Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Agreeableness and Innovation

Psychologists measure personality through what is called the Five Factor Model, or "Big Five" inventory, which assess who we are across the following dimensions:
Neuroticism - sensitive/nervous versus secure/confident
Extraversion - energetic/gregarious versus solitary/reserved
Openness - inventive/curious versus consistent/cautious
Conscientiousness - orderly/industrious versus easygoing/careless
Agreeableness - cooperative/empathic versus self-interested/antagonistic

The psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that innovators and revolutionaries tend to have a very particular mix of these traits - particularly the last three: openness, conscientiousness, and agreeableness.

Innovators have to be open. They have to be able to imagine things that others cannot and to be willing to challenge their own preconceptions. They also need to be conscientious. An innovator who has brillant ideas but lacks the discipline and persistence to carry them out is merely a dreamer. That, too, is obvious.

But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable. By disagreeable, I don't mean obnoxious or unpleasant. I mean that on the fifth dimension of the Big Five personality inventory, "agreeableness," they tend to be on the far end of the continuum. They are people willing to take social risks - to do things that others might disapprove of.
- Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath.
As you would expect, this is a fascinating read. And I'd like to think that we are helping at least some emerging leaders be at least a little bit disagreeable.

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