Leverage. Optimize. Make more out of less. These quests have fascinated us from even when we had not created these words. How do we construct people systems that are optimal? Instead of random people existing together, can we create some rules by which the right people are placed in the right place?


The caste-system, Plato’s Ideal state, and now a fascinating movie, Divergent, have all worked on this question. Divergent is an action-adventure film set in a world where people are divided into distinct factions based on human virtues. Tris Prior is warned she is Divergent and will never fit into any one group. When she discovers a conspiracy by a faction leader to destroy all Divergents, Tris (Shailene Woodley) must learn to trust in the mysterious man she is in love with who goes by the name, ‘Four’ (Theo James) and together they must find out what makes being Divergent so dangerous before it’s too late.

The movie is a reminder of the contradictions we live with:

We want people to be different

But differ only in predictable, utilitarian ways

We want people to excel

But only via conforming to group norms

We want people to achieve

But only within prescribed boundaries.

I think we have, forever, been scared of human nature. We want to put our arms around it, and get to the bottom of it all. We want to understand it, to define it, to rule it. But, like a naughty child, it escapes our tight grasp and runs away, giggling.

The 12 Jungian archetypes have always intrigued me. I teach Jungian typology through the Briggs-Myers tool at several corporates. This framework tells us that we are different in similar ways. Again, it is an attempt to catch the naughty child, bathe it, clean it and put on a school-uniform on it. Jung’s Psychological Types explains that apparently random behaviour in fact has a distinct pattern and order to it. Jung defined four basic mental functions or processes common to all people. Two of these functions are concerned with how people take in information. The other two functions are related to how people make decisions.

My students get extremely excited and start planning the inevitable: putting people into categories and wondering if jobs should be assigned based on what a person intrinsically favours.

A creative person should be in marketing.

A thinking person should be in planning.

A friendly person should be in Human Resources.

On the face of it, this clamouring sounds logical. But, if you peel the layers, you realize how self-defeating this is at a systemic level.

While holding a job that is in line with your preferences is not bad at all: it keeps you engaged and lowers your stress levels, it is never the only predictor of success. How you do in the job also depends on your capability, commitment and drive, amongst other things.

At a systemic level, we need all kinds of people manning all kinds of jobs. That helps to, continuously, define, upgrade and build the dimensions of the job itself.

Consider this study: it seems apparent that ISTJs are most suited to be librarians. After all, aren’t they quiet and reserved individuals who have a strongly-felt internal sense of duty? This lends them a serious air and the motivation to follow through on tasks. They are organized and methodical in their approach: just the right profile, isn’t it?


But, studies revealed that when other profiles manned the librarian’s desk, they added dimensions to the definition of the role itself. An ESFP started a children’s wing, and ESTJ started an inter-library sharing program, an ENTJ put in place a better process-improvement system and an INTJ worked on setting up a technical platform for library management.

Different profiles while holding a librarian’s role added their ‘touch’ to it, thereby, making the role more multifaceted, and richer.

Phew! That does not solve anything for us! It makes it even more complicated! Well, I guess that is the lesson. Learn to live with it. Do not try to put a caste system, or an ideal state in place to simplify it for you. It’s foolish. Learn to live without the answers. Learn to live with the quirks. Learn to celebrate differences. Learn to just be!