Being an INTJ business owner

29th May 2020

My experience of being an INTJ in the workplace, and the challenges and benefits it brings now that I'm a business owner.

Reading time: 5 minutes

Next week: What is a MVP?

I'm an INTJ

I've wanted to write about this subject for a while. Having taken Myers-Briggs based personality tests regularly, I've consistently been told that I'm an INTJ. I'm aware of the various opinions of Myers-Briggs, but I've found that just having material out there to read that seems to reflect back to me some of the behaviours I see in myself extremely powerful.

The 16 Personalities website is a great place to start learning about the different personality types, and discovering your own if you don't already know it. I've selected a couple of points from their INTJ description and explored them here within the context of recently becoming a freelancer.

The INTJ's “Does this make sense?” and “Is this going to work?” filter

INTJs apply these questions to pretty much everything, and when we don't understand things immediately, or see how a new idea might work, then we generally take one of these options: pause and take the time to fully understand it, or disregard, move on and maybe come back later.

This is one of my behaviours that I've had to learn to deal with in the last couple of months. Taking business networking as an example, I've spent my entire career trying to disregard and avoid networking because A - "It doesn't make any sense to me - why would I want to talk to strangers about myself and what I do?", and B - "What am I going to get out of it, why is it going to help me progress in my career?".

To be honest, I have always understood the value of and reasons why people put time and effort into networking, but quite frankly the idea of having to enter a room to start conversations with strangers and maybe even have to make small talk (agh!) just filled me with dread, and subconsciously it equated to a bit of a waste of time and effort when I was doing quite well without it, thank you very much. So in 21 years of working, other than the odd 30 minute networking session as part of bigger training events and conferences, I never went to any, and even in those quick sessions, I usually could be found in a corner on my phone avoiding eye-contact or making the most of any free food...

Fast-forward to April 2020, and I knew that when I first put this website live that no matter how good it was, no-one was going to magically find it and award me with a big digital strategy consultancy contract so I could take six months off over Christmas. I knew I was going to have to go out and finding opportunities, get some early traction (paid or unpaid), build credibility & contacts, and work out how to find the openings I'm looking for. I knew it would involve actually having to talk to and meet strangers; I can't tell you enough how uncomfortable and nervous that can make an INTJ feel! Naturally, we prefer to be out of the spotlight and in a work situation, we prefer to draw people towards us by doing the things we do well rather than pro-actively reaching out to bring ourselves exposure.

Six weeks into being a freelancer/business owner, I know that this is something I have to face head-on and deal with, so I've been jumping into as many networking opportunities as possible. As this is happening during the "Great Lockdown of 2020", it's all been online. For me, this has been a massive help; some people I've met dislike it, but being able to practice and refine my networking from a safe home environment takes away a lot of the apprehension, and so bizarrely, it's one way that launching a business during a pandemic has actually worked in my favour as an INTJ. I've made some really valuable contacts - not necessarily those that could become clients, but I have a much better idea about where I can go when I need business help in the future.

The judgemental and over-analytical INTJ

Sometimes, INTJs can have a very strong 'J', for judgemental. We find it very easy to brush-off, ignore and see as illogical the viewpoints and thoughts of others who might be more driven by emotion, history, rules or social factors as opposed to our love of logic, principles and belief that everything should be up for questioning. We have to work hard and learn to recognise when that judgemental side kicks-in in a negative way, and counter-act by making sure we engage fully with differing viewpoints. This is important when setting out as a business owner as know I'll meet many different types of people with wildly different thoughts and experiences, and so will need to keep an eye on when the 'J' kicks-in to make sure I don't miss out on any exciting opportunities because I've failed to fully engage with a different world view.

Very closely related to this is the potential to be over-analytical. Working in technology and digital, analytical skills, being picky about the details and looking at things through critical eyes to try to identify faults and improvements is a necessary ability. But as the 16 Personalities website says, when it comes to human relationships, logic isn't usually the most important factor as the complexity of relationships doesn't fit a world of next, pre-defined processes and explanations. Working in digital teams in large corporates, you can more or less get away with this if you're in a very technical role. I never really had to worry about generating work for myself, influencing others or the performance of a team, when I worked in roles that were very technology-focussed. Moving out of coding and development roles made me realise how logic sometimes needs to take a back seat when it comes to the softer skills and navigating jobs like stakeholder management and prioritisation. Again, it's obvious how over-analysis could threaten my chances of success in trying to grow a business. With that in mind, I'm encouraging myself to be really open-minded about each inkling of an opportunity that comes up and trying not excluding myself from it by peering into the future and deciding it's not for me without even engaging in it.

Why you should look for INTJ-ness when hiring a digital strategist

So far I've talked about the 'watch-outs' of life as an INTJ. But now, I'm going to focus on strengths. I'm going to answer this question by framing it within the 3 most common problems that I've observed in digital teams and businesses:

  1. Output is more important than outcomes
    I mentioned this in last week in my blog article about why Agile is a bit like having children. If you're in a business, maybe working in or running a digital team, and you want to get away from being measured by the things you deliver and bring a focus to the outcomes you achieve, an INTJ product expert will have some killer attributes to help with that. It's a tough gig, but we are well placed to determine the strategies and approaches required to turn this around through high self-confidence, dislike of rules for the sake of rules and being comfortable with questioning and breaking down anything in order to improve a system or process.

  2. A herd mentality
    This one is about HIPPO decisions, and how it can be difficult to go against the consensus when everyone in the room starts nodding and agreeing. An INTJ won't stand for that, and can be brilliant to have around to help teams break free of that form of thinking. If they identify a consensus forming without a fully thought-through or evidenced basis, they won't follow the herd. If they believe they have a better suggestion, or see behaviours like this that could result in a poor outcome, you'll know about it (and you'll probably get a solution too).

  3. Assumption-based prioritisation
    This is a dangerous yet common one. If your team are prioritising a backlog of work for your website, and you're pushing things to the top of the list because you've made assumptions that it's what users want but have no evidence, an INTJ product manager will call this out. They'll make sure that unless there are rational pieces of evidence and thinking to support a prioritisation call, it's not happening. The success of a product or service can be severely impacted by poor assumptions; the ever-questioning nature of an INTJ is good protection against it.

I haven't discussed anything about the Introverted nature of INTJs in this article, but will definitely pick up on it in the future!

Last week's blog

Agile is a bit like having children

I discovered Agile methodology about 10 years ago. There's a lot written about it already, but this article is a light-hearted summary of my take. Actually, this isn't just about Agile - it's about any and all methodologies for software delivery!

Reading time: 7 minutes