Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Personality Matters

About a month ago I reviewed Personality Poker: The Playing Card Tool for Driving High-Performance Teamwork and Innovation, by Stephen M. Shapiro. I found the book to be very helpful in my work, as my day job revolves around working with creative teams to solve complex challenges, and getting the makeup of any team just right has everything to do with the ability of that team to succeed. The uniquely designed deck of personality playing cards helped demystify much of the psychological mumbo jumbo found in other books and assessment tools.

Personality Poker renewed my interest in the impact of personality and natural temperament on human creativity and ingenuity. I turned to Steve Shapiro to help me better understand that dynamic.

Given all the books and tools on personality, why are most companies still so dysfunctional?

Dysfunctionality is not solely caused by personality conflicts. There are many other factors involved. But one issue related specifically to personality books and tools is the fact that most personality profiles are so complex that they are hard to institutionalize. There is a big difference between being "scientifically valid" and being "real-world useful." So taking a test does not mean it will have an impact. But more importantly, making change is not easy. Self-interest typically prevails over the needs of the organization. Unfortunately, most organizations do a poor job encouraging the behaviors they desire.

What's the secret to playing well with others?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, opposites don’t attract. In fact, there is irrefutable scientific evidence that opposites repel. But in the world of business, in particular, working well with your opposite is critical. Think about it. If you are a dynamic, creative, freewheeling individual, you might find that a methodical planner will drive you crazy. You may be put off by deadlines and schedules. But if you really think about it, you will realize that a planner can help you get things done. So, the secret is to appreciate people who are different. Instead of focusing on what you don’t like about them, direct your energies on the ways in which you complement each other.

What do you do with an extremely talented person in your company who can't seem to get along with anybody?

First determine why this person does not get along with others. There are two types of conflicts typically: personality-related, which involve preferences and communication styles, and values-related, meaning what matters most to someone. Individuals have different styles, often lending to misunderstanding and miscommunication, creating what most refer to as personality conflicts. If this is the case, try to identify the individual’s unique talents and focus their time and attention on those. When people understand and appreciate how this person can contribute, they can often overlook stylistic differences. But if the issue is related to a difference in what the individual values, this person should be removed from the organization. That sounds harsh, but a highly competent individuals who are driven by their own agenda can act as a virus and take down a whole company.

Is there one personality that is naturally more creative and innovative than the others? I guess I'm wondering if innovative ability is linked to personality?

It is important to distinguish creativity from innovation. Creativity is the development of new ideas. Innovation is an end-to-end process that starts with a challenge and ends with value creation. Creativity, aka solution generation, is only one step in the innovation process.

Although the “typical” creative person might be better at developing breakthrough or radical solutions, everyone has creative potential. They just might develop different types of solutions.


Well, for instance, a more methodical person might put together a practical inventory system adapted to the unique needs of the business. An analytical person might create a mathematical formula that optimizes investment returns. Or a relationship-oriented person might suggest a new and useful way to resolve team conflicts. Clearly, all of these are forms of creativity. Innovation, on the other hand, involves four steps: define the challenge, generate solutions, plan and execute, and engage the heart and mind. Now, each of these steps is often best performed by someone of a particular personality style.

Why do small businesses seem to be so much more innovative and fun than giant ones?

There are a few factors that impact innovation and fun of an organization. Sure, size is one factor. But with start-ups and small businesses, people believe so much in the business that it is rarely just about the paycheck; the work is its own reward. This is the highest level of motivation.

But there is another important reason. Just as people have personalities, so do organizations. Smaller companies tend to have the more creative “diamond” personality as they are in growth mode. This makes them seem more fun and innovative. A more creative, entrepreneurial and dynamic atmosphere exists. Collaboration is more natural in these environments because people are clear on, and buy into, the long-term goal. Larger companies often have the bottom-line, quarterly earnings “club” culture that favors deadlines and short-term results.

Matthew E. May is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change. He blogs at, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

No comments: