Book Excerpt Part 4: Instinct

Take the Entrepreneurial Personality Quiz to see where you stand.

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The Critical 50 Percent: Doing Your Genetic Inventory

Continued from Page 3


I can hear you saying “But if genes are so important, how come I’m so different from the rest of my family? My dad was a lazy slob; does that mean I’m doomed to be one, too?”

Not at all. Here’s why:

* Genes can be recessive. Physical traits often skip a generation. It’s logical to assume that personality traits can, too.

* Genes don’t operate in a vacuum. The way a gene functions can be affected by when and how its instructions get switched on and carried out. As science writer Matt Ridley points out in his book Nature via Nurture, scientists are discovering that genetic instructions are more like a recipe than a blueprint. If you put all the right ingredients into a cake batter but you set the heat too low or leave it in the oven too long, things can go wrong. Genes function in much the same way. The environment you grew up in may be very different from the environment your dad grew up in. Even if your personalities were identical, you have learned different things than your parents did, and your genes will express themselves differently.

* Genes aren’t photocopies. You’re a mix of two sets of genes: your mother’s and your father’s. Each of them inherited a combination of genes from their parents, each of whom also inherited two sets from their parents. It doesn’t take a math genius to see that the number of ways those genes can be combined, even in the same family, is enormous.

* Genes affect your environment—and vice versa. If your genes give you a personality that’s slightly different from a brother or sister, you may react and behave differently in your environment. That behavior will probably lead people—including your parents—to treat each of you a bit differently, no matter how hard they try to be evenhanded. The different treatment can reinforce any differences in siblings’ personalities.

* Genes may behave differently, depending on whether they come from your father or your mother. Research on mice shows that certain genes, called “imprinted” genes, function only if they’re inherited through the father; others work only if they came from Mom. Maternal imprinted genes seem to influence the parts of the brain that deal with thinking; paternal genes have more impact on development of the emotional, limbic parts of the brain.17

Researchers have found that living in the same family has less to do with personality than genes do; an estimated 10 percent or less of the differences in our personalities can be attributed to shared environments such as family.18 And after a certain age, that family environment has less and less to do with who we are.19


Want to know where you stand on each of the Big 5 personality traits? This quiz can give you a general idea of what strengths and weaknesses may be highly influenced by your genes. Knowing them can help you understand how they might help or impede you as an entrepreneur. It can also show you areas you may need to supplement, either through experience or finding other ways to obtain what you lack. There are no right or wrong answers; what counts is your individual combination of traits and how you develop, use, and apply them. This is not designed to be a formal psychological examination. It is only intended to give you a general idea of your genetic starting point.


Answer the questions by checking either A or B. Once you’ve answered all questions in each section, total the number of checkmarks in each column.20


A     B

You find it more enjoyable to (a) deal with real-life, concrete situations, such as closing deals, winning new clients, and reviewing data, or (b) imagine new products that don’t yet exist and daydream about how you might be able to develop them.

You (a) are not terribly absorbed by natural or artistic beauty; you relate more to people, things, and information, or (b) respond powerfully to beauty and often find it in things others don’t, whether in the arts or nature.

You generally (a) make sure you keep your emotions from affecting your business decisions, or (b) are very aware of how your behavior and decisions are influenced by what you feel.

When you hit an obstacle in reaching a goal, are you more likely say to yourself, (a) “If I just stick to my game plan and persevere, I’ll get there; I’ve done it before,” or (b) “Maybe there’s another way to reach my goal; besides, I’d rather try something new anyway”?

When a conversation at a business gathering turns to abstract ideas such as philosophy or a discussion of aesthetics, would you tend to (a) find another conversation; you can’t be bothered with all that irrelevant debating, or (b) find yourself interested in hearing various ideas and opinions, and perhaps even join in the conversation?

Which concept appeals to you most: (a) “A tradition of excellence” or (b) “Think different”?

Total for Section I

Section I: Openness to Experience

This aspect of personality measures how receptive you are to new experiences and ideas. If you had a lot of As in this section, you probably tend to focus on the here and now, the concrete, the norm. You are more comfortable with tradition, routine, and the familiar than with questioning the status quo. You may dislike ambiguity and prefer having a few well-defined interests. You often get impatient with things you perceive to have little usefulness or connection with the real world. Having a low degree of Openness can be valuable in enforcing regulations or focusing on well-defined, specific goals, such as sales.

