President Obama and the Tinker Toy Mind

December 1st, 2010 by LaRae Quy
US-President Obama.
Image via Wikipedia

The eyes of President Barak Obama on the front page of the Washington Times after the 2010 mid-term election conveyed a lot more than a president who was disappointed by a Republican landslide. If eyes really are windows into the soul, it doesn’t take a lot more effort to peek into the mind as well.

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently wrote, “I looked into the sad eyes of President Obama, buried alive with his party.”
I think most Americans saw something else, too—eyes that were withdrawn and detached.

One of the biggest criticisms of Obama is that he doesn’t show his emotions. We can’t get the same read on him that we could on Clinton or Reagan, and this has been unsettling for many. This is a time we need a leader who can stand with us shoulder to shoulder—not lagging behind and crying, or forging ahead and thinking—but standing beside us and feeling.

This is a struggle for leaders and thinkers like Obama who are more analytical in their approach to life than emotional. They prefer the clarity of analysis to the chaos of sticky and unpredictable emotions.

When overwhelmed, they react by withdrawing.

This is what America is seeing in the eyes of Obama.

A Tinker Toy Mind


Tinker Toy Windmill
Image by BenSpark via Flickr

mber tinker toys? As a kid, I built tractors, corrals, and skyscrapers out of their colored sticks and wooden wheel joints. Tinker toy minds like to add new ideas, reconstruct old ones, and attempt to see how different parts of the situation might fit together. They are the inquisitive ones who want to understand how the world works. These people usually have something unusual and insightful to say.

Analytical minds are brilliant at finding out why things work the way they do.

They test the truth of most assumptions for themselves. Think of great analytical minds like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and Warren Buffet. They are imaginative, conceptual people who appreciate the value of theory in whatever they do.

They are also the ones who move into their heads when overwhelmed because this is where they feel safest. Tinker toy minds spend a lot of time observing, contemplating, and listening because they believe that from the safety of their mind, they will be able to figure out how it all fits together and works.

President Obama is a famous example of the tinker toy mind.

The Best Sort of FBI Agent

I spent four years as spokesperson for the FBI in Northern California. I liked it because I believe the FBI is the world’s premiere law enforcement agency and I enjoyed getting the word out. Many of our best agents have tinker toy minds. One of them, Bryan, investigated organized criminal gangs. He tracked down several criminals who were wanted in the U.S. but had fled to foreign countries to avoid prosecution. He was analytical and liked to puzzle stuff out—a very useful characteristic for his line of work.

Bryan was also very private and wanted to be left alone so he could do his job. He communicated by “keeping things close to the vest.” When overwhelmed by the demands of work, he withdrew and stayed there until he felt he had things under control. Does this describe anyone you know?

Communicating with A Tinker Toy Mind

According to Myers Briggs Personality Types, we make decisions based on whether we are Thinkers or Feelers. Tinker toy minds are thinkers and they have been among the most productive leaders in our country. How is the best way to understand and work with this type of thinker—particularly when we approach life differently?

Thanks to Bryan, here are some tips I learned in how to communicate with them:

  • Give them lots of structure when it comes to communication, like agendas and time frames
  • Minimize spontaneous communication
  • Minimize idle chitchat
  • Provide lots of advance warnings of meetings
  • Provide lots of details and data so they can have an edge
  • Recognize they respond directly to questions and avoid fuzzy thinking
  • Understand “the big picture” for them is not an abstract concept but a series of specific information nuggets that connect the details
  • Appreciate that facts are more important than gut feelings
  • Provide direct, specific, and concise responses

Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything.” Pascal

Have you had difficulty in communicating or working with an analytical thinker? What has been most helpful to you in bringing out the best in those who are analytical? What are the pros and cons of working with a tinker toy mind?

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