This Overview provides a conceptual introduction to CSPT. It is structured in a layered fashion. You can take a brief look or explore in depth as is your preference. The first few sections include material that is important for everyone wanting to make use of the typology. The later sections and the links at the ends of sections include more in-depth material. Look over as much as you’d like, then go on to the temperament pages (Early-Axis, Middle-Axis, and Late-Axis). You can always return for further conceptual reflection.
The Big Picture
We are remarkably different from one another, yet the profundity of this diversity most often goes unnoticed—living in different worlds we pass barely seeing one another. Or we recognize differences but we don’t understand them. People who are different become “others,” acknowledged, but known ultimately less for who they are than as reflections of what we find strange and other in ourselves.
The ability to appreciate and understand diversity of all kinds is becoming increasingly important. This is clearly the case for cultural diversity and gender differences. It is no less so for the kind of diversity we speak of with terms like “personality style” or “learning style.” Sensitivity to temperament differences has always had value, but it is becoming increasingly important and we are becoming able to make distinction in increasingly sophisticated and useful ways.
Why is understanding personality style differences significant? Certainly it helps us deal more effectively with conflict. Look at internal conflicts in groups and most often we find beneath the surface not differences over issues of beliefs, but differences over which personality style “reality” will predominate. Using the color spectrum as a metaphor, the argument is over whether yellow will be the “real” reality, or red, or blue. There is value in understanding personality difference if for no other reason than that it help us alleviate such misunderstanding and work more effectively together.
Another place we are increasingly recognizing the importance of temperament differences concerns effective learning in schools—and psychological health more generally. We are better appreciating how different people learn in very different ways and how, in growing up, different people’s psychological needs can be very different. Such understanding is key to effective parenting and teaching, and to the more general creating of environments that are good for kids. In the end, better understanding the lenses through which we see our worlds—and how they “color” experience and need—is essential for self-awareness and self-fulfillment whatever a person’s age.
And an additional critically important reason for understanding such diversity is emerging. The essential concerns of our time are increasingly “whole spectrum” (whole-system) questions: They require the collaborative input of all the various perspectives that make up the whole of human experience—scientists and artists, liberals and conservatives, thinkers and feelers … and on. Effectively addressing the profound challenges before us will require a major leap in our understanding of, and sensitivity to, the very different ways we organize experience.
Ideas developed from Creative Systems Theory offer a uniquely sophisticated approach for understanding personality diversity. The Creative Systems Personality Typology provides a way to understand not just the specific strengths and weaknesses of personality styles, but also how different styles can best work together. It also offers an integral framework for understanding personality diversity as it inter-plays with other kinds of human difference, such as gender diversity and cultural diversity. In addition, it provides perspective for making sense of how these various kinds of difference manifest at different times in development. And it has particular significance for it power as a tool for supporting the kind of creative collaboration on which a healthy future will more and more depend.
Creative Systems Theory and CSPT
Creative Systems Theory, the theoretical base for CSPT, is concerned with understanding how human systems grow and interrelate—human systems of all sorts: individuals, families, communities, institutions, and cultures. As part of this, it provides a big-picture perspective for understanding why we humans believe the often odd and contradictory things that we do.
This includes why we think different things at different times developmentally (whether in our personal lives or at different stages in culture’s story). It also includes why we see our worlds in the very different ways we do as a function of personality style differences (the task of CSPT).
With regard to personality style differences, CST proposes that we see the world in the often remarkably different ways we do not just because we are different. Such differences have served important purposes. They have helped support the diversity of skills and ways of thinking society requires to function effectively. Wouldn’t it be a mess if everyone wanted the same job or if everyone thought like an engineer, or like an artist, or like a religious leader or a politician? To use the color metaphor, personality differences provide the various “crayons in the box” needed for a vibrant and effective social world.
CST describes how the ability to fully appreciate such difference is something new. In times past, recognizing this degree of difference and complexity would have overwhelmed us. Today it is becoming essential—the critical questions of our time require it. And it is something we are becoming more and more capable of doing.
Both of these assertions are a bit beyond the scope of this site. But we catch a glimpse in the earlier statement that today’s important questions are whole-system (and thus whole spectrum) questions. CST argues that our times require a kind of sophistication and complexity of perspective (what it calls Cultural Maturity) not before needed or really possible. (You can look to CulturalMaturity.org or CSTHome.org for more detail.) Any kind of framework that helps us better appreciate diversity supports that needed greater maturity of perspective. But the particular approach applied by CSPT makes it particularly effective in this regard.
