(continued from Personality Sorters and Social Media – Part I)

There is an Easop’s fable I rather like. It goes something like this:

Two pots, one made of clay, the other of brass, were swept down a river in a flood. The brass pot said to the clay pot, “stay by my side and I will protect you.”

“Thank you for your offer,” said the clay pot, “but that’s what frightens me. If you’ll just keep your distance, I’ll be able to float down the river in safety. If we come into contact with one another, I’ll surely suffer.”

In a business (and the world in generally), we need clay pots and brass ones. Different personality types each have their (complementary) strengths and weaknesses, but they can be abrasive to one another. The brass and the clay pots need to get along together; not by being separate, but by working together without damaging each other. It is probably one of the reasons we have culture and etiquette – some rules of engagement that help to protect us from our individual differences.

In the same way, successful social mediums have some basic rules to enable people to work together without too many breakages. Often these simply evolve over time, and they are implicit norms it has been fun as twittequette has evolved in the new communication medium of twitter. It will be interesting to see where services like plurk go, which have different communication metaphors (you’ll have to look at the plurk site to see what I mean). They might be the daftest of names, but they are the cutting edge of computer-mediated communication right now!

The most common reason I have seen for the failure of some enterprise wikis has been the failure to establish appropriate social norms, but that is a topic for another post. Safe to say that an understanding of personality (your own and others) and working social norms is a key success factor in social media and collaboration.

In Part I I mentioned that a number of Twitter folk posted their MBTI(R) in their profiles. Not really anything scientific you can tell from that (reporting bias, uncontrolled tests, and so on), but I was a little stunned to see the vast majority report themselves as introverts. As a reminder, Twitter is a service where you post short messages that the world can read. Not something that seems very introverted at first glance.

One of the wonderful things about blogs and wikis is they seem to put introverts and extroverts in a level playing field (if not unlevel in the opposite direction to the normal). Just as the introvert musician will happily get up on stage in front of a thousand people, the introvert will blog or tweet to a crowd of millions. It is a very different thing than engaging in a conversation in a crowded room, even though it is taking place in the most crowded room of all (the Internet). Just as being on stage is just the musician and their instrument, blogging is just you and your computer. Finally we can harness the thinking of the introverts as well as the extroverts in the world!

That brings me to my next point, and back to the beginning of the topic. There is some evidence that points to our behaviour being situational. Thus some psychologists have argued that all of this trait theory is just bunk, since we change our behaviour (and thus personality) according to the social context. The word “personality” comes from the greek “persona”, literally, putting on a mask or a face.

We all put on masks, to one degree or other, and understanding ours and others is helpful in getting things done more easily. We are, after all, social creatures more than we are individuals and that is even more apparent now that we have more social media to interact through.