Sunday, July 19, 2015

A psychological assessment (1994)

Twenty one years ago, in 1994, I moved from the Bell-Northern Research (BNR) Systems Engineering Division in Harlow to their main offices in Maidenhead, where I would be working in a new telecoms consultancy group under its director, Ken E.

Ken was an interesting person. He had been a founder member of the Maidenhead organisation back when Northern Telecom had set it up. Unlike his colleagues though, he had never been promoted. The reason, I think, was his personality: in Myers-Briggs terms I would guess he was ENFJ and what this meant in practice was that he was driven more by moral imperatives than by utilitarian pragmatism. Unfortunately, it is the latter which works best in business.

Ken was initially pleased with his new recruit, but couldn't figure me out at all. He arranged for me to be evaluated by a psychologist so off I went one morning to a local business centre where I was interviewed at length, and underwent multiple tests. The creativity test was the pretty useless 'how many uses can you think of for a brick?' though to be fair, creativity testing has hardly advanced since then.

I was given a copy of the psychologist's report, which I include below (I already published this ages ago). Before you conclude I'm just blowing my own trumpet, I hasten to add that the psychologist would have known that BNR did not commission expensive psychological evaluations for absolute dummies - he was obviously going to write a pretty positive report.

One conclusion the expert came to was that I was not altogether brilliant at interpersonal relationships. I proved him entirely correct in the most devastating way. Soon after the test I complained to Ken that I was underpaid and under-promoted for the tasks he had asked me to do. Ken agreed, and behind the scenes moved heaven and earth to get me a sizeable pay award and increase in status.

Soon I was called into his office where he was pleased to tell me of his success. I took the news with considerable equanimity. Ken was highly affronted, mentioning that the least I could have done was to thank him. I seem to recall replying that I believed I was finally being paid at the correct level and that it was surely his job to arrange things like that - I didn't believe that he had done me a favour as such. Given Ken's personality type, I suppose it was inevitable that he never forgave me, and in fact pretty much refused to speak with me after that.

Luckily, around that time I moved (or was moved) out of his group, initially to the 'Multimedia Carrier Switch' new product development and then to the Cable & Wireless account team as technical architect for the Network 2000 project. I still cringe at the memory, however. It was very far from my finest hour.


Psychological Assessment

Name Nigel Richard SEEL
Date of Birth 1951
Age 43


1962-68 Bristol Grammar School
A(S) level passes in: Pure Maths A(1) Applied Maths B(1) Physics A

1969-71 University of Warwick
Completed 1st year (Maths/Physics/Engineering) and 2nd year (Philosophy/Politics)

1972-74 University of London Teaching Certificate

1978-84 Open University BA Hons (1st) Maths & Computing

1985-89 University of Surrey PhD


1971-72 ILEA Clerical work
1974-77 Various schools Maths teacher in London & Liverpool
1977-82 Software Houses, Programming etc
1982-91 STL Researcher, project manager, department manager
1991-94 BNR Manager, Network Planning, Europe Systems Engineering Division


Dr Seel, as his later academic record might suggest, has exceptional intellectual ability. Compared to senior managers as a group, he is outstanding on numerical, logical thinking, verbal and imaginative thinking abilities. Not only does he possess great power of intellect, he can apply it effectively at considerable speed.

Numerical Ability

His score on the test of his ability to make correct decisions and inferences from numerical and statistical data was outstanding and places him in the top 5% of senior managers. He worked with great speed and a high level of accuracy.

Verbal Ability

He attained an outstanding score, in the top 10%, on the test of vocabulary and verbal reasoning. In conversation, he chooses his words quite carefully, and communicates his ideas clearly and succinctly.

Logical Thinking

His performance on the test of critical thinking, covering the dispassionate analysis of information, arguments, inferences and deductions, was outstanding and puts him in the top 15% of senior managers. He has exceptional analytical ability and can apply it rapidly to problems.

Imaginative Thinking

The test of the quantity and quality of his ideas showed him to be above average on the former and outstanding on the latter. He can see aspects of problems or situations that few other people would think of; he has considerable imagination and a capacity for lateral thinking. Indeed, his responses on this test hardly overlapped at all with the kind of answers given by most managers.


