Can INFPs Have Marketable Skills?
What is the INFP?
In the Meyer-Briggs type indicator test, a commonly used (though often criticized) personality test, personalities are sorted into one of 16 types based on the questions placing someone in one side of four dichotomies:
- Introvert (I)/ Extrovert (E): In the original Jungian understanding of these terms, the introvert was someone who needed alone time to recharge his or her mental energy, and who preferred deeper conversations with fewer people to larger social gatherings. The extrovert is someone who likes to have lots of friends, mingles casually in big parties with lots of people, and who gets their mental energy vamped up by socializing, whereas an introvert requires alone time between engagements to replenish energy lost by socializing, which can make them feel drained. This dichotomy is about how we socialize.
- Intuitive (N)/ Sensor (S): This has to do with how someone processes information. An Intuitive person uses more internal processes, feelings, instinctual reactions, intuition, or abstract logic, to make sense of the world around them. A Sensor, while not necessarily lacking in imagination, prefers to think about concrete details and focus on things that can be sensed in the material world. For example, if an Intuitive and a Sensor were asked to bake a cake, an Intuitive might imagine their own design for a cake which may turn out to be impractical or not that well thought-out in terms of detail, but a Sensor might follow a "by the book" cooking formula for a cake, which while practical, might be seen as unimaginative or unoriginal. This dichotomy is about how we make sense of our world.
- Thinking (T)/ Feeling (F): This one causes a lot of debate and controversy. Of course everyone thinks and everyone has feelings. But this dichotomy is not supposed to characterize the totality of one's existence, just how they make decisions. Feelers make decisions based on their internal instincts, emotions, and personal values. Thinkers make decisions based on structured, rigorous, scientific analyses. For example, if a Feeler and a Thinker were asked where to go on vacation, a Feeler would probably pick a place right away based on a kind of gut reaction, or pick a place that reflects their ethics, whereas a Thinker might choose several possibilities and consider time, budget, and other travel necessities, and spend a lot more time thoroughly investigating his or her top choices. This dichotomy is about how we make decisions.
- Finally, Judger (J)/ Perceiver (P): Judging and Perception are considered related to how we make plans. A Judger tends to be rigid, authoritarian, and traditional; their mentality is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". Whereas a Perceiver, rather than having a preconceived idea of what they want to do, often prefers to "wing it", to be spontaneous or just go with the flow. Shopping is a good example that illustrates these differences; a Judger is like someone who goes into a store with a list, or at least, with a specific idea of exactly what they want and exactly how much money they have to spend. A Perceiver is someone who goes in and wanders through the store, looking at anything that catches their eye, without having had much of a plan. For example, the other day I spontaneously wandered around L.L. Bean, a store of camping accessories and supplies. I didn't have a plan for what I wanted specifically and didn't end up buying anything or even necessarily seeing anything I want to buy later whenever I have more money. But for me, it was a nice experience to sort of look around on a whim. So, this dichotomy is about how we plan the future (as opposed to the T/F, which is more about short-term decisions, this is about the big decisions in life that affect us long-term).
So then, what does it mean to be an INFP?
- Introvert - Likes alone time, can be overwhelmed by too much socialization or too large of a crowd.
- Intuitive - Prefers to make sense of things with their own internal processes, more imaginative than practical.
- Feeler - Makes quick decisions based on ethical principles and gut reactions, rather than drawing out the decision-making process with a lot of analysis.
- Perceptive/Perceiver - Prefers to be spontaneous, keep their options open, prefers to create a new way of doing things rather than follow traditional ways.
Note that these preferences are pretty general, and some people can get a score on one side of one of the dichotomies while being very close to the other side or balanced. For example, I'm a very rational Feeler, often getting close to 50/50 on the T/F scale. For a while I thought I was INTP not INFP, but I'm pretty sure now that I'm INFP. Other people can be more balanced between the other dichotomies, and some people have personalities that always seem to change reflecting whoever they're interacting with at the time.
Why INFPs Have Trouble in the Corporate World
So how does an INFP fit into the business world? Most successful and famous INFPs have been out-of-the-box creative types. We tend to be the "black sheep" and not fit in anywhere, let alone in a corporate world. Let's think about these dichotomies.
The business world favors:
- Extroversion. Networking, to make a lot of "contacts" is encouraged for helping every business grow. Too bad for the introvert who wants to have deep, meaningful, irreplaceable friendships, not mere "contacts"!
- Sensing. Concrete data is how companies tend to make decisions, to do otherwise is perilous and risky. People aren't likely to invest in "dreams" as much as they are likely to invest in something that is calculated to give them a good and assured return on investment.
