Intuitive or Sensory?

A Vast Chasm Between Two Brains

The most vast difference between two peoples’ personality types is indicated by one of these letters: N or S.

N stands for the Intuitive preference (the I was already taken by Introverts!) and the S stands for the Sensory preference.

When I read the description for an intuitive, I knew right away that it was describing me. It was a part of my personality that I could never quite define – but I instantly realized which of my acquaintances were “like me” and which were definitely not “like me.”

Finally, here was the distinction I had been looking for! I can try to describe for you the differences between an intuitive and a sensor, but, alas, the limitations of my intuitive-ness might call for outside sources.


Sensors are concerned with the here and now. They live in the present, and have real clarity about what is happening around them. They pay close attention to what information is coming in through their senses. This all sounds very “zen,” but it was how it was described to me, so I thought I’d start out with it.

How I’ll describe it to you is with examples. Sensors tend to be good at, or at least enjoy, athletics, dancing, and the fine arts. They’re just more aware of what their bodies, and other people’s bodies, are doing at the present moment.

They know how a situation looks and sounds. Musician sensors know what will sound great, and how to manipulate their body to make that sound. Roller derby-playing sensors know where their teammates are at all times and understand how to move their body to hit a skater at just the right moment.

They’re also great with details.  Since they’re paying attention to the here and now, they tend to remember where they put things like their keys or wallet. They notice the shoddy paint job in the house you’ve lived in all year (Huh! Well look at that!). They can list the kinds of things they’ll need to bring to have a successful picnic. They’d rather deal with facts than (your crazy) theories. They don’t trust (my) intuitive foresight and they don’t understand why I can’t seem to just follow the damn taco casserole recipe like it says.


Intuitives are big-picture people. They see patterns and frameworks. They live in the future, and are most interested in the possibilities associated with the future. They’re paying attention to the connections their mind is making to the world around them, and making inferences about “what it all means.” If anyone in your life has ever accused you of making a big deal out of nothing, then your accuser is a sensor, and you are an intuitive.

Here are some examples. Intuitives revel in metaphors, puzzles, and stories. Most of your school’s chess club were probably intuitives: they can spot patterns of movement on the board and intuit 2, 3, or 4 moves into the future.

They understand what’s going on around them by relating it to an allegory – they might do this either consciously or sub-consciously. They’re the people who will most likely take a personal problem or current event, and try to explain that its root cause is society!

S: “Why are all of these high-profile Republican women so… dumb-sounding?”

N: “Well, the Republican party still operates within a patriarchal value system, but criticisms of this system from the left-of-center have pushed them to highlight the women of their party. However, the heads of the GOP still don’t take women seriously, so they basically just choose to publicize the pretty, talking ornaments that attract attention but aren’t actually expected to contribute to intelligent debate. They know Sarah Palin is a joke. That’s the point of Sarah Palin.”

Intuitives are visionaries – they always have the goal in mind before – sometimes at the expense of – the details.

N: “This picnic is going to be great! The kids can play football, we can grill out, we’ll spend some real quality time together!”

S: “Did you bring the football? How about the tongs? I checked the weather, and it looks like rain, too.”

N: “Ohh… huh.”

(It’s a lot easier for me to illustrate an intuitive’s thought process. Honestly I have no idea what sensors are thinking about. If you have a clue, let me know in the comments!)

The INTP’s Thouroughly Devastating Analysis

I have to admit – and yes, I know I am biased – when I think of a leader, I automatically think of an N. To me, a leader unites her team under a common vision, a common mission. Visions and missions by definition live in the future – the distant future. It takes an intuitive to keep tasks on-track with the team’s eyes on the ultimate objective.

This is not to say that all Ns make great leaders. In fact, the shortcomings of Ns can cause folks to lose faith in the vision very quickly. Under an underdeveloped N leader, a team can dissolve pretty easily.

Visionaries see the world’s possibilities, and not always its practicalities. Sometimes an N’s idea is too idealistic, too grandiose, and not congruent with the available human and material resources. It might not even be a good idea. Even if the idea is realistic and grounded in reality, an N may lose interest after the initial vision. The fun part, for an N, isn’t seeing his idea implemented perfectly: it’s coming up with the idea itself. Once the idea starts to take shape, possibilities become narrowed; the creative process is no longer applicable, and the N moves on to the next big idea.

This is a huge problem for me. I’ve had more larger-than-life ideas than I know what to do with. They’re so exciting at first! Then, as I get working on them, I lose steam. It’s a natural progression for me and many other Ns.

Some of the most intelligent Ns I know end up in an endless mental hurricane of brilliant ideas, unable to root them, and lost in what their parents dub “Dream Land,” who shake their heads and wish silently that he had just gone to medical school like they told him.

Like I said: I can really only speak for the Intuitive’s perspective on this one. I have – seriously – no clue how a sensor thinks. I only recently became even slightly interested in developing my sensory side this year, when I took up painting and roller derby (that’s a story for a whole ‘nother post).

Although I tend to think of Ns as leaders, I can’t imagine an effective N leader without the exquisite attention to detail that a sensor can provide. I’ll go so far as to say that behind every good N leader is a great S lieutenant leader, or a team of S folks keeping the project on the ground and holding elements accountable. Those who work at CY SJ/SV with me can attest to this if I give examples: Our executive director is 100% N; her deputy director is 100% S. Our impact director is a goal-oriented N; his human resources director is a team-oriented S. It couldn’t be so successful without the balance of both mind-sets.

As my favorite INTP, Albert Einstein once said: “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Ideas can only take you so far – ideas without action just hang, like an over-ripening fruit, and eventually fall to the ground, forgotten. And action can’t happen without nailing the details.


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