April 15 was Otto Kroeger’s birthday. The founding partner of OKA died in 2013, but the memory of him is constant for the many thousands who knew him, and his fingerprints are all over not just OKA, but the field he helped to shape. The following is a remembrance of this man I so dearly miss.
Otto the Sage
The Sage Archetype is a narrative of striving for independence through deep knowledge and expertise. The Sage is the wise old man or woman who has toiled to understand, to “get it”, to know. The tone of this narrative is scholarly, thoughtful, pensive and wise.
Otto Kroeger lived a Sage’s story. An academic high-achiever, young Otto quickly became a rising star in the Lutheran Church, with a remarkable ability to compose stirring sermons, quote chapter and verse, and read the Book of John in its original Greek. When he left the ministry for a career in counseling and then consulting, he took on Jung’s work and the MBTI with his typical intensity and focus.
Otto personally trained tens of thousands of people while designing and delivering the first MBTI Certification workshop, years before the tool’s publisher even required one. He wrote a number of popular books, including Type Talk At Work, one the best-selling and most referenced Type support tools ever published. In the last 20 years of his career, Otto derived a system of MBTI interpretation that enabled the accurate prediction of attrition rates for entering college freshmen. In a five-year blind longitudinal study, he was never less than 65% accurate in predicting who would drop out of school and for what reason.
Otto’s academic, literary, creative and research-based contributions continue to reverberate all around us. Otto was a Sage.
Otto the Jester
The Jester Archetype is a narrative of joy, having fun and being in the moment. The Jester is the joker, the comedian who laughs at the serious and meets stress, toil and set-backs with lightness and humor.
Otto was a Jester. He loved a good joke and told them all the time–the bawdier the better. He met the world with a zesty story, a devilish smile and an infectious laugh. Half world-class trainer and half comedian, he had a knack for bringing great insight to groups on waves of laughter. The irreverent side of the Jester was never far from Otto either. He loved being the board room consultant or the key note speaker who shows up wearing shorts, multi-colored suspenders, a crazy hat, or his signature apron with souvenir pins from over 100 past clients.
Otto was a Sage—he help to found, deepen and then challenge the Type community. Without his intellectual efforts and achievements, the MBTI would be harder to use and far fewer people would understand it as well as they do today. But Otto was also a Jester who knew how to draw and win over a crowd—how to hook them. The MBTI would not be nearly as popular today had its most entertaining ambassador not taken up the tool in 1967.
The lens of the archetypes (as defined by the Pearson-Marr Archetype Indicator or PMAI) shines a helpful light on a struggle Otto had over the last chapter of his life. The Jester and the Sage are narratives with opposing energies. One is serious and scholarly while the other intentionally undercuts that seriousness with jokes and humor. Each story arcs toward a different outcome, and success in one story can work against success in the other.
Otto’s struggle was that the inner circle of the Myers-Briggs community—the thought-leaders the publisher assembled to shape the instrument’s spin-off reports and the tool’s future direction—wanted nothing to do with Otto, whose group antics and clowning they regarded as undignified and silly. This group of Sages could not see past Otto’s Jester story to the deep and powerful scholar and thought-leader he had been from the start. While Otto was always popular, he was consistently excluded from this inner-circle to his disappointment and frustration.
Jesters are not supposed to be taken seriously, but Sages are broken when they are not. Otto had a long, happy and successful life, but he left this world with that narrative tension unresolved.
When I’m working with the archetypes—my own or those of clients, I remember Otto’s struggle and bring some focus to alignment and compatibility of someone’s narratives as well as whether each story is arcing toward a happy ending. This helps me move beyond simple identification of the archetypes to the application of this information. This is yet another way Otto’s Sage hand continues to guide me and the work we do at OKA.
OKA’s Narrative Intelligence class is a single-day workshop that introduces the PMAI tool and the archetypes model. Designed and delivered by Hile Rutledge, this experiential and interactive workshop is a fun way into this remarkable self and organization development tool. Click here for more information on this workshop.