INTRApersonal Intelligence: Make Who You Are Work For You


Intrapersonal Intelligence is having a keen Knowledge of the Self.  But, in order to have that intelligence,  it is important to learn about the general principles of personality, strengths and weaknesses, faults and fault lines, and output failures.

There are seven wonders of the world.  You are the 8th.  And you, like the other seven, have codes hidden within your framework.  If you do not understand the structure of the wonders of the world (including the 8th), they (and you) will forever be a mystery.

The famed pyramids– acknowledged as one of the seven wonders of the world—used granite as they were built by the Ancient Egyptians.  Since granite is one of the hardest varieties of natural building stone, it has preserved the ancient, massive pyramids for centuries. However, the same characteristics that give granite strength also make it hard to work with (“The Lost Pyramid,” 2008) 

Your Strengths & Weaknesses:  The Upside is the Downside

Granite, because of its hardness, couldn’t be cut by the Egyptians like many other stones.  They had to make a dent on each side of the granite stone with another stone.  They would then fill the indentation with sand to allow the cut device a back-and-forth mobility. Two men would then saw back and forth for almost three days to cut just one of the massive stones destined for the pyramids (“The Lost Pyramid,” 2008).  Here we see a principle that is true not only in nature but in human nature as well.  The same characteristic of hardness that made granite valuable and long-lasting is the same characteristic that was its liability, making it difficult to work with.

When a friend was asked, “What is the best thing about being married?” his reply was, “She’s around all the time.”  “What’s the worst thing about being married?”  “She’s around all the time.”  And such is the dynamics of all situations, systems, and personalities.  The upside is simultaneously the downside.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Personality is Not a Balance Sheet

Your personality traits are exactly like granite.  Incorrectly, many people perceive themselves or their personality to be a balance sheet with two columns.  In one column of the balance sheet are listed their strengths, virtues, and “good” traits, and on the other side of the balance sheet are their weaknesses, faults, and “bad” traits.

Best Trait/Worse Trait

This is really an incorrect self-view.  It is more accurate to imagine each trait as a block of granite—the same characteristic that is wonderful is the same characteristic that can create a problem.  This is true of individuals and of organizations.

“Faults” are simply the downside of your strengths.  If you are strong-willed and determined, people may also accuse you of being stubborn and headstrong. If you are smart and intellectual, people may accuse you of “being in your head too much” or overthinking everything.  If you are often praised for being compassionate and kind, you may also be accused of being a pushover.  That same kindness that makes you empathize with strangers is the same trait that gets you exploited by them as well. If you are frugal and “price sensitive,” you may be accused of being cheap.  If you are high on Agreeableness, you probably get along with everyone.  You also probably have a hard time speaking your mind and saying no.  And so it goes with each one of our traits.  You will experience the yin and yang of each trait.

That’s Life

And so it goes with everything in life.  For every upside, there is a tied-to-it downside.  In winter, you can ski, but you also have to schlep through shoveling the snow.  In summer, it’s green and beautiful, but weeds grow prolifically too.  Even in Hawaii, (appropriately names Paradise) where the weather is temperate all the time, people complain of “island fever.”  In the northwest, the constant beautiful greenery is the upside, the constant rain is the downside.  Even the successful clothing designer, Halston, said “Fame and fortune are a curse in some ways, but they are necessary to success.”

If you incorrectly think of your personality as a balance sheet, you may think of strengthening your good traits and eradicated your bad ones; however, since they are attached to each other, you cannot eradicate the downside without eradicating the upside as well.  It is important to note, as well, that “faults” are distinct from fault lines or output failures, as we will discuss in the next section.

Strengths turned into Weaknesses

Strength in the Wrong Environment

You can be punished for your strength in the wrong environment.  The “wrong fit” environment will “flip” a strength into a weakness.

In a Greek myth (not a Spielberg movie), Icarus was a dude who could fly because his Dad made him wings out of feathers and wax.  Given this great trait, he got a little carried away and went all the way to the sun.  He was just doing what he did best, but he didn’t realize that his asset could be a weakness in the wrong environment.  He flew too close to the sun and his waxed wings melted.  His Dudehood was pretty much over at this point, as he came crashing into the sea.  No more flying for him—low, high, or anything in between.  Wax wings in the wrong environment melt.

Strength Carried to an Extreme

The other place your strength can work against you is when you carry it to the extreme (which is almost always when it becomes a weakness.)  John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, created the first opportunity for working adults to go back to school without leaving their jobs.  It wasn’t his first novel idea, and it wouldn’t be his last.  Always being ahead of the curve, when the Internet arrived in the mid-1990s and everyone was rushing to launch online universities, Sperling was already there. (Breen, 2003)

Sperling likes to say that his whole life has been a flight from boredom.  Sperling is restless, innovative, and always pushing the envelope.  He has had amazing success because of that drive.  The University of Phoenix became one of the largest private universities in the U.S., making its founder a billionaire. But that same restless, innovative and pushing-the-envelope personality is also what almost took the Apollo Group to bankruptcy twice by pushing the company into new markets before it was ready (Breen, 2003).

