28 August 2006

Please understand me

In his book, ‘Please Understand Me II, Temperament Character Intelligence’, David Keirsey writes, “the point of this [book] is that people differ from each other, and that no amount of getting after them is going to change them. Nor is there any reason to change them, because the differences are probably good.” He goes on to say, “The task of sculpting others into our own likeness fails before it begins. Ask people to change their character, and you ask the impossible.”

If this is true, then not only is it a huge learning for a marketing strategist like me, it is also something of a roadblock. For, essentially, the job of a marketing strategist is to understand and change the way people behave towards, shop for, and use brands. If people’s attitudes and behaviour cannot be changed, because attitudes and behaviour are derived from their character and their temperament, then a strategist’s job is near impossible. Perhaps, even meaningless.

David Keirsey, who has done an enormous amount of work on understanding people, their character and their temperament, suggests that people belong to one of 16 temperament types, grouped according to common human traits. Understanding a person’s temperament type (from the matrix of 16 types that he offers), and accepting the fact that his or her temperament (type) may be different from ours, is the key to understanding people and what motivates them. He also cautions us that, “Our attempts to reshape others may produce change, but the change is distortion rather than transformation.”

To the marketing profession, and the marketing strategist in particular, this study of temperament and character leads to various avenues of understanding consumers, their behaviour towards brands and how they shop for them. However, David Keirsey leaves consumer behaviour squarely in our hands, preferring to stick to aspects of human compatibility in life and in the workplace. Much of his work – as reflected in his book, ‘Please Understand Me II’ – deals with human behaviour in terms of leadership, parenting and mating.

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