Pigeonholes are for pigeons

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

I got an email about Primary Colour Assessment this morning. At a loose end I took a look.

It’s one of those things where you answer a load of multiple choice questions and then it tells you what Animal/Philosopher/Military-Leader/Tropical-Fruit/Soft-Cheese/Ladies-Underwear you are.

In this case, as the astute among you will have guessed you get to be a colour.

Sadly, I couldn’t quite find the colour on their chart for “You are the sort of person who occasionally fills in surveys like this to be reminded how much you dislike them”.

A while back, I wrote about a wonderful clip from Fight Club, since helpfully deleted by the wonderful people at Fox.

Ed Norton has just met Brad Pitt on a plane, and is having a good time.

Norton (to Pitt) “You are by far the the most interesting single serving friend I’ve ever met.”

Pitt stares silently at Norton.

Norton: You see I have this thing, everything on a plane is single serving, even the…

Pitt (interrupting). “Oh I get it. It’s very clever.”

Norton: “Thank you.”

Pitt: “How’s that working out for you?”

Norton: “What?”

Pitt: “Being clever?”

Norton (unconvincingly) “Great.”

Pitt (dismissively) “Keep it up then.”

I love this scene as it’s a great reminder of how our thoughts about ourselves easily become scripts that we stick to without really seeing if they’re true, or thinking about how they limit us.

Tests like Colour Assessment present us with a series of familiar stereotypes about ourselves and invite us to reaffirm our established view of who we are. Then they congratulate us on our place in the world, with some platitudes about maybe exploring being a little more Elephantine/Aristotelean/Napoleonic/Guavan/Bolivian-yaks-cheese/Marks-and-Spencer.

It’s all so cognitive and thinkerly. It’s based on the idea that we are who we think we are. But is all this thinking about it going to set us free or just reinforce our self-stereotyping?

I sometimes catch myself explaining to people that I’m an introvert, and I want to give that up because it so easily just becomes what Eric Berne called a wooden leg. It ignores the variety of contexts in which I can be very outgoing and engaged, and limits the possibilities I see in situations.

As humans, we appear to be somewhat blind to context and prone to ascribing far too much of what happens to character. (The fundamental attribution error). When you look at statements in these tests, they’re all stripped of any kind of context.

In the end I think they reinforce a weird, somewhat American, faux individualism that really just sticks us in a box. This is supposed to be empowering, but I find it rather joyless.

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