As a certified scanner I just came across a new term – “scanner”. Better late than never. And we all know that labeling people is just “wrong”. Or is it? But we label things all the time. That’s a girl. That’s a table. That’s my pet monkey. You just don’t want to use a label to create rigid boundaries. The girl can play hockey and grow up to be an engineer. You can sit on the table. And if I had a pet monkey, I’d teach it to play fetch.

Here is the author Barbara Sher talking about the scanner personality feature. She has written several books on the personality feature. I think of it as a predisposition or a mental approach to the outer world. Some people are the opposite of a scanner – they naturally focus on a narrow field and enjoy becoming an expert in that area. The world needs both types at the extreme and as in all aspects of humanity there is a range – tall people, short people, and everything in between. Everyone’s approach has value, to themselves and to others.


I just ran across this term “scanner” today, because I am a scanner. A hat tip to Marta at Climbing the Cliff blog. Her post on scanners enlightened me. She blends this insight into the INFP personality type that comes from MBTI – standing for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s a system to examine a person’s personality or approach to their environment based on four criteria. I’ll be talking about it more in the future – another way to understand yourself and others.

I identify strongly with this idea of a scanner. I’m interested in almost everything. I find it hard to focus on one subject. I don’t have attention deficit disorder. I was able to focus in school, but I can get pretty bored with a subject once I have exhausted it’s novelty for me – I’m always looking for more and deeper. Overall I’m not capable of being bored. I have hundreds of books and at any one time I’m often reading about ten. I’ll be reading a book that refers to another related book and I’ll chase after that rabbit trail and often read the two books together, along with others. It sounds more chaotic than it is – I’m used to it and I find most books don’t hold my interest for the entire book. It’s not unusual for a book to have a few really important ideas and then they just bang on those for the rest of the book. So I might read half the book and then stop. I may return to it or not. And there are lots of books I keep returning to because they are so complex, deep and interesting that I can never be bored by them.

Sher talks about an inability for scanners to settle down within a single subject or area. At one time that was true for me. I certainly saw an arc in my thinking and my exploring, but the focus was not there. There were a number of ideas that I kept circling back to, even years after first coming upon them, but from the outside my approach seemed pretty unfocused.

That has changed, and it was another scanner who revealed my focus to myself – Carl Jung. Jung was interested in more subjects than most people could possibly juggle in a lifetime and he went deeply into all of them. But he realized his focus early on in his life – depth psychology and the process of individuation – the process of a person becoming whole. I see the process of individuation as ultimately the process of the evolution of each one of us. Here I am in my scanner mode – making this post more complex as I tie other things in…sigh. But I cannot look at a subject without seeing the connections to many other subjects. I want to understand the biggest picture that I can.

But I have come to a focus. It’s like my decades of scanning finally brought me to my central focus and here I am. Like Jung, I will always be a scanner, who is constantly on the lookout for new knowledge that is relate-able to my core ideas and purpose. Steve Jobs was also a scanner – a dropout who hung around his old college studying calligraphy of all things. That went into the computers he developed and his eclectic approach shaped the entire computer industry. Jobs was no single minded computer geek – he was interested in too many other things to hold just to that side of the business. Jobs and Jung did develop a deep focus, but they used their scanner approach in service to that focus.

The video above, by Barbara Sher is a good introduction to her ideas, but I can’t say that I completely agree. At one point she implies that the scanner mode is creative in a way that the non-scanner mode may not be. I understand why she is saying that. She is sensitive that our culture worships the idea of focusing and not the more eclectic approach that appeals to us scanners. “Put away those distractions and get to work!” Much of the misery of school when you are a young is the emphasis on “hard work” focusing on a single task. That works for some people, and I was able to cope with it, but for many scanners they really don’t like to work like that. And those people can be made to feel stupid or lazy, despite being very intelligent and creative. But a focuser can be just as creative as a scanner. It would be tough to be an accomplished artist in any field, if you can’t focus to develop your skills and your craft in service to your art.

I now consider myself to be a scanning focuser – haha. I have found my focus, thanks to Carl Jung, and yet I must continue to scan, as he did. You may be a scanner like I was (and didn’t know it until recently) – a scanner looking for a focus. You may find it, or not – don’t worry – the journey is the destination. As Steve Jobs said: “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”

So maybe you too are a scanner or perhaps you’re a “focuser”. Whatever you are, embrace it, use it, grow it, grow beyond it.