This same phenomenon is found in organizations and companies, just as it is found in individuals.  Miller found compelling evidence that over time, the demise of successful organizations was “due to a kind of arrogance on the part of organization decision-makers to pursue what made them successful in extremes.”  Companies successful at innovation, for instance, kept innovating to the point of creating useless stuff (Miller, 1990). A “strength” not reigned in became a weakness.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Managing Yourself!

Steve Jobs addressed this Weakness/Strength dualism about Apple.  “Apple has been highlighted as having an incredibly great weakness of being totally vertically integrated.  It does the product design, the hardware, the software, the marketing.…..  But I don’t agree that that is a weakness.  I perceive it as a potential weakness if not managed right.  I also perceive it as Apple’s greatest strength if managed right.” (Jobs)

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Disciplining Yourself!

Personality or personal characteristics can be compared to electricity and fire.  Both have great benefits when directed and can create great damage when undisciplined or used carelessly.  Fire can burn your house down just as easily as it can warm you.  Fire has to be managed! Learn to make your fire work for you!

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Positioning Yourself!

Often during an interview, the question of “What is your weakness?” is often asked.  This perspective is very useful for answering that question.  Take one of your traits.

In one of my first jobs, I was asked what my best trait was:  I love to learn and teach (since I was applying for a teaching job this helped). And then I was asked what my worst trait was.  I said, “I take on too many projects and go in too many directions.  I am so interested in so many things…voice trails off.”  Framed in the positive the trait looks like this: Involved.  Creative.  Highly curious.  Invested in learning.  Loves challenges.  Framed in the negative it looks like this:  lack of focus, jump from project to project, scattered.  But, of course, I didn’t describe the trait in the “negative.”  Who wants to hire that?  I framed it in the positive.  One is without discipline or maturity.  The positive one is the managed trait.  Same trait.  Different Positioning.

You should pick an “innocent” weakness and then learn to “flip” it.  If an interviewer asks you about your weakness, say “Sometimes I am too tenacious (rather than stubborn).  I tenaciously see things through when sometimes I should just let it go.”  Ask any stubborn…ahem… I mean tenacious person if one of their struggles isn’t learning to know when to cut their losses.  That waxed wing problem again.

Perspective on Criticism

This same perspective will help you welcome criticism.  Put the critique in your hand.  Flip it.  Catch it in the reverse.  You are looking at your assets and strengths.

Slice a Sweet Piece

You can celebrate the ‘upside’ of that particular trait of yours or you can bemoan the ‘downside’.  The choice is yours.  Every trait is a two-edged sword.  You can use it to slice your career to ribbons or you can use it to slice the biggest, sweetest piece of the career pie.  You decide.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Faults or Faultline?

A distinction must be made between a Fault (which is the Flipside of your strength) and a Faultline.  As I just discussed, “faults” simply must be managed, disciplined, and positioned, not eradicated.  Fault lines, on the other hand, are another matter entirely.   In the natural world, a Faultline is where an earthquake is likely to occur.  Fault lines are those “cracks” that can cause devastation if unattended.   “Faultiness” can undo your life. Faultlines mean a catalytic event is headed your way.  That rumble you hear in the background means the earth is about to open and swallow you up if you don’t do something differently.

Fault lines are an earthquake waiting to happen

Fault lines are the lines of self-destruct: Alcoholism, drug abuse, quick temper, sharp tongue, incessantly critical, and dishonesty.  Fault lines are those things that are more about self-destruction, bad choices in life, or intractable habits.  It is the mind-set, habits, and character problems that keep you from being your best.  Fault lines are not about your personality or your “wiring.”  Building a career with undealt-with-fault lines can end you up at the bottom of a crevice.

The theory of constraints

The theory of constraints (TOC) adopts the common axiom: “A chain is no stronger than its weakest link.”  The theory also states that goals become limited by a very small number of constraints.  The theory also states that there is always at least one constraint.

Organizations, people, and processes are vulnerable to the weakest link.  The weak link can damage, break and adversely affect any potentially successful outcome.  The solution, of course, is internal mastery.  What a tough assignment!

