Author Malcolm Gladwell — who’s sold some 4.5 million books — says that entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and IKEA founderIngvar Kamprad become so successful thanks to a rare combination of personality traits.
As he said on stage at on Tuesday at the World Business Forum in New York, they are open to experience, conscientious, and disagreeable.
Let’s go over each:
• Openness to experience describes the way you relate to new information. If you get really excited about novelty, then you’re highly open — which is the greatest predictor of creative achievement.
• Conscientiousness describes how well you attend to details. If you’re organised, responsible, and plan ahead, then you’re highly open — which is the greatest predictor of career success.
• Agreeability describes how much you need other people’s approval. So if you’re highly disagreeable, then you don’t really care what people think — which, as Gladwell argues in “David and Goliath,” is a predictor of making innovation happen.
These are three of the so-called Big 5 personality traits, which psychologists take to be the most best model for personality, as it’s much more empirically verified than the Myers-Briggs and other tests. The other two traits are extroversion and emotional stability.
Gladwell says the combination of openness and conscientiousness is as scarce as it is powerful.
There are lots of people who are creative without being conscientious, Gladwell said — the cafes of Brooklyn are full of them. And there’s lots of conscientious people who aren’t creative — like, he says, an accountant.
“It’s rare to have those two qualities in combination, to be both someone with an imagination to dream up some radical way of doing things and the relentless focus to make it happen,” Gladwell said. “Add to that the third thing: You also must be disagreeable.”
But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable … They are people willing to take social risks — to do things that others might disapprove of.
That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.
So what happens when you have openness, conscientiousness, and disagreeableness wrapped up in one person?
You have Steve Jobs, who had no worries about stealing the graphic user interface from Xerox PARC.
You have IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, who outsourced his manufacturing to Poland during the height of the Cold War, which Gladwell says earned him the moniker of “traitor” in his native Sweden.
Kamprad — open enough to invent new methods of making furniture, conscientious enough to relentlessly expand his business — was also disagreeable. So he dutifully ignored his haters.
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