Creative Systems Theory takes as its conceptual starting point the question of just what most defines us as humans. Some people have described this as our ability for language, others our capacities for conceptual abstraction or for complex social relationships. Creative Systems Theory argues that another attribute underlies each of these—our great capacity to create. We are “toolmakers,” and makers not just of things but also of ideas and social structures, and of particular pertinence to our tasks here, makers of meaning.
This notion that what most defines us is the richness of our creative capabilities serves as Creative Systems Theory’s fulcrum concept. The word creative as applied in Creative Systems Theory stretches well beyond our usual use of the term. It concerns art no more than science, nor the language of imagination any more than hard logic. But once its meaning is expanded sufficiently, the term captures quite well the heart of how culturally mature perspective alters understanding and experience. And it serves powerfully as an organizing concept for more detailed conception.
CST delineates how human intelligence, with its different aspects, is structured specifically to support our striking creative capacities. In addition, it delineates how understanding creative organization provides a powerful patterning language for making sense of how and why we see our personal and collective worlds in the ways that we do, how those ways evolve over time, and why in our time they may be evolving in the ways they seem to be.
A bare-boned look at how CST approaches temperament differences begins with the notion the different personality styles are most gifted in relationship to different stages in formative process (they most embody the intelligences needed to support those creative tasks). Using CST language, more “Early-Axis” types have greatest natural affinity with more “inspiration stage” sensibilities, more “Middle-Axis” types with more “perspiration stage” sensibilities, and more “Late-Axis” types with more “finishing and polishing” sensibilities.
Formative Process Creative Stages / Temperaments
The Creative Cycle
We can identify the basic contours of Early-, Middle-, and Late-Axis personality differences fairly readily in the goings on of daily life. (As explained later on, Pre-Axial personality dynamics represent a special case in modern culture.) Within a business, we have the wild creatives and nerdy “eggheads” over in research and development. We have the managers and workers who take R and D’s innovations and get them first into a practical form and then into production. And we have the marketing and financial types who add ideas about what is needed to make the product attractive to its buyers, take care of money matters, and do the selling.
We get a bit deeper look by incorporating that observation that the purpose human intelligence is to support our creative natures. A key to understanding Creative Systems personality types is recognizing that we are talking not just about different beliefs or ways of behaving, but different ways of organizing experience. As a simple shorthand, we can talk in terms of the various intelligences (really specific combinations of intelligences) that people of different temperaments preferentially draw on.
The importance of recognizing that we have multiple intelligences is an increasingly hot topic within educational circles. A Creative Systems view of multiple intelligences argues that our various kinds of knowing function not just as options on a menu, but work together as the “mechanism” of creative process. Each stage in the creative cycle is associated with a particular aspect of intelligence’s creative power and with a particular way of ordering reality. In fact all intelligences manifest (in different ways) at each stage, but, with each stage, one intelligence predominates.
Creative Stages / Temperaments Primary Modes of Intelligence
Intelligence, Formative Process, and Temperament:
A solid appreciation for multiple intelligences and their roles in formative process helps make understandable how the realities of different temperaments are different (and why they are so fundamentally different). The following brief descriptions gives a feel for how this works. To simplify things, I could have called the four primary “intelligences” simply body, imagination, feelings, and intellect. But the formal CST language is more precise:
The Pre-Axial stage—the time of incubation before the appearance of creation as form—is ordered by somatic/kinesthetic intelligence. In creation’s beginnings, truth arrives less as idea than as inner patterns of movement and sensation. In a creative project, thoughts tend to arrive first not so much as ideas than as “inklings,” inner movements or kinesthetic sensings of possibility. (More)
Early-Axis reality—truth during creation’s inspiration stage—is ordered by what I call symbolic/imaginal intelligence. During this time, the primary language of intelligence shifts from the kinesthetic to the metaphoric, to the “magical” language of imagery and symbol. (More)
Middle-Axis reality—truth during creation’s perspiration stage—is defined by what I call emotional/moral intelligence. It is ordered by the pullings and tuggings of an increasingly visceral world. (More)
Late-Axis reality—truth during creation’s finishing and polishing stage—is defined by what I call rational/material intelligence. Rational/material intelligence is concerned with the cause-and-effect world of finished forms and the esthetics of surfaces and final appearances. (More)
These two notions form the conceptual foundation of CSPT. Different temperaments have strongest relationship to different parts of formative process. And different parts of formative process draw on different aspects of who we are (and differently combined aspects) that see that world in necessarily different ways.
