Readers: this blog is set in the future (sometime after the year 2020). Each entry assumes there has been a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution and author, How the 5th US Revolution Begins and About the Author.  Many entries are formatted as conversations. Characters appear in a number of entries, with many entries building on previous conversations.  

Occasionally I do a “sense check” about the likelihood of a Revenge Revolution.  Entry #318 is the most recent “sense check.”  One more note — sometimes I write about another topic that does not quite fit the theme of the blog.  Those comments are available on the page titled “JRD Thoughts and Comments.” 

This entry is part of a series is about the coming “Technology Tsunami.”  The series addresses what might be involved and some suggestions for mitigating and even capitalizing on the opportunity.  Entries #321 and #322 are intended to describe AI in more understandable terms, using personal experiences as examples.  

The examples in Entries #321 and #322 are “early stage” uses of AI and selected to demonstrate: (i) applications that are easy to understand: (ii) AI-based applications have been around for a number of years; (iii) how AI can be used to increase the effectiveness of “gut-feel” profiling.

Entry #321 addresses how artificial intelligence (AI) could be helpful in certain business decisions – e.g., introducing new products and setting production schedules. Much of Entry #321 discusses an AI application to create clusters of people with certain tendencies — i.e., “birds of a feather flock together.” A cluster includes people more likely to buy a specific type or brand of product. The entry also discusses how over the years the size of clusters has shrunk from zip codes to neighborhoods to households.

Yet, even as the size of clusters has decreased over time, the focus has been on behavior of the group without regard to say behavior of person X or person Y. For reference, think of ads in Facebook or Google…or efforts to sway voters. All those efforts focus on behavior of groups, not individuals. In the bluntness of terms, the advertisers do not care about you as a person as long as their message persuades a certain percentage of the group.

Even though social media platforms and on-line retailers have lots of data about your purchases, the ads are still a game of percentages. Think of these efforts as macro-economics – focus on the behavior of groups and not individuals.

What about behavior of individuals? What about micro-group behavior. When focusing on the behavior of a specifically identified individual, can AI programs be useful…or harmful? The short answer is “Yes” to both.

As I noted a few entries ago and as a reminder, these write-ups are designed for general discussion and not an academic journal or graduate thesis at a university. So please read the entries accordingly. If you cannot let go of your academic bent, then stop reading and go do something else. You can rest assured the data are credible and the approach sound.

Stating the obvious – to have a successful relationship in business or personal life, the relationship must be positive. A positive personal relationship in business does not need to extend to personal life.   In fact, one can argue that it is better to keep business and personal relationships separate.

So how does one develop a positive relationship? A simple first step is trying to understand what makes the other person tick. How does he or she approach issues? How does he or she interact with other people? How does he or she determine what’s important?

At the end of Entry #321, there was a lead-in to this entry. In the lead-in I noted that, in general, women seemed much better than men at understanding what’s important/unimportant to another person. With age, many men begin to realize they’ve been “manipulated” by women for many years. If you’re a man…and don’t believe women have “manipulated” you…at some point you will probably realize what’s been happening for many years. Just accept the fact and move on. Just so there is no misunderstanding, most of the “manipulation” I’ve experienced has been positive.

So how do we better understand someone else? Can AI-based programs help?

An AI-based program that I’ve found extremely useful in helping me understand others is Myers-Briggs. A person’s Myers-Briggs personality profile is developed by the respondent answering a number of seemingly simple, but quite insightful questions. Based on my understanding, the answers are then subjected to a series of regressions, which create a personality profile consisting of four (4) categories, or general attributes. The degree or amount of a category trait is noted on a continuum.

For example, one category describes an individual’s preference to be around other people. At one end of the continuum is someone who absolutely loves to be around others (and dislikes being alone) – an “Extrovert.” At the other end of the continuum is someone who strongly prefers being alone and finds being around others discomforting at best – “Introvert.”

The continuum has a mid-point. Those on the say left side of the mid-point are labeled “E” for extrovert. Those on the right side of the mid-point are labeled “I” for introvert. The scale is not binary but relative so some people are more introverted/extroverted than others. While all category scales are relative, in some categories people tend to fall toward one of the extremes. General categories are:

  • How people interact with others – Extrovert: Introvert
  • How people gather information – Sensing (more analytical approach); Intuitive (more abstract approach)
  • How people make decisions – Thinking (fact-based, analytical): Feeling (more emotion based decisions)
  • How people tend to deal with the outside world — Judging (prefer structure and firm decisions); Perceiving (more open and flexible environment)

An individual’s profile is described by using one of the pair of underlined letters noted above. For example, one person’s profile might be INTP; another’s profile might be ESFJ. (If you want to learn more about Myers-Briggs and/or see what your profile is, lots of information on the web. Good start is More on the history at the Myers-Briggs Foundation.)

