What conation means to me

There are times when I wish I could trade brains with someone else.

It can be hard being a thinker. And I’m not just talking about intelligence. I’m talking about the insatiable, constant hum of mental energy. The kind that results in some sleepless nights and heightened levels of anxiety.

My exhausting mental output also affects my relationships. Sometimes, it’s a “why can’t they understand?” frustration with people who don’t think as deeply about things as I do. Other times, it’s more of an envious comparison. I want to be carefree, to turn my brain off and have fun. I see other people who make it look so easy. Of course, when I put myself in such a social situation, I quickly get burned out and frustrated with small talk. I can try to be more “positive” or “outgoing,” but I can’t change the way my brain instinctively operates.

When I was first introduced to the Kolbe Theory™ I was surprised to learn that, unlike personality assessments, it didn’t analyze affective character traits. It goes to a deeper level, to a strange word I had never heard before: conation.

Conation isn’t a matter of intellect, or of left brain/right brain. It deals with activity at the back side of our brains, activity related to instinct. As Kathy Kolbe says, it’s not a matter of “cans” or “cant’s,” but of “wills” and “wont’s.” It’s about what we, when naturally left to be ourselves, will instinctively do.

A lot of people know and understand the basics of their instincts pretty well. What the Kolbe Theory does is give us the language to describe these instincts to others. Perhaps more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to understand the instinctive drives of our friends and families. Looking at others, or even having a conversation with them, won’t reveal much about their conative instincts. To see conation in action, we need to see how people work.

When I first took the Kolbe A Index, I was faced with a series of strange looking numbers: 8652. This is my Modus Operandi. These numbers, which range from 1-10, appear in 4 tanks, representing Action Modes. The red tank represents “Fact Finder,” the blue tank represents “Follow Thru,” the green tank represents “Quick Start,” and the yellow tank represents “Implementor.”

I feel it’s helpful to think of the modes as tanks, because it means I only have so many units of an Action Mode to give. Everyone has at least a little of all 4, but we will counteract in some (1-3), re-act in some (4-6) and initiate (7-10) in others. I have an 8 in Fact Finder, my highest number, which means I will naturally initiate in that mode. Fact Finders are the information gatherers, the ones who weigh pros and cons carefully. They are deliberate calculators who measure, probe, and prioritize. They are pragmatic and realistic.

Reading this result, I was stunned at how perfectly this described the way my brain naturally responds to problem solving. I am naturally drawn to writing and research. I don’t make decisions quickly or lightly. I hate small talk. This is the way I am built, but I had never had a way to quantify these reactions.

Take the opposite end of my results: my 2 in Implementor. I counteract in this mode. This means I am not a physical “hands-on” guy. Rather than physically create tangible things to solve problems, I am more content getting by with limited supplies or, even better, having someone else create the things that make my life easier. Every time I’ve attempted to build a bookcase or chair by myself, it has been something close to a disaster. It’s not that I don’t have the desire or will to build something, but I only have 2 units of Implementor in my tank. The physical, tangible instincts of my brain are very limited, and once I use up the 2, I need to recharge. Taking frequent breaks is the only way to get through any constructions projects.

In contrast, my roommate can spend all day working on his car. He absolutely loves putting things together and pulling them apart, getting dirty and fixing things. He hasn’t taken Kolbe, but I imagine he would be much more initiating in Implementor than myself. Given that I can barely change a tire, I’m very grateful for his ability to repair my car or change my oil. His conative knack for putting things together complements my counteractive tendency to think in more of the abstract. I don’t always understand initiating Implementors, but I recognize that without them, everything would fall apart.

Perhaps the coolest thing about conative theory is that it has helped me appreciate the innate differences in humankind, as well as our similarities. There are no “high” or “low” scores in the Kolbe Index. My insatiable, highly categorized brain doesn’t make me crazy; it makes me unique, and highly valued. But those who counteract in Fact Finder can help me avoid getting lost in the details. We need Quick Start initiators to innovate, take risks, and push the boundaries. But we also need counteractors, those who keep us grounded and remind us of rules and procedures that can keep us safe.

In my interactions with friends, family and co-workers, I have already seen the ways the Kolbe Theory helps me understand myself and others. We have all been designed to complement each other, with counteractors keeping initiators in check and vice versa. Almost like a highly intricate puzzle, our individual natural conative strengths can fit together in perfect harmony, creating a larger picture we can’t see on our own. But first, we must understand the conative capabilities of those around us.

As far as my own conative instincts are concerned, I’m learning to love the brain I’ve got. I can’t be all things to all people, and conation helps me to recognize that I wouldn’t want to be, anyways. It gives me the ability to be myself and to affirm that I have something to contribute, just the way I am.

Conation has the potential to revolutionize our workplaces, our families, and the way we engage our communities. If we can recognize and celebrate our innate, unique ways of problem solving, the possibilities seem almost endless.


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