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What Is Your Orientation:
Are You An I or an O?

Paul M. Muchinsky1
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

1Unamused, indifferent, or entertained readers can contact the author at pmmuchin@uncg.edu.

It was about 60 years ago when the Division of Industrial Psychology, Division 14 of APA, was created. In 1970 we officially changed our name to the Division of Industrial-Organizational Psychology. About 15 years later we incorporated ourselves and officially became the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Despite the hyphen, slash, or and between our industrial and organizational components, we are not as unified and homogenated as our name would suggest. Simply put, many of us feel a sense of identity and kinship with either the I side or O side, but not both. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the split in orientation between the Is and the Os is about even. I took it upon myself to call some members of SIOP to ascertain how and why they came to align themselves with one side or the other. I discovered that many members refused to discuss this issue with me, even though I assured them of anonymity of their response. I quickly learned that ones orientation to either the I side or the O side is a very private and personal issue, and most people are highly reluctant to discuss it. Nevertheless, I did find 12 members who were willing to talk about it. So what follows are the statements made by these individuals. What cannot be expressed in a printed format is the deep emotional intensity and (in some cases) personal anguish associated with their narrative comments. I am most grateful these 12 members would be willing to share their feelings on this delicate topic and thus make this particular column possible.

1. Not only am I a devout I, I think Os are an abomination against nature. Os are perverse and unclean, and reflect the decadence which has crept into our profession. I do not despise Os as people, but I despise O-ness. When Judgment Day arrives, the earth will be cleansed of the evil and wickedness that Os represent. Righteousness will prevail when Is stand shoulder-to-shoulder purified by the destruction of the Os.

2. I guess you can call me a flaming O. I am an active O, and I flaunt it. I participate in O Pride Day, I teach O Theory, I publish in O journals, and serve as a grand marshal for the annual Os on Bikes festival. There is no point in being a closet O. People will just ignore you. This is the 21st century, and we deserve our place and space. Ive outed a few Os over the years, and I feel good about it. The more we put Os in the forefront of our profession, the more we will be accepted.

3. I must say I am rather put off by this line of questioning. Putting people into categories or boxes, labeling them as an I or an O, only serves to perpetuate stereotypes. Our orientation is no ones business but our own. We are all people, perfect creatures with our own unique identities. It is time we stop looking for ways to divide ourselves and instead we should find ways to bring us all closer together as a common people. Love knows no boundaries and makes no distinctions. Neither does meta-analysis. We are all one.

4. Why is it we must be either an I or an O? What is wrong with being both? When Im with Is, I am an I. When Im with Os, Im an O. I feel totally at ease being bicategorical. It is the mark of a mature and sophisticated person to exhibit flexibility in orientation. I consider myself to be such a person. The ancient Greeks wrote about not one kind of love, not two kinds of love, but three kinds of love. Eros is erotic love, agape is love of mankind, and philos is love of knowledge. I am the hyphen between the I and the O. I love the Is, the Os, and fellow hyphens.

5. I am an I and have always comported myself as one. Except once. As a young graduate student I attended a conference in a big city on the coast. After the days proceedings someone suggested we drive to a secluded beach to watch the sunset. I didnt know it at the time, but I was in the company of some experienced Os. Someone mixed up a big batch of pia coladas. The evening was magical. The stars glistened like jewels against a silken ebony chemise. The waves danced like an ethereal sylph. I guess I had too much to drink, but before I knew it one thing led to another. Soon I was a practicing O. You name it, I did it: organizational analysis, organizational behavior modification, organizational development, organizational change, and on and on. The next morning I claimed I had so much to drink the night before I couldnt remember a thing. But in truth I remembered it all so vividly, and still do. That was my only walk on the O side of the street. To this day no one knows about this episode in my life, not even my family (Im now married with children). I am telling you all this on the grounds you have guaranteed anonymity.

6. I will not answer the question regarding my own orientation, but I will share with you a story which directly bears on this topic. When I was a graduate student I had a professor who was an I. The professor taught I classes and published I research. It wasnt until many years later did I discover that all the while this professor did O consulting. I couldnt believe it when I learned this. I could only imagine the torment and anguish this professor must have felt. Publicly through teaching and research an I, but privately through consulting an O. I have often reflected on how this professor must have suffered trying to reconcile these two conflicting life styles. I know I couldnt have done it.

7. I started out being an O, and I am one now. But for a while I tried being an I. Im not sure why I tried to switch, but I did. I tried personnel selection, personnel classification, performance appraisal, and training, but I just didnt like it. It didnt give me any sense of gratification. I guess you could call it a time of experimentation and self-discovery in my life. I dont regret it. At least I know what theyre talking about when I read it. Im back to being strictly an O now. I respect Is. Im just not one of them.

8. My answer to this question has a simple explanation. Im an I, and thats all I was ever allowed to be. My advisor was an I, and my committee was packed with other Is. All of the graduate students in the program were Is. We used to sit around and make fun of Os and mock them, even though none of us even really knew an O. We used to sneer at the low statistical power of their research designs caused by small ns. Wed make up nonsensical multisyllabic terms to refer to the obvious, just like they do. If any of us harbored any interest in O, we kept it to ourselves. I was a member of an I shop, and I didnt dare deviate from the party line. I probably would never have graduated if I did.

9. This has never been a real big issue for me. I grew up in an O academic family. I had coadvisors, and both of them were Os. There was one I on my committee, but he never made a big deal about his I-ness. I recall there were a few Is among the graduate students, but we all got along real well together. I came out of a nurturing program that supported Os, so the transition out of graduate school was real easy for me. I know lots of Os didnt have it as easy as I did, but to tell you the truth, I would hardly reference my own story as an ordeal or struggle. I guess I should have realized long ago just how well off I had it.

10. I am an I, and quite frankly I dont understand what the big deal is about this O stuff. You are what you are. I dont believe you can choose whether you are an I or an O. It just seems to be a function of the way you were born. I suspect one day researchers will discover the existence of an O gene. Furthermore, I dont believe you can switch from O to I, or even I to O, for that matter. I respect the Os for what they are, I get along with them, and I have no quarrel with them. They have their own methods and we have ours. I just dont want my children to grow up to become one of them.

11. When Im around others, I am an I. But when Im alone, my O side feels free to manifest itself. I read O journals when no one is near me, I often fantasize about O topics, and I find myself thinking about O issues even when Im talking about I issues. Recently I discovered a Web site that shows explicit O images. Some people might have trouble with my leading this dual existence, but at the moment I am comfortable with it. Maybe one day I will end the charade, but for the present I can handle the duplicity. At this time Im simply not prepared to pay the price of declaring publicly that Im an O.

12. I will candidly tell you this issue of my orientation bedeviled me for the longest time. I continuously wrestled throughout my career with whether I was an I or an O. I went into counseling, I tried pharmacological treatment, joined support groups, and even had an exorcism. It was all to no avail. I lived with the torment for my entire career. I only found relief when I retired. I have since completely disavowed any orientation whatsoever. I now live alone in a log cabin in northern Maine. I found peace by declaring myself an I-O, being drawn to neither the I side nor the O side. Call it denial or escapism, I dont care. But at last I am free. 

There you have it. Very powerful stuff, wouldnt you say? As for me, I had traditional I training and thus I have I tendencies. But as I get older I find myself increasingly sympathetic to the O orientation. I am not now, not have I ever been, a political activist. However, if someone will draft The Equal O Amendment to the SIOP bylaws, I will support it. 


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