Startup general interest

Six dimensions of personality–a framework for understanding people and for recruitment

One of the books I am reading at the moment is Spent by Geoffrey Miller the main purpose of which is to explore why we buy things and what that means for marketing. His main point is that we are driven by our evolutionary impulses to demonstrate our attractiveness as mates and as members of family and society that are worth looking after. It is an interesting book and he goes well beyond the obvious ideas of buying things which enhance our sexuality and/or demonstrate wealth and power to look at the mechanisms of how these purchases work, how they vary internationally and some of the less obvious drivers – like making purchases that demonstrate kindness (which maybe why Paris Hilton has a dog…).

The point of my post today, however, is the six element personality framework Miller postulates. Regular readers will know that I love a good framework, and I think this is a great one. Intuitively it makes sense to me and it has a reasonable scientific basis too. I’m posting it here because startups can use it as a building block for their recruitment strategy and company culture.

The framework goes by the acronym GOCASE, and the six elements are:

G – General intelligence
O – Openness to experience: curiosity, novelty seeking, broad-mindedness, interest in culture. Predictive of emotional sensitivity and social tolerance
C – Conscientiousness: self-control, willpower, reliability, consistency, dependability, trustworthiness. Conscientious people pursue long term goals
A – Agreeableness: warmth, kindness, sympathy, empathy, compliance, benevolence, peacefulness. Agreeable people avoid conflict, non-agreeable people (often called aggressiveness) will walk over others to achieve their goals.
S – Stability: emotional stability, adaptability, equanimity, maturity, stress resistance. People high in stability are resilient. People low in stability are quick to anger.
E – Extraversion: friendly, gregarious, funny, socially self-confident. Extraverts are social, introverts are loners.

These personality dimensions are independent of one another – i.e. there is little correlation. From a startup hiring perspective general intelligence, conscientiousness, and stability are going to be desirable in the majority of cases whereas others are more or less important depending on the role you are hiring for and the culture you are trying to create. For example, openness will be important if you value diversity and plan on hiring people from a variety of backgrounds and agreeableness may not be what you are looking for in a sales person.

Note that this framework is value free. It doesn’t make any statements as to what is good or bad. Any feelings you have about the desirability of scoring high or low on any of these dimensions are a result of your own perspectives, and most likely how you see yourself. I bring this point up because corporate cultures are value based. They typically combine positions on the desirability of high scores on some of these traits with concepts tied more closely to the specifics of the business at hand.

Two examples:

  • Fred Wilson blogged recently about Twilio’s culture statement, their ‘Nine things’ – they clearly value people who score highly on conscientiousness and agreeableness as five of their nine talk directly to working hard, being thorough, and getting on with people
  • Brad Feld has written a couple of times recently about the TAGFEE culture that SEOMoz are building – they clearly place a very high premium on openness

Strong corporate cultures inspire people to work harder and do greater things, and they succeed in part because they create an environment in which everybody gets on with each other, which means they score similarly to each other on the dimensions of GOCASE.