Surrounded by Idiots: Review, Background, and Context

Are you thinking of reading Surrounded by Idiots by Thomas Erikson? What kind of impact and reception did the book have when it was released?

Surrounded by Idiots is a guide to understanding yourself and the people at work who just aren’t like you. Bestselling author and communication expert Thomas Erikson asserts that there are four personality types, and we all fall into one or more of these categories.

Continue reading for our Surrounded by Idiots review.

Book Overview

Our Surrounded by Idiots review starts with a brief overview of the book. Surrounded by Idiots offers a solution to your workplace woes—difficult coworkers, bad communication, and clashing work styles can be fixed. Thomas Erikson shows you how to understand (and work with) the colleagues that frustrate you the most. 

Using real-life stories and relatable examples, Erikson takes you directly into the minds of four distinct personality types. You will learn how each type thinks, communicates, behaves, and reacts to stress. As a result, you’ll be able to more effectively communicate and collaborate with the bosses, employees, and colleagues you thought you’d never understand.

About the Author

Thomas Erikson is a Swedish communication expert, business consultant, lecturer, and bestselling author. For over 20 years, he has delivered seminars to businesses all over the world, including Coca-Cola and Microsoft. After teaching his personality typing system to so many of these companies, he decided to document his knowledge in his first book: Surrounded by Idiots. The book was such a success that he wrote four more books in the “Surrounded by” series.

Erikson’s Other Books Include:

Connect With Thomas Erikson:

The Book’s Publication

Publisher: St. Martin’s Essentials, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group. 

Surrounded by Idiots was originally published in Erikson’s native Sweden in 2014 before being translated for English speakers in 2019. For this guide, we are using the 2019 English version.

Historical Context

When Erikson released the English version of Surrounded by Idiots in 2019, the world was fascinated with personality typing. Corporations, in particular, were using these tests as a staple of their hiring practices:

  • About 80% of Fortune 500 companies had used the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in their hiring and training programs. 
  • The personality typing industry had an estimated worth of $500 million to $4 billion. 
  • The industry was expected to grow 10-15% annually.

Personality typing wasn’t a new concept, but it gained popularity at this time largely due to millennials coming of age. Millennials were the first generation to be raised with the internet, and with that came infinite opportunities. For a generation trying to decide what they should do with their lives, these tests were a comfort. In the years leading up to 2019, this generation reached management age, and personality typing became common corporate practice. 

Intellectual Context

Recorded evidence of personality typing goes as far back as the 5th century BC. Erikson’s choice to designate four categories of human personality has deep historical roots: The ancient Greeks and Romans, the Aztecs, and others have all used a four-category system of classification. 

The color model that Erikson uses in Surrounded by Idiots is primarily based on the work of Hippocrates, William Moulton Marston, and Walter Clarke.

Hippocrates (460-375 BC, Greece): Considered the father of medicine, Hippocrates classified people into four categories, and he believed that each was dominated by bodily fluid, or “humors.” The cholerics (yellow bile/liver) are fiery and powerful. The sanguines (blood/heart) are positive and cheerful. The phlegmatics (mucus/brain) are sluggish and slow. Finally, the melancholics (black bile/spleen) are dark and gloomy. According to Hippocrates, for a person to be in good health, the four humors must be in balance.

Marston and Clarke: Marston, a psychologist, studied the behavioral characteristics of mentally stable people in the 1920s, at a time when most psychologists were studying mental disorders. In the 1950s, Clarke, an industrial psychologist, took Marston’s research and developed the DISC model. DISC stands for the traits of dominance, influence, stability, and compliance. 

The Book’s Impact

Surrounded by Idiots became the new kid on the block among the more established personality typing models. While personality testing was already widely used in corporations, Erikson’s “colorized” version of the DISC model (the basis of his book) became a conversation topic among friends and family: “Which color are you?” 

Critical Reception

Surrounded by Idiots is an international bestseller with over three million copies sold in 42 languages. The vast majority of readers praise the book as fascinating, easy to understand, and filled with practical advice. Negative Surrounded by Idiots reviews question the validity of Erikson’s personality typing system.

Erikson and the DISC model are heavily criticized by licensed psychologists and the scientific community for two primary reasons: First, Erikson has no formal education, training, or licensure in psychology. Second, personality typing as a whole is considered to be pseudoscientific (a framework of beliefs that cannot be tested using the scientific method).

Despite the scientific community’s opinion, Erikson has drawn praise from readers who connected with the information and used it to improve their communication and interpersonal relationships. Supporters say the book helped them recognize their own behavioral tendencies and enabled them to empathize with those who don’t think and behave as they do.

Commentary on the Book’s Approach

Erikson’s approach is straightforward. He spends the first half of the book describing the characteristics, motivations, and communication style of each color/personality in his typing system. The second half explains how to adapt your own behavior and communication so you can navigate conflict and improve your working relationships.

Throughout the book, Erikson pairs practical advice with anecdotes and hypotheticals. He uses a business casual writing style that is easy to understand. 

Surrounded by Idiots: Review, Background, and Context

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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