If my experience is representative, one’s profile can change a bit over time or in different situations. For example, in assignments where I’ve been responsible for “blank-sheet-of-paper” kind of projects, I’ve tended to view topics/problems as a set of possibilities. In assignments where I’ve been trying to provide more structure and discipline to organizations, my profile leaned more toward yes/no decisions.

How does one use Myers-Briggs profiles in real-world? A couple of examples.

#1. 1980’s, Buick Motor Division, GM. Soon after being introduced to Myers-Briggs, another manager left and I inherited his department. While I was familiar with most of the members of the staff, I had never been responsible for direct assignments to those staff members.

One staff member had undergraduate and graduate degrees from Ivy League schools. After completing an assignment the person presented a report with recommendations that were about 180o from what I expected.

My first thought was how someone that well educated could have missed the mark so much. While going through the recommendations we were trying to figure out what went wrong. Rather than pointing fingers, the other person asked, “By the way, what’s your (Myers-Briggs) profile?”

When we compared profiles the answer to what went wrong became clearer. In that job, I was prone to paint the general picture for an assignment and not provide much detail. I was especially careful with this person given the educational background. Too much detail, or so I thought, would be an insult to the person’s intelligence.

When I conveyed my concern about too much detail as an insult, the response was, “Oh, no, I like detail.” Then the person proposed the following solution. When discussing an assignment, I would continue to provide detail until she (which you probably guessed by now) raised her hand, which meant, “I’ve got it. Stop.” We implemented the hand-raising system and it worked wonderfully.

#2. 2015, Energy company based in Houston. In the intervening 25+ years from Example #1, I’d been involved with a range of differing and challenging assignments – large companies, research organizations and start-ups. The Houston assignment was in an industry where I was familiar with the end product but not the production process.

The management team had extensive experience on the field-operations side but needed someone to help set up the financial structure and reporting systems to help the business operate without a large overhead staff. After a few weeks of learning the very basics, I suggested everyone on the management team complete a Myers-Briggs profile. To give you an idea of what I didn’t know about the industry, have you ever known a petrophysicist, let alone know what one does? Well, neither did I. But check YouTube. There’s a video titled “Petrophysics for Dummies”…and it’s very informative.

As usual, some members of the group supported the idea of comparing personality profiles, others grumbled but went along and a few refused. The CEO was probably the most supportive.

As a reminder, we you start comparing personality profiles with others, remember a different profile does not make one person superior to the other. The profile points out differences in the categories described earlier, not skill levels.

When the CEO and I compared profiles, there were marked differences in a couple of key areas. Understanding those differences helped me frame and propose solutions in a way consistent with his profile. While I continued to approach and solve problems in a way I was most comfortable, I understood that to be more effective when presenting to him, I needed to frame the recommendations in a way consistent with his profile. It worked.

These are but two examples of using Myers-Briggs. I have many others. Why Myers Briggs? Aren’t there other approaches to creating a personality profile? Yes. I used Myers-Briggs because it was the first approach I learned and one with the widest range of personal examples.

Is there a downside of knowing an individual’s profile? Yes. “Manipulation” can be either positive or negative. A widely discussed example how profiling a specific individual might be used negatively is Donald Trump. The question raised by many, “Has Donald Trump been manipulated by the Russians as well as some conservative media talking heads?” Whether one leans left or right politically, president Trump’s favorable behavior toward the Russians seems at odds with 70+ years of the post-WWII relationship between Washington and Moscow. Let’s hope the Mueller investigation makes the issue more clear.

But we should not think that Trump is the only person subject to manipulation. Over time, all of us may be targeted individually. As AI programs become more sophisticated and as people convey more answers to personality-profile like questions on their social media posts and/or continue to buy more goods on-line through say Amazon, it will become easier for AI-programs to migrate from targeting a certain percentage of a group to targeting specific individuals.

Minimizing the influence of such targeting will require considerable diligence on everyone’s part. More ideas developing such an approach in an upcoming entry.

Back to personality profiles. If you’ve never completed a Myers-Briggs (or similar) personality profile…or if it’s been a few years…I suggest you get on the web and complete one (see links earlier in this entry). If nothing else, comparing profiles is great cocktail conversation. But I think you’ll find your profile far more useful.

As far as the next AI-related blog entry? Not sure. I need to do some research before deciding. Thanks for your time.