Even to just get started we will need an additional level of detail. Each creative stage—and this each personality “Axis”—describes its own quite diverse world of experience. That each is itself so diverse is one reason we so easily go through life without fully recognizing the existence of other, more different temperaments. (When we say opposites attract, most often we are speaking of opposites within our own personality style Axis.) Our tendency has been to dismiss other temperament Axes as wrong—deficient versions of our own—rather than to recognize the depth and significance of difference.
CST divides each Axis into four basic types. There is a sound theoretical basis for these further distinctions. CST describes how formative processes evolve through the interplay of polar relationships. (See www.CSTHome.org) The various ways different ones of us hold these polar relationships as they exist at our particular time in culture and within our particular temperament Axes provides two further divisions within each Axes.
Within each stage-related type of creative organization, we can identify manifestations that are more Upper Pole or more Lower Pole (more in one’s head versus more in one’s body, more “in the clouds” versus more “down to earth”). We can also identify manifestation that are more Inner Aspect and more Outer Aspect (more “introverted” versus more “extroverted,” more receptive versus more expressive).
These three variables–Axis, Pole, and Aspect—delineate the 12 basic temperament constellations (what the CSPT calls “Primary Energetics”). We all have bits of each, but certain elements in most people strongly predominate. Thus we could speak of one person as an Early/Upper/Outer, another as a Late/Lower/Inner.
A beginning understanding of basic Creative Systems psychological concepts more generally helps in making CSPT distinctions. CST views how we see and engage our worlds in terms of a series of variables. Temperament as we usually think of it is only one. Of these multiple variables, a couple are essential for getting started.
One is the concept of Capacitance. Capacitance describes how much of the stuff of life a system can take in before becoming overwhelmed—think of a balloon that will pop if stretched too far. The same temperament dynamics manifest in very different ways depending on available Capacitance. Capacitance is a separate variable. Each of the twelve basic temperament types include individuals who have high Capacitance and individuals with low Capacitance.
The second is the concept of Creative Symptoms. CST describes how systems when pushed beyond their Capacitance respond to protect themselves in predictable ways. One system (individual or larger system) may attack, another start to intellectualize or go into denial, another become depressed or passive, etc. Each of the personality style descriptions in the sections that follow include observations about the kinds of reactive, protective responses most common when that temperament is stressed. (More)
Why Another System?
Creative Systems concepts are not inordinately complex—indeed their structure has a pleasing elegance. But CSPT does demand that we think in new ways. Therefore, it’s important in getting started to have a solid sense of what it has to offer and why. CSPT takes us several steps beyond other personality frameworks. A number of characteristics of the CSPT reflected in previous observations combine to make this so. (More)
Several recognitions need to be kept in mind in order to hold CSPT concepts large enough and avoid confusion:
It is important to appreciate that, while for simplicity we talk in terms of categories—Early, Middle, and Late personality “types”—all CSPT variables exist along continua. We need to keep our view dynamic and systemic. When we say a color is “green,” at the same time we know that there are lots of different greens, indeed that there is no absolute line that makes one color blue green and another greenish blue. In the same sense, with any one personality we are dealing with unique balances and interplays—the expression of a multifaceted life.
The most frequent confusion in getting started with Creative Systems personality concepts involves viewing “later” personality style as somehow more evolved than “earlier” ones. Remember that creative stages and personality styles are separate concepts. Each of us goes through the same sequence of creative realities in the course of our development (and within any endeavor we undertake). At the same time, different people at the same developmental stage and with the same capacitance have special affinities for the qualities with which a particular stage imbues reality. The latter defines personality style. (More)
The Creative Systems Personality Typology as a Paradigmatic Learning Experience
It is important to recognize that CSPT ideas are likely to stretch most people. Without this awareness, we might pull back from them not knowing why. I’ve described how CSPT ideas are very helpful when it comes to the kind of thinking and collaboration the future will require. It is just as much the case that applying CSPT ideas at all deeply, requires that new kind of thinking.
The stretch has at least two parts. First, working with personality style ideas such as these necessarily pushes us out of the comfort of viewing our personal truth as the truth. It asks us to embody a larger reality, one with elements we can barely begin to grasp.
Second, Creative Systems ideas by their underlying structure take us into new paradigmatic territory. Creative Systems Theory is significant not just because of the practical tools if provides, but also because of the kind of idea it represents. CST argues that are our times are requiring of us a critical new step in how we understand. We need to move beyond using machine models to think about living interaction and find ways to address human experience in “living” terms—and more specifically, in ways that better address the particular kind of life we are by virtue of being human. CST proposes that a creative frame’s dynamically evolving, relational picture provides the needed conceptual leap. CSPT takes Creative Systems Theory’s capacity to address living interrelationship in living terms and applies it to dynamics of human difference. (More)