Changes in the Zodiac!

“I don’t believe in astrology. The only stars I can blame for my failures are those that walk about the stage.” Noel Coward

I am not a superstitious person, nor do I scan the daily newspaper for my horoscope to learn what fate will befall me. If I were, I might be in a bit of a state this week. There was a curious news article this week that informed the viewer/reader about an historic blog from NASA that rather than the traditional 12 signs of the Zodiac we are all used to, there are in fact 13. The interloper to the astrological party being Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer.

There are a few curiosities that flow from this piece of news. The first is that it isn’t news, in fact it is something that seems to circulate – comet-like – on a reasonably frequent basis. Trawling through the oracle that is the internet, I came across a piece in the New Scientist[1] with the headline “No, NASA hasn’t changed the Zodiac signs or added a new one.” This article was dated September 2016 and within it referenced an article by the same author on the same topic 5 years prior. Perhaps the ecliptic plane of this news piece brings it around every 5 years or so.

The second curiosity of the piece related to the ramifications of one’s personality trait in the parallel universe where your sign of Zodiac really did reflect your character; that place were horoscopes really did come true. Born in the middle of June, I am a Gemini. I understand Geminis are “…gentle, affectionate, curious, adaptable, ability to learn quickly and exchange ideas but nervous, inconsistent, indecisive.” Under the new regime of Ophiuchus in the mix, I become a Taurus: “…reliable, patient, practical, devoted, responsible, stable but stubborn, possessive, uncompromising.”[2]

Imagine the HR confusion within the workplace in that parallel universe. One day we were characterised by a known, familiar set of personalities, traits, moods and values. Our interactions with colleagues were predicated and navigated on the basis of knowing one’s own persona and knowing the persona of the individual with whom we were engaging. The prickly, short-tempered portfolio manager would be approached with some trepidation and caution; while the cheery, easy-going marketing manager could be engaged with upbeat banter. The next day – with our Zodiac signs shifted backwards – it is all change; roles mixed up and workplace etiquette thrown into chaos.

I suppose the link of what I thought was a somewhat amusing news story to something more serious and work-relevant for the purposes of this blog is the challenge of getting the right balance of personalities traits in a team. On a couple of occasions in the past I’ve had the opportunity to employ personality testing to both myself and the team I was managing at the time. On both occasions the basis of the test was Carl Gustav Jung’s groupings, where the output would focus on the extent to which we were extroverts versus introverts, employed sensing versus intuition and used thinking versus feeling.

It was interesting to witness the scepticism of the team-members going into the exercise and the cynicism towards the robustness of the questionnaires employed to assess the personality. Notwithstanding the initial negativity, the findings were universally met with curiosity, some surprise and lots of debate. From a manager’s perspective that response alone warranted the expense of carrying out the exercise. What surprised me more was the willingness of the team to build the findings into an almost systematic way of interacting – with each other and in dealings with clients. The narrative became one of ‘reds’, ‘blues’, ‘yellows’ and ‘greens’ reflective of the colour coding of personality groups; the yellow being the thinking introvert, the red being the feeling extrovert and so on. This continued for quite some time after the exercise and I believe it made us more aware of how best to approach colleagues/clients; when to stay quiet and when to challenge; and how to be more self-aware in different environments.

The challenge, however, was maintaining it and embedding into a lasting process and in due course the narrative faded, and we reverted to our pre-Jung selves with only the occasional reminder or nudge of our blue or red coming through.

So, two concluding remarks. First, thankfully we are not in that parallel universe where at the flick of the Zodiac switch our personalities changed. Second, I do believe there is real value if teams are able to take the time out to better understand what really makes each individual tick; what motivates and what dampens our enthusiasm; how should we engage and be engaged to really achieve our very best.

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