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Ep. 93: Activating the Who of You to Thrive with Alan McFarlane

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Alan McFarlane is a Scotsman now living in Barcelona. A native of Paisley, near Glasgow, he studied law in Edinburgh before becoming a commercial litigation partner of a Top-10 Scottish law firm. His interest in business development took him in 1991 to Barcelona where he gained his bi-lingual MBA from IESE Business School before embarking on a long, global multinational career which saw him lead the design and implementation of major strategic initiatives, living and working around the world in places like France, Brazil (where he served on the Latam regional exec.) and Hungary.  Alan is a published author of two books, a book on Egypt post-revolution and the seven moments of coaching published by IESE. Alan collaborates with IESE, Timoney Leadership Institute in Ireland and Human Content, the cutting edge of understanding personality in the workplace. This is the focus of our conversation today.


Podcast episode Summary:  Human Content is at the cutting edge of understanding personality in the workplace. Alan McFarlane works with Human Content and over the course of our conversation across this podcast he brings to life the potential, the human potential, housed in this body of work, a potential that often goes untapped. Alan illuminates what the instrument, B5+ aims to measure, why it is different from other more commonly known instruments and what can be achieved when this human potential is activated. 

Points made throughout the Episode: 


  • The fundamental drivers for Alan include Freedom & exploration for creativity. 
  • As part of his journey into this work Alan shares a story from his past. As a then 16 year old in Paisley Grammar School, Alan won a competition, having come from “the back of the field”, for writing, The Reed Prize for English.
  • Alan explains that because there was a large element of creative writing in the challenge he won over the more scholarly classmates. 
  • It was well known at the time that Alan was going to study law but after winning this prize no one reflected or guided Alan differently. 
  • Studying Law in Edinburgh University proved to be a complete mismatch. He shares that by his second year of study he was down or depressed and the saving grace for him was a membership to the film society at University. This membership allowed him to consume 8/9 films a week and that was his creative escape. 
  • He graduated after 5 years and went on to pursue his apprenticeship and again there was no guidance or self-reflection to wonder if that was the right thing to do. 
  • Another “saving grace” for Alan, in an ill-fitting career,  proved to be his involvement with the marketing committee at his then law firm. KPMG were brought in to help the firm with a reorganisation and strategy and they challenged Alan on his personal goals and he realised he did not want to be a practicing lawyer anymore. 
  • That decision back in 1991,took Alan to Spain where he applied to IESE Business school to undertake an MBA- his best subjects proving to be organisational behaviour, Leadership Communication and Business Strategy. Alan self-confesses to have been blind to the activation in him by of his strength in these subjects and joined an Insurance Company in Spain after his MBA. 
  • Alan is not ordered structured or planful notwithstanding the career choices he made in his career 
  • Tomas Lovenskiold, the CEO of Human Content advised Alan to leave his employ when his role was being redirected. He told him to “get out” take the check this is not you. Despite this advice Alan stayed. 
  • A terminal disease for Alan’s father in law proved to be the lucky break Alan needed. The silver lining from this episode in Alan’s life proved to be liberation. Alan used the back In Scotland to write his first book and to get in touch with his fundamental drivers. 
  • Various collaborations later and a meeting with bureau chief of Africa, based in Cairo, of the NYT, Declan Walsh meant that for Alan he finally got in touch with his own fundamental drivers
  • Meeting Declan meant that Alan met someone who probably held his ideal role, creative writing exploration and freedom to live and write in many countries. Alan recognised this role could have been for him if he had known or if he had been guided differently. It took 35 years before Alan was matched to his ideal career.
  • Alan is now passionate to expand the knowledge of the Body of Knowledge that is Human Content so that people can be activated to pursue their true potential. 
  • Alan would like to see a way where people, at 18 or earlier could be given a way to understand their fundamental drivers. The problem is that these drivers, consider them rocks on the ocean floor, are often masked by the expectations of others, situations, social norms, peer  groups or job approximations. You need some way to clear the waves and see the fundamental drivers. 
  • Human Content is a complete fit with Alan’s drivers. Human Content is the evolution of the Big Five Factor Model. Alan describes the evolution from the Big Five Factor Analysis 
  • Alan names the modern labels for the Five Factors, two which relate to People factors 1 & 2, one where people draw energy from either their inner world or outer world and the other which measures how much people are naturally more compassionate and caring for people or more fact focused & outcome focused, making sure stuff is done at the right time. The next two factors, 3 & 5, style of work area, these include preferences on how we do things and preferences on how we think about things. The final factor measures factor number four measures emotional energy, where people are more present or absent. 
