How important is it that your job matches your personality? Extremely.
Your personality will partially determine how good you are at your job, especially if you have a complex job that requires more than rote behavior. So are you and your job a good fit?
Jordan B. Peterson, raised and toughened in the frigid wastelands of Northern Alberta, has flown a hammer-head roll in a carbon-fiber stunt-plane, explored an Arizona meteorite crater with astronauts, and built a Kwagu'l ceremonial bighouse on the upper floor of his Toronto home after being invited into and named by that Canadian First Nation. He's taught mythology to lawyers, doctors and business people, consulted for the UN Secretary General, helped his clinical clients manage depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and schizophrenia, served as an adviser to senior partners of major Canadian law firms, and lectured extensively in North America and Europe. With his students and colleagues at Harvard and the University of Toronto, Dr. Peterson has published over a hundred scientific papers, transforming the modern understanding of personality, while his book Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief revolutionized the psychology of religion. His latest book is 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.
JORDAN PETERSON: It’s not that easy to categorize jobs but here’s a categorization scheme that’s kind of general but that’s actually accurate.
Okay, so the first dimension is complexity. Jobs range from simple to complex. A simple job is one that you can learn and then repeat. You don’t need high levels of cognitive function for a simple job. If you have high levels of cognitive function you’ll learn the job faster, but once you learn it you won’t necessarily do it better.
Now, a complex job is one where the requirements change on an ongoing basis. So most managerial jobs are like that, and all executive jobs are like that. And that requires a high level of general cognitive ability. That’s the best predictor of success in complex jobs. Okay, so that’s axis number one.
Axis number two is creative/entrepreneurial versus managerial/administrative. Okay, so for creative/entrepreneurial jobs you need people who are high in the personality trait “openness to experience,” Big Five personality trait that’s associated with lateral and divergent thinking. Those are creative types.
And for managerial and administrative jobs, and those are jobs that are more algorithmic—So imagine the guardrails. You’re a train on a track and you want to go down the track fast. You don’t have to be creative to go down a track that’s (already laid down) fast. You have to be conscientious. And so the best personality predictor for managerial and administrative jobs is trait “conscientiousness”.
Okay, so there’s a tension in organizations between lateral and divergent thinking and efficient movement forward.
Now if you know what you’re doing, what you want is conscientious people. Because if you know what you’re doing you should just do it as efficiently as you can. But the problem is is the world changes around you unexpectedly.
And so if you don’t have people who can think divergently when the marketplace shifts on you—which it most certainly will—then you don’t have anybody who can figure out where to lay new tracks. Now it’s really, really difficult for people, for corporations to get the balance between the entrepreneurial/creative types and the managerial/administrative types correct.
And what I think happens—and I don’t know this for sure and the research on this isn’t clear yet—What seems to happen is that when a company originates the creative/entrepreneurial types predominate, and they have to be flexible and move laterally to get the company established to begin with and take risks and break rules and do all sorts of things that conscientious people are much less likely to be able to tolerate (let alone think up).
But as the company establishes itself the managerial/administrative types pour in and take over. But if they take over too much then the company gets so rigid it can’t— it has no flexibility.
Okay, so the first thing you need to do to manage a large enterprise is to understand that these are actually different people.
So first of all everyone is NOT creative. That’s a lie.
So we established this measurement instrument called the creative achievement questionnaire which is very widely used in creativity research now. And what you see – so what it does is it breaks down creativity into 13 dimensions – entrepreneurial, architectural, literary, dramatic, inventions, et cetera, business, you can imagine—Painting, et cetera.
You imagine the 13 potential dimensions of creativity. And then it ranks order levels of creativity from “Zero, I have no training or talent in this area,” to “Ten, I have an international reputation in this area.”
And then we plotted the scores. This is the distribution. It’s not a normal distribution. Sixty percent of the people who take the creative achievement questionnaire score zero. A tiny minority have high scores, and that’s a pareto distribution. It’s a classic distribution of human productivity. So you always get a pareto distribution, not a normal distribution when you’re talking about productivity. Creative people are a distinct minority. They’re a different kind of person, and they’re a pain. They’re a pain because you can’t evaluate them. It’s like, how the hell do you evaluate a creative person? Because they keep changing the rules of evaluation! So they’re a handful to manage, and they’re always trying to play a new game. Well that’s a real pain if you want to get somewhere fast.
So there’s this terrible tension in organizations, and I think what generally happens is all the creative people are there at the beginning. They get chased out until you have nothing but managers and administrators. Then the environment shifts, then the company dies. And so the way that capitalism solves the problem of the tension between the creative types and the managerial types is it just lets companies die.
Now you might think, “Well I don’t want my company to die.” It’s like okay then, you need to understand the difference between these two kinds of people—which you probably won’t and you probably won’t admit to even if you knew. And then you have to figure out how to get the balance right. And so that’s extraordinarily complicated.
Your personality will partially determine how good you are at your job, especially if you have a complex job that requires more than rote behavior. So are you and your job a good fit? If you're a creative person who is open to trying new things—openness being one of the Big Five personality traits—you're more likely to succeed at jobs that require novel solutions over efficient ones. On the other hand, if you're conscientious—another Big Five personality trait—you're likely to be better off in a management or administrative position.
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