting about this work is that when you look at a large number of personality elements and map these on to the five dimensions, correlation differences between factors can vary from less than 2% up to 11.5%. This exercise can be done equally for different ages and working environments and differences will still show.
Of course, work in this area is not new. Spearman’s work on general intelligence was always controversial but Gardner’s more sophisticated multiple intelligence approach gained a lot of traction. As Darren pointed out in his presentation, although these two ideas are ubiquitous within psychology courses, they do not benefit from universal acceptance.
To go back to a previous argument: “I like going to parties” does not take into account the fact that one might actually hate going to parties and only go because they would prefer to avoid (Away From heuristic) an argument with their wife. Especially if it is her family throwing the party. This type of response is not accommodated in traditional psychometrics. Therefore, the real answer can have a huge difference in determining whether you are introvert, ambivalent or extravert. Or indeed, if those terms are simply nominalised reifications of a deeper combination of unaware Cognitive Intentions.
Darren applied his argument to Myers Briggs (MBTI) profiling. A more Dynamically Intelligent approach becomes difficult when the response-ability of the participant is limited to a dichotomy of responses in the question set. If the MBTI were to adopt the four pillars of Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response™ then perhaps we would see 16 boxes of Types at each stage of the Thinking Quotient system, thus making MBTI around 700% more robust as a measure. If you recall, INTJ would not be available at the lower TQ stages. Perhaps something to discuss at his next presentation.
What Darren’s presentation highlighted was that levels of complexity in personality constructs is lacking. When applying this to organisational performance, the individual’s level of complexity (DI) should be matched to the role complexity for fear of burn-out or bore-out. It additionally shows that:
- those who are assessing should have a higher Thinking Quotient (TQ) score that the person being assessed – a more ethical framework than currently exists.
- The TQ baseline of the role should be set such that the required TQ of the person will ensure burn out is out of the question.
- TQ’s like all assessments should be taken in context. Providing several examples, Darren highlighted an NHS worker whose TQ varied between 5.5 and 7 over a three-year period, but when it was explained that she had had a divorce and suffered a management change, these external events impacted her construction of self and were measurable. This is not possible with psychometrics.
Darren considered that Coaching should pay greater attention to TQ constructs. This example provides a stark example of where a professional situation can go horribly wrong. A coach at TQ5 is totally unsuited to working with someone at TQ7 or higher, because the construction and method of thinking is limited by comparison. At TQ5, the coach does not have the self-awareness and balance in their thinking (across fifty Cognitive Intentions) that a TQ7 has, and thus cannot offer a perspective on their construction of self. Any perspective would be filtered through their lower level and thus be wrong. As controversial as this sounds, it is supported in the adult development literature.
In summary the essence of Construct Development Theory is that it is:
- The first measure of Adult Metacognition
- Support for Piaget’s disequilibrium principle
- The foundation of self-awareness, called Dynamic Intelligence
- Built on the four pillars of Intention, Awareness, Choice and Response™
What’s next for Constructed Development Theory? There needs to be a more honest conversation about Dynamic Intelligence in relation to psychometrics.
None of us is under any obligation to be who we were 5 minutes ago! Only with greater Awareness of our Intention in the moment can we Choose a different Response to incoming stimuli. Much work remains to be done.