If you had mostly Bs here, you tend to think creatively, try new things, and have many different interests. Generally, you are intellectually curious, aware of your own emotions, and open to reexamining ideas and beliefs. A high score here can be an asset in recognizing new opportunities and alternative ways of doing things. Many entrepreneurial personalities, especially those who actually start their own companies, exhibit a high degree of Openness.


A     B

Which statement has been more applicable to your career? (a) “If I can believe it, I can achieve it,” or (b) “The only believable victories are probably the temporary and partial ones.”

If you had to organize your own daily schedule and calendar, you would (a) be fine; you’re highly organized about most things, or (b) miss or be late for a lot of meetings.

If you’re forced to break a promise to your best friend, would you be more likely to say to yourself (a) “I’ll either find a way to keep my promise eventually or make it up to him somehow,” or (b) “Well, we’re good friends; he’ll understand.”

What you accomplish in your life defines who you are: (a) I agree, or (b) I disagree.

Which statement best describes what you do when faced with a task you dislike? (a) “The sooner I get this out of the way, the sooner I won’t have to think about it anymore,” or (b) “I know I’ve got to do it sometime—just not now.”

When you use your intuition in making a decision, you (a) do so only after you’ve spent some time thinking through all the issues first, or (b) rely on your initial gut reaction, which usually proves to be the right one anyway.

Total for Section II

Section II: Conscientiousness

Conscientiousness examines your ability to control impulses and plan to achieve your goals. If you had mostly As, you probably have a sense of your own ability to get things accomplished and control your own destiny. Your obligations to others are important to you. You probably are considered dependable, persistent, prudent, and tend to act and/or think in an organized, methodical way. If you are extremely high in Conscientiousness, you may even be a perfectionist and a workaholic. Finally, you may have a high desire for achievement and recognition. Scoring high on Conscientiousness indicates an aptitude for actually following through on an entrepreneurial idea.

If you had mostly Bs in this section, you tend to act on your impulses, sometimes without thinking things through. People may see you as spontaneous, flexible, and free-spirited; they may also see you as inconsistent, scattered, and unreliable. You may have long-term goals but be relaxed or even indifferent about pursuing or achieving them. You may also be easily distracted by a new or different goal, or procrastinate about the steps necessary to achieve it. Entrepreneurs who are low on Conscientiousness will need to find ways to provide themselves with some impulse control, focus, planning, and organization.


A     B

When you meet someone whose company you enjoy, you are more apt to (a) invite them over to your house for a social engagement, or (b) wait for them to indicate an interest in getting together.

After you’ve been to a party with a lot of other people, are you more likely to feel (a) energized, maybe even sorry to leave the party, or (b) tired and ready for some quiet time alone?

When a meeting you’re involved in but not responsible for seems to be drifting and ineffective, you (a) try to take charge and focus the discussion, or (b) wait to see if the discussion becomes more productive and something valuable will emerge.

On vacation, would you prefer to spend more time (a) going, doing, and seeing as much as possible, or (b) relaxing, reading, and kicking back?

If you were a car, would you prefer to be (a) a Ferrari Modena, racing from Paris to Dakar, or (b) a classic Bugatti, carefully tended and pampered by your owner?

People often comment on your ability to create an atmosphere of joy and cheerfulness: (a) True, or (b) False?

Total for Section III

Section III: Extroversion

Extroversion looks at how comfortable you are with actively seeking out and connecting with other people. If you had mostly As here, you enjoy socializing and talking with others. People see you as assertive, energetic, and high-spirited; you may even be considered the “life of the party” type. You enjoy being busy and feel restless if you’re not. In general, you probably think of yourself as a pretty happy person much of the time. You tend to prefer excitement and stimulation to peace and quiet. Extroversion can be an asset for an entrepreneur who must constantly sell his or her product.

If you had mostly Bs, you probably tend to be somewhat low-key and quiet. This does not mean you dislike people or are antisocial. You simply don’t need as much stimulation and excitement as an extrovert does, and are less likely to seek it on your own, though you may enjoy it if someone else initiates it. You have less difficulty being alone than others, and less need to dominate a conversation. When you do socialize, you probably prefer smaller groups. People may think of you as a bit reserved. Entrepreneurs with a low Extroversion score need to understand how to make sure that their reserve or lack of exuberance is not misinterpreted as unfriendliness or arrogance.