- Thinking. Similarly, a business cannot usually afford to make decisions without analysis; risks and benefits, return on investment, market analyses, there are people whose entire jobs revolve around being the Thinking power of the company. Big companies especially do not leave things up to the ethics or emotions of one person or small group of people. In fact, a lot of times what is ethically right is sidestepped in favor of whatever gets the desired results for the company (growth is valued over sustainability, for example).
- Judging. Companies use traditional "by the book" modes because they've been proven to work in the past. Business attire changes less with times changing than less formal wear, for example. Businesses don't like to "reinvent the wheel", so to speak, which means they don't like debating their existing rules or innovating new ones. You might get them to change one line on a form, but they tend to not like workers who upset the apple cart too much.
So, while famous INFPs like Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Tim Burton, Jim Henson, and J.R.R. Tolkien have been successful, INFPs rarely find success or true happiness in the traditional business world, which has rules, expectations, and values that often clash with their own. The INFP likes chaos, nature, bold risk-taking, innovating, and making their dreams into a reality. The business world prefers order, artifice, playing it safe, avoiding risk, and sanitizing human interaction, minimizing liability, neutralizing danger. An INFP in a suit feels something like how I'd imagine an NFL quarterback in drag would feel; uncomfortable, out of place, not like themselves.
But then how can we be successful? Like I said, there have been many great, famous INFPs out there, some of which you could even say changed the world, or at the very least, changed their particular field in a big, dramatic, lasting way. Many innovative greats were INFPs, so what strengths does the INFP possess that can help them become financially successful? (Usually INFPs tend to value this kind of success least, focusing on a definition of success that is more focused on happiness or personal fulfilment, but for this article, I chose to think of success as business/financial success. While this does not guarantee happiness, everyone needs money to live on, even INFPs!)
The Good Qualities of the INFP
So what does the INFP have going for them in the business world?
- Creativity: This is a big one. While most corporations like to spew the words "unique", "creative", and "innovative" in their marketing materials, they rarely truly value innovation because it often poses a business risk. But the INFP is usually fiercely committed to creativity, and they make great "big picture" types as a result. The INFP is often a source of million-dollar ideas, if they can apply themselves and refuse to give up (like INFP author J.K. Rowling, for example).
- Adaptability: Oh the times, they are a-changin', and sometimes, business culture can be stuck in the past, not changing fast enough to reflect these changes. INFPs, on the other hand, are perceptive about things changing around them, they love keeping current with everything and can handle change in a way that most other types cannot. Oh they might like to stick to some simple, unchanging things, but nobody knows better than the INFP how a company can change to get with the times, to keep up with new ideas in technology, society, politics, consumer trends, etc. An INFP ideas person will not leave your company stuck in the past! Flexibility is the strength a P-type has that makes up for their lack of adherence to strict schedules and routines.
- Ethics: The INFP is guided by a strong sense of values, and they hate working for companies that do not reflect these values in their practices. For example, a vegetarian INFP is unlikely to be satisfied working in a meat packing plant. Like creativity, ethics are something most corporations pay lip service to without actually practicing. That's because instead, they're focused on what the stock market wants, which is the maximization of profits and minimization of losses. Things like long-term sustainability, environmental protection, animal rights, minorities' rights, third world workers, and fair labor practices can go overlooked either intentionally or unintentionally in this pursuit of profit. The INFP can help a corporation correct these oversights and steer companies toward creating a brighter future, thinking about the whole planet and the whole of humanity on it. The INFP type is likely to prefer leading in the non-profit sector, or in any company that sticks to its values and places them above profits. And then, companies that value helping others tend to profit okay anyway, since most people prefer to get their goods and services, whenever possible, from a company that cares.
- Dedication: Since a company in line with the INFPs values is rare (unless they create their own enterprises, which many do), if they find such a company at all, they view the company as their mission in life. INFPs tend to want their work to be meaningful and fulfilling, and when they find it, they will have an unstoppable drive and passion for what they're doing.
- Understanding: The business world is not known for being sympathetic or nice, but the good-listener, sympathetic INFP can solve a lot of people problems in their companies with their qualities of patience, tolerance, desire for harmony, and their intuitive understanding of other people's emotions. Sometimes, they may get upset by conflict and bullying, but most of the time, they can make good mediators and are good at soothing hurt feelings and frustrations in others.
Sometimes, it seems like the daydreaming, always-late, space cadet INFP at first glance is not great for the corporate world. And often, they do have values that are not traditional business values, that can make them feel alienated and jaded in the wrong working environment. But, the INFP also has many characteristics that, while not making them "good employees" if all the employers want are obedient machines, make them excellent at providing "big picture" insights, contributing with impressive creative thinking, or managing their own companies in a compassionate, ethical way.