Theories — I Don't Understand Them!!

April 2013. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

As an ESTJ, I am much more into action then into theories. When people start spouting theories, I find myself tuning out and/or longing for a good example so I can get a toehold on figuring out what it is they are actually talking about.

There's an S-N facet of the MBTI® Step II instrument called "Experiential-Theoretical." It's about how we formulate meaning, theories and patterns out of whatever we are doing, seeing, or thinking. On the Experiential side, the pattern/theory comes from trying things out, from seeing how they work.

Yes, you guessed it: I'm Experiential. I used to hate doing type exercises because I couldn't or didn't see the patterns that participants' words were forming, and the whole point of the exercise was to illustrate the theory of type.

To illustrate the differences between Sensing and Intuition we often show a complex picture. The Sensors describe the details, and the Intuitives provide a story about the picture. But what about those Intuitives who identified the details too! Gulp! How to process that? It was only after observing other facilitators and then leading the exercise several times myself that I could see what was happening.

Quite often those "detail" people were the Intuitive Thinking types. NTs value competence and mastery and think they have to show that competence through the naming of details — it's like that children's game where you are shown a tray of items and the prize goes to the person who remembers the most items. But the real energy and fun for the NTs comes from the patterns they see in the objects and the associations they make.

Now I am quite happy to facilitate those exercises because I have seen it all — okay, not quite, but almost!

There is something called "Experiential Learning," but that's really theoretical learning as far as I can see. It's about doing some unrelated task, such as going on a ropes course with your co-workers, and then applying that to how you work as a team in the office. You try to find the patterns in activities that are totally unrelated to your work in the office.

For me, it makes a lot more sense to present a team with a task they do regularly so I can directly see how they work together. We don't have to interpret and extrapolate! We just have to notice what is happening.

Years ago, when Naomi Quenk and I were writing the Step II Interpretive Report, we discovered our differences in this Experiential-Theoretical scale. I said, "A good theory is one that summarizes reality." She (a Theoretical) would say, "Reality verifies a good theory."

The kinds of theories I like are those that are quickly applicable. For example, my minister was recently preaching about prayer. As far as I can tell, ministers and theologians spend lots of time theorizing about prayer. She categorized prayers into four types: "Please, Thanks, Oops, and Wow!"

I'll let your Theoretical side take it from there. But actually, I could apply all four of those to psychological type and its impact on my life. That's something I understand—a theory that summarizes reality!