A     B

When working with a new client, do you tend to (a) go ahead and get started on the work based on a handshake, or (b) begin only once all contracts have been finalized and signed?

If you had to reschedule a client meeting because something more important came up, would you be more likely to (a) be straightforward about why you have to cancel, or (b) give the client a flattering reason, even if it’s only partly true?

When colleagues come to you with a problem not of their own making, are you more likely to (a) enjoy doing what you can to help, saying, “We’ve all been there,” or (b) help but secretly feel that they should be able to handle their own problems?

If a group of your colleagues insisted on pursuing a plan you absolutely knew would create problems for your company, would you (a) quietly point out the problems but agree in advance that you’ll do whatever everyone else wants, or (b) fight for your idea, even if it means some serious confrontation?

When you’ve been successful at something, it’s been mostly because (a) you’ve had a lot of help from others, great opportunities, and a little luck, or (b) you’ve worked harder and smarter than a lot of other people.

When you watch a presenter stumble through harsh questioning from an audience, do you mentally (a) sympathize with the person, or (b) criticize them for being ill prepared?

Total for Section IV

Section IV: Agreeableness

Agreeableness is connected to your ability to cooperate with other people. If you had mostly As here, harmonious relationships and getting along well with others are probably a high priority for you. All the Boy Scout virtues—helpfulness, generosity, the ability to compromise, the ability to trust and be trusted—are related to Agreeableness. A high score here means you’re probably extremely well liked—a valuable trait. However, being overly agreeable can be just as problematic for an entrepreneur as not being agreeable enough. Too much Agreeableness can prevent an entrepreneur from defying popular opinion to pursue a vision, or making tough decisions, especially if they involve confrontation or conflict.

If you had mostly Bs here, you may have difficulty with compromise and getting along with others. You may frequently be suspicious of other people’s motives or actions, and they may in turn see you as uncooperative and self-involved. You may hear yourself saying “Business is not a popularity contest” a lot. Being low on Agreeableness can help an entrepreneur fight for an unpopular idea or make tough calls, but it can also prevent seeing ways to achieve consensus and collaboration.


A     B

When you make a decision, you tend to (a) make it quickly and move on, or (b) worry a lot about the worst-case scenario so you’ll be prepared if it happens, and worry afterwards about the consequences.

If you lost a competitive bid and found out that the client had given the winner inside information that wasn’t available to you, would you be more likely to feel (a) glad you aren’t going to do business with a dishonest client, or (b) angry and resentful that the bidding was unfair?

A     B

When it comes to having “the blues,” you tend to (a) shake them off easily when they happen, which isn’t often, or (b) lose energy, get discouraged, and have trouble getting yourself motivated again.

You are (a) rarely nervous in social situations; you’re not generally worried about the impression you make on others, or (b) very aware of what other people think about you, and conscious that others watch and evaluate you constantly.

If you see something you love but aren’t sure you can afford, you’re more likely to (a) resist the craving until you’re sure the purchase won’t affect your other financial plans and dreams, or (b) go ahead and get it; you’ll figure out later how you’ll pay for it.

When you’re under stress, you (a) feel a weird sort of clarity and resolve; pressure often brings out the best in you, or (b) battle to fight off feelings of panic, confusion, and helplessness.

Total for Section V

Section V: Neuroticism

Neuroticism measures how strongly and negatively you react to the stresses of life. If you had a lot of As in this section, your emotions tend to remain relatively stable; you don’t tend to have wild mood swings. You may not always be happy or cheerful, but you don’t tend to be overwhelmed if you occasionally feel depressed, anxious, or angry. You’re less likely than others to worry constantly or suffer over your problems. Entrepreneurs who score low on Neuroticism have an advantage in not letting obstacles get them down.

If you had mostly Bs, you may have difficulty coping with day-to-day stress that other people seem to sail through. You may have strong emotional reactions to problems and take a long time to get over bad moods, anger, or hostility. You often feel anxious or depressed, and other people may see you as a worrier. Frequent, strong, persistent negative emotions and difficulty coping with them can leave you easily discouraged. An entrepreneur with a high degree of Neuroticism needs to understand how this trait can affect the ability to persist in creating or pursuing a vision.


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Copyright © 2005 by Thomas L. Harrison


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