General Approach

Dr Seel has a balanced and effective approach to his work, combining ample energy with a sensible amount of planning. He is very logical and systematic, and will apply himself with great diligence to the task in hand. He is meticulous and probably expects others to be likewise. He has the ability to deal with several different projects simultaneously and to respond to changing circumstances in a flexible manner.


He has an average level of drive and will pursue his objectives in a single-minded fashion. He will apply himself in an economical and well-organised manner, and should achieve good productivity.

Quality of Work

He is quite thoughtful and will take the wider strategic picture into account when making plans. His excellent intellectual ability will be evident in most of what he does, though there may be times when his more imaginative and wide-ranging perspective could make him appear to be slightly out of step with those around him.

Mastery of Detail

He has a good eye for detail and will give it the attention it deserves, without letting the broader view get obscured. He is able to trust subordinates enough to delegate to them.

Decision Making

He will err on the side of caution, though not to an extreme degree. In most instances, he will evaluate the evidence quickly and dispassionately before coming to a decision. His excellent analytical powers should help him to arrive at sound and reliable judgment

Tolerance of Pressure

Dr Seel is emotionally stable and usually well-controlled, though on those rare occasions when he does lose his temper there will be no mistaking it. He does worry about his work and may lose sleep over difficult problems, but this is unlikely to affect him. He has the resources of drive and - especially - of intellect to cope with pressure.


Whilst he will make plans and try to stick to them, not least where they relate to hitting deadlines, he is sufficiently flexible to be able to adapt to new circumstances, and to do so with unusual speed and clarity of thought. His capacity for imaginative thinking will help him to respond innovatively to new challenges.


After what might be seen as a rather slow start to his career, he is ambitious and clearly aspires to reach the top levels. He has the intellectual confidence to believe that he can make a contribution at a strategic level, and the motivation to do so; he has a strong need to achieve. At present, he feels frustrated by the position he is in compared to what he feels is his potential.


General Impact

Dr Seel has a slightly unorthodox style that might initially be slightly off-putting for some people. He has a reasonably friendly manner, but he is not inclined to let what he would see as loose assertions or superficial thinking go unchallenged. He is quite careful in choosing his words, and perhaps wants others to be similarly precise. He does not like to be neatly pigeon- holed by those he meets, and indeed they may find it hard to classify him. His slight shyness may also detract from the first impression he makes.

Relationships with Superiors

Superiors will find that he is his own man; he is independent minded and very confident of his own intellectual ability. For some bosses, he could be a rather threatening subordinate. Whilst he is supportive and keen to try to achieve the goals set, he is not someone who will just keep his views to himself. He will want to say what he thinks, and he will put over his ideas with both logical argument and conviction. However, he is sufficiently open-minded to take on board alternative ideas if they are good, and he will try to see the viewpoint of those above him.

Bosses will find that he expects to be given his objectives but little more - he does not welcome hands-on management. He has plenty of initiative and is keen to take on more responsibilities. He will be reasonably honest in the way he communicates with his superiors, and will want them to be straight with him. He is not inclined to give respect to individuals simply on the grounds of rank; he wants to see evidence of commitment and ability.

Relationships with Peers

He is a trifle introverted and not all that socially outgoing by nature. However, peers will find that he is strongly team- oriented and keen to facilitate their efforts to achieve the objectives set. He is reasonably patient and tolerant, though he will tend to come down fairly quickly on what he sees as sloppy thinking. Peers will appreciate the quality of his intellect and his capacity for ideas. He will influence them through his expertise and competence rather than dominating by force of personality. At times, he may not be all that good at reading the motivations and reactions of those around him, but he will try to respond positively to his colleagues' needs.

Peers will find that he does not identify in an emotional way with his own ideas, and that he is objective in assessing them against differing viewpoints; however, he is likely to be right more often than are most people. Peers will find that he is quite serious-minded and very conscientious in his attitude to his work.

Relationships with Subordinates

Subordinates will find that he starts off with them on the basis of trust, and that he will give them a good deal of autonomy until or unless they prove that they are not capable of handling it. He will delegate sensibly and organise the work of those under him in a thoughtful manner, giving due consideration to their own development and need to learn. He will be a fair and usually patient boss, though his intellectual ability and confidence may sometimes have a more over-powering effect on those under him than he imagines.