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Internal Mastery

Genghis Khan, who rose to leadership and established an empire that continued to grow 150 years after his death understood internal struggles.
“As a child, his clan abandoned his widowed mother and her family to die on the steppes.  They survived and the “lessons he taught his sons was about internal mastery.  “The first key to leadership [is] self-control, particularly the mastery of pride, which [is] something more difficult…to subdue than a wild lion, and anger, which [is] more difficult to defeat than the greatest wrestler.” (Estep, 2004).  Self-mastery is not easy, but certainly worth the effort.


“Your ego is out of control. You’re screwing up your career.”  That line is the opening salvo to an article written in Fortune Magazine about a co-ceo named Pottruck.  His ego was so poorly managed, that everyone hated working with him.  In an abrupt confrontation, he was told that.  It was then he realized he needed help.  He got coaching, but he still admits he wrestles with it every day.  At a recent meeting, he tried to ram an idea down his colleagues’ throats. They called him on it. “I don’t want to sound like a recovering alcoholic,” he says, “but under stress, we revert to old ways.” (Sellers, 2001)

Building safeguards can help keep you or anyone from reverting to their old ways.  The safeguard built in for Pottruck was surrounding himself with people who would challenge him when his ego got out of hand.  “Recovering egomaniacs are better able to keep to the straight and narrow when surrounded by people ready to challenge their arrogance. That’s one reason many great leaders pick strong-willed, opinionated people to work for them.” (Sellers, 2001)

“Leaders like Welch and Andy Grove [of Intel], even though they have egos the size of Texas, have people under them who are unafraid and intellectually adroit,” says Warren Bennis, who teaches business at the University of Southern California (Sellers, 2001).  Do what you have to do to manage your fault lines!

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Habits

Egos, especially for leaders, can indeed be difficult to manage.  So can intractable habits.  Val Halen knows a little bit about conquering habits.  “Van Halen singer-songwriter-guitarist Sammy Hagar says the “High Hopes” song he wrote on his recently-released “Unboxed” disk is ‘kind of an anti-drug statement from an ex-user’s point of view.’

He explains that ‘it’s not a preaching song really…not anti- or pro-drugs.  I just know that if you get stoned (on marijuana) it shoots your motivation and a lot of things you try to do never materialize.  I smoked dope when I was a teenager and I was in a band back then.  I remember I’d get these great ideas for a song, but the next day–or even right in the middle of a sentence–you forget them.  I never wrote a song until I stopped getting high.’ (Smith, 1994)

Procrastination, constant tardiness, poor people skills, carelessness, fear, and self-sabotage are a few more issues.  As if the list isn’t long enough already, researchers have identified four critical areas of weak links:  an inability to understand the world from the perspective of other people, a failure to recognize when and how to use power, a failure to come to terms with authority, and a negative self-image (Waldroop & Butler, 2000)

Poor habits are simply behavior patterns that keep you from your best work.  They are problematic behaviors that limit your success.  Address them.  Fix them.  Soar.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Character

Max Butler was a computer hacker, one of the best the FBI had ever seen.  Assistant US District Attorney, Luke Dembosky, said “Perhaps the biggest disappointment or shame of this case is the waste of talent by someone who is very bright, very creative, and could have used his talents to benefit society and ultimately himself, but he chose a path that would harm many people, businesses, and ultimately harm himself.”

Max Butler started programming when he was eight.  He was hired as a white hacker but being a white hacker wasn’t exciting enough.  He started to hack into private networks without permission.  As Max said, “Illegal hacking can be seductive.  It’s a thrill; it’s an ego rush to be able to get into another computer that you didn’t ask for permission to get into.  It’s a temptation, but it’s worth it to resist that temptation. I would say, Go to school, Get an advanced degree.  Stay out of trouble.”  As the camera’s pull away from his jail cell where he is serving the longest sentence for hacking in U.S. history up to the time he was sentenced, he takes a deep breath, and in a reflective moment with great sadness, as he looks down, almost seeming to tear up,  says, “I wish I had that advice back then.” (“Computer Hacker Masterminds “, 2010)

Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame used his talents legally.  Max Butler used his computer skills illegally.  One is a billionaire, one is in jail.  Talent counts, but character counts just as much.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Why does the difference between Faults and Fault lines matter?

Why does the difference between faults and fault lines matter?  It matters because getting it wrong causes major problems in yourself and your relationships with others.  It matters because when we try to eradicate the flipside of our personality as if it were a weakness, we quit being who we are.  Conversely, when you ignore “Fault lines” and treat them as if “Oh, that’s just who he/she is,” you have become enablers of both yourselves and others.  The distinction is incredibly important.

Mind-sets, habits, ego, and character issues all count as faultlines.  Faultlines are those weak links that destroy or inhibit a career that has taken you years to build.  Is it difficult to change?  Absolutely!  Is it worth it?  Absolutely!  Jim Rohn says, “Never wish your life was easier.  Wish you were better.” (info from Brad Sugars seminar 5/17/12)  He goes on to say, “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job and you will always be a success.”