  • Human Content is strident to say both side of any factor need to be regarded in equal light. There is no right or wrong way to be. The earlier use of the Big Five Factor model was biased in terms of the right hand side of the factor scales and  measures. 
  • To be fully activated means a person’s needs to find a role or career which aligns with the picture created the B5-PLUS  instrument (Given the context in which a person sits) 
  • Knowing your fundamental drivers opens up the possibility for a person to tactically manage themselves at work. 
  • The scientific approach adopted by Human Content makes it significantly different from other better known instruments such as MYERS BRIGGS, DiSC and Insights. This scientific analysis recognises the uniqueness of each human being. Other instruments are too simple. People are extraordinarily complex and Human Content endeavours to recognise the difference. 
  • Personality Research is a largely underdeveloped area and the legacy instruments served a genuine purpose to raise awareness about the differences between people. They did not go far enough in Alan’s opinion and he explains why. 
  • Human Content is a well-kept secret because the legacy tools are well established and well publicised. 
  • The precision of the outcome that is possible with B5-PLUS makes it attractive for organisational performance. It can drive employee engagement, You can clearly see the fundamental drivers for an individual. The fully explored factor analysis against a normed grouping gives much more exactness for role matching etc. 
  • Growth Potential, Employee Engagement, Motivation and Understanding are some of the benefits that come from using B5+ as an instrument of choice. 
  • The B5+-PLUS Instrument can be used to support team ambitions, understanding the needed fundamental drivers to succeed. 
  • By taking the B5+-PLUS instrument a team discovers not only their individual fundamental drivers but also the nuances between them and the combination effects which means that they will have certain implications for how they are in the work place. This will have implications for what they enjoy doing and what they do well together and how they will interact together, smoothly or roughly. 
  • Alan illustrates the impact of the B5-PLUS  instrument by way of a case study. B5-PLUS was used for 450 employees after a CEO decided to do a comprehensive role analysis and reformation. The employees were allowed to self-select their roles as a consequence of the rewrite using the analysis from the B5+ instrument. Customer Satisfaction as a key indicator for this firm went from 53% to 86%
  • In another example this time from Norway, Alan shares a story about a hospital where the sickness rate was at 26%- 26% of all levels of the employee base at any one time were not available. The B5-PLUS  was deployed. People were allowed to be re-matched, where jobs or at a minimum tasks were readjusted or where people were reallocated to different departments. In four months after this work was completed the sickness rate fell to 2%
  • Societal prejudice can blind us to the potential as expressed in certain kinds of personality or expressions of them. There is bias to seeing certain aspects of the personality spectrum as favourable. 
  • Alan advocates that we take the B5-PLUS instrument and then acknowledge what is found. He asks that people acknowledge their fundamental drivers, embrace them and then exploit them for greater satisfaction in life. 
  • Alan adeptly answers my question regarding the need often for people to wear multiple hats, say for example in a gig economy. 
  • He also helped me be curious about a particular client of mine using the terminology of the B5-PLUS instrument and asked a couple of very pertinent questions that I can now explore with her at a future date. 
  • The B5-PLUS is distinctive because of its precision as a instrument. It measures 5 personality factors and the facets that accompanies them in a manner that no other instrument does. There is a fully explored factorial analysis of the factors and facets, an order of analysis on personality that has never been done before. 
  • The factor analysis, the design and process involved in B5+ makes it an instrument that is unique and helps others see their uniqueness too. 
  • Alan uses his formula or 3 word frame, Acknowledge, Embrace and Exploit to encourage others to become aware of the contents of their individual B5+ report and to act on It. 
  • The precision of this instrument allows you to confidently predict performance in the way that other instruments do not. Again this instrument can be used for recruitment and promotion that other legacy instruments advise cannot. 
  • Alan used the last few minutes of this podcast to wish that individuals and teams at work could have their uniqueness recognised, and through that recognition for employers to make a conscious effort to match that persons uniqueness to their roles to make people, happy, satisfied fulfilled motivated & fully activated & for the employer to reap fantastic performance and growth. 


Resources mentioned across this podcast 


  • B5-PLUS Product from Human Content
  • B5-PLUS personality assessment from Human Content
  • Novaturia Global SL,
  • The Seven Moments of Coaching by Alan McFarlane 
  • Egypt’s Thousand Days of Revolution by Alexander Murray (my pen name)

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