Although he will try to operate a consultative style most of the time, he is capable of taking a tougher and more directive approach where necessary. He will set high standards and expect his subordinates to show the same commitment as he himself does. Staff will find that whilst he allows freedom and scope for initiative, he will monitor progress quite carefully.


Dr Seel is a little unusual in various ways, which has some positive and negative consequences. He is exceptionally intelligent and shows outstanding intellectual abilities across the board. He possesses the capacity to see beyond the more obvious aspects of a situation and to think in a more lateral way. Despite these attributes, and to some extent because of them, he has not followed an altogether normal education and career path. After a slow start, he is making up for lost time, and is clearly ambitious. He has a need to achieve and to work to the limit of his considerable potential.

His approach to his work is a serious-minded and committed one, and he expects much the same from others. He has a reasonable level of energy and drive, but his style rests more upon his intellectual powers and his ability to analyse logically and quickly. His decisions on technical matters will be well-judged and he will show a good grasp of detail. He is meticulous and careful, and will strive to be precise. Although emotionally stable and usually well- controlled, he can lose his temper and his restraint on rare occasions.

Dr Seel does not like to be put into a category or "typed" in any way, and it is probably quite difficult for people to feel they have an understanding of him on first meeting. He has a tendency to question and to probe in a moderately sceptical style, and whilst this is not done in an aggressive way, it is possible that he could be perceived in a more threatening manner than he realises. This is not helped by his intellectual confidence which, while well-founded, may be seen as challenging by some superiors. He could be viewed as intellectually arrogant, but this would be somewhat unfair to him; he is quite objective and open-minded, and strongly team-oriented.

His own ambitions are not pursued at the expense of others, and he will try hard to facilitate the success of his colleagues. He is quite a friendly and patient man, but he will be quick to identify what he sees as sloppy thinking and lack of precision. Subordinates will find that he is willing to delegate and to trust them enough to give them scope for initiative, though he will monitor their progress quite carefully. They will find that he is demanding but fair. He will want to be given as much freedom as possible by his own boss; he does not like hands-on management. He is not inclined to respect superiors simply on the grounds of their position; they have to be highly competent and committed as well.


Main Assets

- Exceptional intellectual ability on all domains tested
- Likely to achieve work of high technical quality; meticulous
- Plans ahead sensibly and is able to see the strategic picture
- Emotionally stable and can cope with normal pressures
- Confident in his ability and well motivated; has a strong need to achieve
- Likely to be imaginative and innovative in approach, without taking undue risks
- Generally positive in his attitude to others; quite friendly
- Strongly team-oriented; cooperative and constructive in trying to work with peers and subordinates
- Quite objective and fair-minded
- Willing to trust those under him and to delegate accordingly Main Limitations
- A trifle shy and may not make the best impression on first meeting
- Could be perceived as too challenging and threatening by colleagues who lack his intellectual confidence
- Not especially good at anticipating the reactions and motives of those around him


Dr Seel has considerable potential, though precisely which direction it should be developed in is not completely clear. The problem is that he is capable of making at least a reasonable job of almost anything; he has a balanced and quite flexible style, and a conscientious attitude to his work, along with his outstanding intellectual powers. If he has limitations, they are probably in the interpersonal realm, and they relate more to the impression some colleagues may form of him than to any fundamental problems. His intellectual level and his ability to take an independent and possibly even unorthodox perspective on an issue may make him seem out of step and perhaps awkward to deal with at times.

He is not sufficiently outgoing and socially confident to be very adept at dealing with people; his approach is rather honest and straightforward, which could work against him on occasion. It may be that he does not "sell" himself all that well. Longer exposure to him should convince colleagues of his basically very positive attitude to them, however.

He clearly feels considerable frustration at his present level of work, and believes - with justification - that he can contribute at a higher and more strategic level of the business. His powers of analysis and his capacity for lateral thinking suggest that he has a lot to offer in the areas of planning and strategy. For the future, however, he should perhaps seek to get some more feedback on the impression he makes on people and on his style of communicating with them; formal training inputs may be useful here. It may be that he will not be able to exert the influence he deserves until he has developed further in this respect.


So how did the psychologist's predictions work out over the next twenty years? Check my CV.

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