Cognitive Functions: A Brief History and Overview
Carl Jung published his theory on personality in 1920, titled Psychological Types, and in doing so introduced one of the most influential personality frameworks ever.
John Beebe and The Myers-Briggs mother-daughter duo used the core theory of this framework to inspire their own; Beebe explored archetypal roles of the functions, and the Myers-Briggs team developed their 16-Personality MBTI framework. There is a lot to dig into on the above theories and frameworks, but for the purposes of focusing on how this can be applied to a design thinking process for a team, I’d like to instead very briefly introduce the theory:
Every person interacts with the world around them in two ways: how they take in information (perceiving) and how they process and make decisions (judging). When we think about introversion and extroversion we typically think of a person as either introverted or extroverted, leaving most people feeling like they fit somewhere in between or “depending on the situation”. In reality, there is no pure introversion or extroversion “function”, only introverted or extroverted variations of functions (of which we all have a combination). So we all naturally fall somewhere on the spectrum of introversion/extroversion, depending on the order in which we use our extroverted and introverted functions.
It’s important to remember that extroversion is focused on the external world, while introversion is focused on the internal word, and, again, we naturally develop a process for using both. Each of us either most naturally process the world around us internally or make decisions internally. If we process the world around us internally, then we make decisions externally. If we process the world around us externally, then we make decisions internally. If you feel that you are entirely introverted or entirely extroverted, you may be caught in a cognitive function loop, which is equally not good and not important to this overview!
One method of perceiving the world and one method of judging it will come most naturally to you in your childhood, these are your primary and auxiliary functions, and you will develop a second method of perception and a second method of judging throughout your lifetime. There are eight different functions, four for each category:
- Extraverted Sensing (Se)
- Introverted Sensing (Si)
- Extraverted iNtuiting (Ne)
- Introverted iNtuiting (Ni)
- Extraverted Thinking (Te)
- Introverted Thinking (Ti)
- Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
- Introverted Feeling (Fi)
The Design Thinking Process: Another Brief Overview
Design Thinking is a creative process focused on understanding your users and redefining the problems you’re solving for them. This provides an incredible opportunity to approach design projects utilizing your primary and auxiliary functions, and the functions of those on your team. The Design Thinking process has three core phases:
- Inspiration: Framing the problem and collecting data
- Ideation: Identifying opportunities and developing prototypes
- Implementation: Testing prototypes and strategizing for the future
Between and within each of the above phases, there are stages of divergence which focus on expanding ideas and possible solutions, and stages of convergence which focus on narrowing down the most feasible ideas and solutions.
At each point of decision, the team must ask themselves:
- Do they (the user) want this? (Desirability/Human Perspective)
- Can we do this? (Feasibility/Technical Perspective)
- Should we do this? (Viability/Business Perspective)
Each phase, stage, and point of decision requires the perspectives of all Cognitive Functions to be most effective.
An Important Note
The following are meant to be suggestions for each Cognitive Function, allowing every team member’s perspective to be better understood and appreciated. It’s important to note; however, that any team member can use any of the following strategies during the Design Thinking process, and because you probably won’t have every cognitive function represented strongly on your team you will need to fill in the gaps anyway.
Perceiving Functions: Observation and Brainstorming
Extroverted Sensing (Se)
Exploring present opportunities.
Extroverted Sensors live in the moment and pay attention to the physical environment around them. Trusting your observational instincts and taking action with all five senses comes easily to you. Your desire to experience the world around you by fully experiencing it will be a great asset in making sure your team is creating tangible prototypes instead of just talking about them.
Inspiration: Gather concrete, current information about the problem, the environment, and the stakeholders involved.
Ideation: Drive the “doing”- start creating physical prototypes and interactions to keep your group focused on tangible prototypes.
Implementation: Observe your users’ interactions with your prototype to find possible improvements for the experience.
Extroverted Intuiting (Ne)
Seeing the big picture and the deeper meaning.
Extroverted Intuitors generate endless ideas and possibilities. Your ability to consider so many potential connections while staying focused on the big picture is essential for the brainstorming phases, especially once the sensors have gathered and shared their observations.
Inspiration: Brainstorm all problems your users are facing within the greater problem, and the big-picture mission for the team.
Ideation: Connect the information gathered on the problem however you can (I recommend post-it webs) and brainstorm solutions for the newly connected problems.
Implementation: Explore how the prototype could be used on a larger scale in the future and presented to stakeholders.
Introverted Sensing (Si)
Using past experiences to inform the present.
Introverted Sensors experience the world around them by remembering their past sensory experiences. Your ability to pinpoint a past experience in intense detail while maintaining a routine for your team will ensure that your team is solving the right problems and quickly learning from past prototypes.
Inspiration: Gather concrete information on the past experiences, struggles, and attempted solutions for this problem.
Ideation: Create a step-by-step process for making prototypes quickly.
Implementation: Compare user reactions for every prototype tested, and make note of what’s really changing.
Introverted Intuiting (Ni)
Predicting future outcomes.
Introverted intuitors have a very unique way of processing the world around them that can be hard to articulate. While you’re a big picture person, your insights and ability to connect-the-dots through signs, trends, and patterns leads to “a-ha!” moments that transform the direction of the project.
Inspiration: Look through the sensory observations and ideas generated in the problem definition phase and share your connections, observations, and insights to ensure the team is headed on the right path and solving the right problem (perhaps it is something deeper?).
Ideation: Compare the prototypes and find potential combinations and variations the team may be missing.
Implementation: Create plans for future market predictions and users, thinking ahead to future implementations.
Judging Functions — Making Decisions
Extroverted Thinking (Te)
Extroverted thinkers are excellent at cutting through chaos with objective reason, separating out what is necessary to make a decision and move forward. Your driven, decisive leadership will be essential in determining which solutions are most feasible and viable.
Blindspot: Be sure you don’t disregard the personal values (both on your team and for the user) while narrowing down solutions.
Extroverted Feeling (Fe)
Extroverted feelers are aware of every person involved and strive for team harmony. Your ability to share and describe your feelings and encourage others to do the same will ensure that your team’s decisions will benefit each stakeholder and user, bringing to light new possible implications.
Blindspot: Don’t forget to think through the scope restraints and technical consequences of your decisions (what’s realistically doable?).
Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Introverted thinkers will learn and assess as much as they can about a situation creating complex, internal problem-solving frameworks. Your concise and objective method of evaluating the pros and cons of a situation will be effective for generating new solutions and analyzing systems.
Blindspot: Don’t forget to listen to the emotional decision factors of your users that may not fit into the logic of the decision process you’ve discovered your users have.
Introverted Feeling (Fi)
Introverted feelers are quietly empathetic and sensitive, striving for each person on the team to feel proud of their individual contributions and the outcome as a whole. Your natural focus on the impact and significance a decision will have is important for the team to remember throughout the process.
Blindspot: Don’t forget that compromise and conflict may be essential in determining the best solution, even if it means having difficult discussions with your team.
I would recommend taking the time to discuss cognitive functions and personality types with everyone on your team at the beginning of the process, not to type-box anyone, but to establish a universal language where your team can discuss how they prefer to take in information and make decisions so you can better collaborate together.
Thoughts? Arguments? Additions? Let’s start a conversation!
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