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Output Failures

Dr. Mel Levine, M.D. does not believe anyone is lazy; rather he believes that the “desire to be productive is universal.”  The desire to be productive and contribute is a desire that spans the entire human race; unfortunately, sometimes “output failures” get in the way of that productivity.

Dr. Levine works with children with learning disabilities and simply calls such issues “output failures.” Learning disabilities certainly aren’t the only output failures, but they are a good example.

Sometimes our “output failures” came about from no fault of our own (like learning disabilities), but nevertheless, need attention. Output failures are not faults or faultlines, but they do get in the way of your being productive and contributing.  Many of them can be addressed through specialized help, but sometimes you can take charge of them yourself and simply redirect them to your own (and others) benefit.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Creating Work-Around


I knew someone who had dyslexia and had learned to compensate by memorizing information with astounding accuracy and speed.  It was amazing how he could hear a college lecture (he was working toward medical school) and commit most of it to memory.  He had fine-tuned and practiced this compensation technique since grade school, so he was quite adept at it.

Intrapersonal Intelligence:  Channeling into Places of Benefit

Though Samuel Johnson, the British lexicocopher, worked on creating an English dictionary, his motivation was simply money. In fact, he said, “No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.”  Daniel Webster disagreed.  He considered creating the dictionary a dream job.

Daniel Webster, who created the American dictionary, had an output failure.  He had a personality disorder called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder Complex (OCDC), which if channeled correctly, made him quite functional.  (This is in contrast to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), which can be a little more challenging.  While OCD’s check the doorknob 56 times before they leave the house, OCDCs simply drive everyone else around them a little bonkers (such as Webster’s father).

According to Joshua Kendall (Kendall, 2011), Webster’s biographer, “If a person with a personality disorder finds an outlet, they function beautifully.”  I should say so. Over 45 (!) years, Webster obsessively compiled words into the American Dictionary. On the side, he worked on a four-volume encyclopedia for children.  Just a side project.  Oh, and since he loved order, rules, lists, and counting, when he was on a book tour in 1785, he went at each stop, he would count the houses in each town.  Philadelphia had 4582 houses, but he likes round numbers, so he said 4600 and that data got folded into the first census.  Dictionary.  Encyclopedia.  Census.  Output failure?  No way!

This work was a perfect fit for his obsessive-compulsive personality.  Even disorders can help you in your career if you use them right!  As the author said, “The thing about Webster is that out of his pain came monuments to American culture.”  So much for output failures!

Sharon’s son

Jack had struggled a little bit with his own private pain.  He had struggled with ADHD and compulsiveness for years.  Quite out of the blue, he decided to apply for a job in construction which was very physical, a stark contrast to his high-paying high-think corporate job.  Instead of being bored, he found the physical exertion calmed him down, balanced his life, and was the perfect job to transition to his new married life.

Dr. Levine is right.  No one is lazy and the “desire to be productive is universal.”   Creating workarounds or rechanneling “output failures” keeps you at your highest and most productive self, contributing your “fitted” talents to the world.

INTRApersonal Intelligence is about self-knowledge.  It means being self-aware and having personal insight into what makes you tick.  Intrapersonal intelligence means knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your faults and faultlines, and your output failures.  All of which can be corrected and used to make you the most of being you.


Breen, B. (2003, February). The Hard Life and Restless Mind of America’s Education Billionaire. Fast company(68). Retrieved from Bill Breen ([email protected]) is a Fast Company senior editor. Learn more about the Apollo Group ( on the Web.

From: Issue 68 | February 2003 | Page 80 | By: Bill Breen | Photographs By: Michael Grecco

Computer Hacker Masterminds (2010). In American Greed: CNBC.

Estep, T. (2004). The Emotional Intelligence of Genghis Khan, President and CEO, Mongolia Inc. TD, 58(12), 71-72.

Jobs, S. Jobs: “Focus Is About Saying No. 2011(10-9-2011). Retrieved from

Kendall, J. (Writer). (2011). The Forgotten Founding Father:  Noah Webser’s Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture. In CSPAN 2 Book TV.

The Lost Pyramid. (2008). In: History Channel.

Miller, D. (1990). The Icarus paradox:  How exceptional companies bring about their own downfall. New York: Harper Collins.

Sellers, P. (2001, April 16). Get Over Yourself. Fortune. Retrieved from,15114,373110,00.html

Smith, S. J. (1994). Wynette worked two years on “Love Without Walls” duet.

Waldroop, J., & Butler, T. (2000). Managing Away Bad Habits. Harvard Business Review, 78(5), p89, 89p, 81c;.




(Using Knowledge You Already Have)