Why you should always shut the cabinet door

So, today I’m walking back from the Avery building to my office – a grand distance of about a block – and all of a sudden the fire station on the corner comes to life. The proof is in the ear-splitting wail and the disco-like lights. In a heartbeat, the lead SUV, most likely the Fire Marshall, pulls out at a pretty good clip and takes off. Seconds later, the Emergency Rescue Unit emerges, negotiates a hard right, heads down the road with siren wailing and lights flailing and then … stops.

Yeah. He just stops. Pops it in “Park” right in the middle of the street, jumps out – siren still at full blast, mind you – and trots back about 10 yards or so. He proceeds to scoop up something from the middle of the road, does an abrupt about face and hoofs it back, popping his recovered treasure into the side cabinet, which he promptly slams shut. Ah, yes: he slams shut the very door that had obviously been left wide open as he whipped out of the station house and into the street. Situation resolved, he slides into the cab. Action resumes as he careens around the block en route to whatever call prompted their activity.

The Flintstones, I think. And I’m off in gales of laughter because, really, it easily could have been one of those Flintstones cartoons – you know, the ones where Fred and Barney’s feet gallop in double time but go nowhere, the car in stasis and all movement suspended for a few seconds before – zoom zoom – they take off in puffs of prehistoric dust.

Now,these are some emergency responders who are wonderful at what they do and who deserve all the thanks and honor we can heap upon them. But if someone who’s an expert at being ready to act at a moment’s notice can do something like leave a cabinet door on the truck wide open, thus flinging stuff to the winds … imagine what the rest of us might be prone to do! And do not only in high-stress moments but in average, everyday life. Let me just give you an example.

The other day I left for work, backed out of the garage, drove down the hill, rounded the corner and then made a hard left turn. Clunk. Something dropped off the back of the car to the ground, loudly. Of course, the minute it happened I knew exactly what it was – the night before Charlie had been working with a padlock he’d left sitting on the back of my car. I saw it, too, but didn’t bother to move it. One task led to another and there lay the padlock, forgotten … at least until that big “clunk” jogged my memory. I stopped the car and went back to retrieve the slightly dented but still usable device.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked out the door only to get just so far before I had to go back for whatever I forgot. And I can’t count how often I have initiated a project without considering all the bases or really knowing for sure what I was doing. Or packed a suitcase only to discover later that I forgot my toothbrush, or the toothpaste, or, God forbid, something really crucial.

Like the fire fighters, we’re not immune to leaving a cabinet door wide open, figuratively speaking. And when we do that, we may need to stop abruptly to retrieve something – or fix something – as a result. If time is precious, those moments wind up being costly.

It actually brought to mind a comprehensive decision-making and problem-solving model, courtesy of personality type research steeped in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®).

In a really tiny nutshell, here’s the theory: we prefer to “perceive” or bring in information in a way that’s either concrete and detail-oriented – think the five senses – or in a way that’s abstract and filled with future possibilities and based on patterns and hunches. We prefer one of them, but to the other we devote much less effort. Likewise, we prefer to “judge” or make decisions in a way that’s either quite objective, focused on solving the problem logically and considering true-false information, or else more subjective, focused on people and relationships and our internal value systems. Again, we prefer only one of them and spend much less time on the other.

Our two favorites are as natural to us as breathing. We almost don’t have to think about them. We just “do” them. The ones we don’t prefer? They’re more awkward, even juvenile. We do them, but frequently we do them poorly.

It goes without saying that we’ll spend more time on what we prefer than what we don’t. But here’s where the decision-making theory comes in. What if we took time for all four? What if we were able to see details as well as the big picture and to make decisions that are logical and objective as well as attentive to the effect on others? Here’s what that might look like:

  • First, we’d try really hard to understand the facts, details, and history around the issue. What do we know right now? What can we see, hear, smell, recall?
  • Second, we’d spend the same amount of time discovering the possibilities for the future. What are the patterns we see? What hunches do we have?
  • Third, we’d step outside the situation and focus on the objective view. What’s true and false? How can we analyze this? What are the logical steps?
  • Fourth, we’d spend an equal amount of time considering relationships. What’s the effect on people? How does this fit with what we hold to be true? How do we feel about it? How do others feel?
  • Finally, we’d make a decision that considers pretty much all the angles and pieces. Our decision, then, is more likely to be solid, workable, comprehensive – and correct.

Although this quick glimpse of the MBTI® decision-making process only lightly skims the surface, the next time you’re trying to solve a problem, take equal time to consider all four elements. Bring in information of both types, not just your favorite. And consider the decision using both objective and subjective logic.

Don’t take off with a cabinet door open. You might lose something crucial.

If you’d like to know more about the MBTI and your own personality type, I can help you discover that. It’s rich stuff.

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