Top 3 Ways to Breakdown Any Problem to Its Subconscious Causes
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
- Albert Einstein
In this series I will share my insights about human analysis to help you more effectively build habits, contribute to gender equality, and live the life that you desire. This is not meant to be an educational course on personality tests, but a series of insights into yours and others’ behavior that can hopefully help you to see the world in a new light.
We often go through our lives using our default styles of working and forming relationships, not stepping back to understand our strategies for doing so. Many of us look for solutions before we understand what the problem is. But, our relationship-building and work strategies can be major sources of conflict or fulfillment in our lives, and we need to understand them to find solutions.
Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean psychiatrist, coined three instinctual biases or "subtypes" to explain what different people seek in the world. These are primitive instincts, of which each of us are biased toward one.
You can use an understanding of these instincts to optimize your work with other people and become a better version of yourself.
An Outline for Understanding Three Kinds of People
Self-preservationists are biased toward the instinct of seeking food, shelter, and personal and familial safety. They thrive thanks to their independence and high fear-levels that keep them safe. In our modern society, they look like people who are fiercely independent, value a small but close group of friends, and are skilled at organizing and completing tasks. They are more conservative and have more inhibition in their decision-making than other subtypes, and may, for example, be the type to value financial stability and never stray from their meal schedule.
While self-preservationists value food and safety, the navigating subtype prioritizes developing and navigating a network of relationships that can be useful to them (and to which they can be useful). They are often called the “social” subtype, however I prefer the title “navigating” because every subtype is social in their own way, but not all of them navigate like navigators do.
The historian and professor Yuval Noah Harari explains that we humans developed a social instinct as a consequence of standing upright. Women’s birth canals became narrower and children needed to be born earlier in their development to fit through. So, we developed a capacity for forming and navigating a community that can raise the incompetent child. Navigators epitomize this instinct. They are the type who enjoy being surrounded by many people even if they aren’t talking to any of them. They can be maternal and altruistic, and use gossip to navigate who is and isn’t a part of the group (and to make sure that they are).
Finally, there is the transmitting subtype, also known as the “sexual” subtype. People usually don't use the title "sexual" because it isn’t particularly welcoming to tell your friend that they’re a “sexual subtype” (although if they are a sexual subtype they probably won’t mind). I will be using the "transmitting" title, although it is important to remember that this is the sexual subtype to understand the root of their behaviors.
The transmitting subtype transmits “signals” to attract other people’s attention, and then “reels in” these people to form deeper connections with them. They want to attract attention and leave a legacy on the world, a desire which is rooted in the reproductive instinct but also reflects in everything from their work to their friendships. They are very focused on their image (perhaps through possessions or social media), attract potential partners with ease, and thrive in one-on-one interaction. They are the most risk-taking type, and are not the best at taking social cues.
3 Ways You Can Use the Instinctual Biases to Identify a Problem and Solution
1. Make and Maintain Friendships that Take You Outside Your Comfort Zone
Interacting with people of different subtypes than us can be confusing, and even frustrating.
Each subtype has a different social strategy. For example, I am a self-preservation subtype. Most of my friends are self-preservationists, but in college I’ve met more people of the different subtypes. Interacting with a navigating subtype who fails to make plans or leaves in the middle of a conversation can be frustrating to me. Self-preservationists may also experience conflict with transmitting subtypes who may, for example, have the skills to contribute to a group project, but only do enough to get their own recognition.
However, becoming friends with these people can both be enjoyable and help you see specific ways to improve your own skills. Knowing their social strategy can help you to become friends with them. For instance, you can plan a one-on-one coffee with your friend who’s a transmitting subtype, organize a small group event (in advance!) with a self-preservationist, or understand that when you run into a navigating subtype, they'll probably want you to stay around and chat for a while.
2. Breakdown Any Business Problem to its Subconscious or Technical Cause
Each subtype has a different work strategy. Knowing these strategies can help you to harness each person's contributions on a team, and get to the subconscious core of a business problem.
Navigating subtypes are typically creative and good at attracting a crowd to an idea, but struggle with execution. Self-preservationists are great executers but may make boring marketing materials or never get their name out. Transmitting subtypes are great at sales and early-stage growth but struggle with navigating large companies and taking social cues.
Knowing this, you can make sure a team member is the best person to fulfill their job description. When people don't know where their contributions are valued, they can be left feeling discouraged, and the company will be worse off.
Further, you can look at a company and have an idea of where the problem lies in leadership. For example, Amazon has fantastic on-time delivery, but is known for treating their employees poorly. They obviously need better employee management systems, but this isn't a specific or durable solution.
Amazon's management may be dominated by self-preservationists or transmitting subtypes – concerned for execution and growth but not human interaction. They are lacking navigators. And, if current management is not the problem, their employee management software and harsh warehouses were probably developed with these instincts in mind. In this case, their infrastructure contains technical barriers that prevent new people in leadership from creating impact.
Amazon may both need to hire more navigators and change existing infrastructure to make sure these people can have an impact.
3. Get to the Core of your Insecurities to Become a Better Version of Yourself
As a self-preservationist, my second strongest instinct is the navigating instinct. I used this understanding at the beginning of 2022 to develop an actionable New Year’s Resolution.
First, I noted my specific shortcomings. I miss opportunities to build a community when I shy away from unexpected run-ins with friends or acquaintances on campus. So, I started a habit of stopping to talk to people who I ran into on my college campus – even when I didn’t want to.
I kept mental track of when I resisted and submitted to the urge to walk in another direction or prematurely end the conversation. By the end of the semester, I had become friends with many people I would’ve never spoken to. When my mom picked me up from campus, she was shocked at how many people I was waving to on campus.
Personality subtypes are powerful vocabulary for describing our internal and external sources of conflict so we can become better versions of ourselves and be tolerant of others. They help us get to the core of the problem so that we can find a solution.