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By Thomas L. Harrison and Mary H. Frakes
ISBN: 0446698199
Genre: Business & Money

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Chapter Excerpt from: Instinct , by Thomas L. Harrison and Mary H. Frakes


The Critical 50 Percent: Doing Your Genetic Inventory

When Kay Koplovitz was three years old, she begged to be allowed to accompany her older sister to kindergarten. “I’d ask my mother, ‘Why can’t I be in kindergarten too? I know my way; I can find it.’ So I went off on my own.” Teachers tried to send her home. It didn’t work, says Koplovitz: “I’d turn around and come right back.”

That same kind of determination later led Koplovitz to be ahead of her time in another way when she founded the USA Network, becoming the first woman to head a television network. Koplovitz didn’t have a traditional background for becoming a corporate leader; like me, she studied science in college. But that led her to spot an opportunity: the idea of delivering broadcast programming via satellite to cable companies instead of over telephone lines, as the three broadcast networks did.

Koplovitz may not have gone to business school, but she had an entrepreneur’s belief in her idea and her ability to make it successful. “I didn’t think it was risky,” Koplovitz says. “You could just see the opportunity. For me it was as though it had already been written, like it was a historical fact, even though it hadn’t occurred yet. I was more certain that it would be successful than I was of a lot of other things. I do think there’s something innate about people’s tolerance for risk.”

Personality is determined by many things, but scientists are beginning to find that a lot more of you is built into you when you’re born than we used to think. Scientists now believe that roughly 50 percent of the differences in our personalities is inherited.1 In working with many entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial thinkers over the years, I’ve come to believe that the inherited combination of personality traits that is unique to each human being is the basis for whether we will eventually become successful.

The DNA of success is really your DNA of success. Understanding it can help you make better career decisions and keep you evolving in a direction that can make you successful, no matter how unconventional your career path may seem. The DNA of success is especially important for anyone who is considering being an entrepreneur. Any venture starts with an opportunity, a person, and an idea. Unless that person has entrepreneurial DNA, the idea probably won’t get very far.


There’s some evidence that entrepreneurial thinking tends to run in families. In some cases, families actually produce whole crops of entrepreneurs. One example is that of John Bogle Sr., and John Bogle Jr. Father and son each launched their own separate businesses in the mutual fund industry. In doing so, they were carrying on a tradition that had started generations earlier. Philander Bannister Armstrong, grandfather of Bogle Senior, created Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company. Grandfather Bogle was involved in the formation of a canning company. And there may be yet another generation to come. John Bogle Jr. says he sees a contrarian, risk-taking attitude in his daughter. His son is more cautious, but already displays the analytical orientation that characterizes his father and grandfather.

The Bogles are just one example of a family with an entrepreneurial streak. One Seattle family includes nine entrepreneurs spread over three generations: Larry Mounger, his two sons and two daughters, and four third-generation cousins. Twin brothers Ted and Fred Kleisner are another example. Fred is the president and CEO of Wyndham International; he was formerly president and COO of Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which includes the Westin, Sheraton, and St. Regis chains. Ted is president and managing director of the world-famous Greenbrier Resort. Not only are the two men leaders in the same industry, they are also third-generation hoteliers.

I even see it in my own family. Both my sons have already demonstrated entrepreneurial instincts. As college freshmen, they studied to get real estate licenses so they could make some money during their student years, and one has already told me he wants to start a company after he graduates. My daughter has produced a CD of her own music and is selling it. In fact, all of my three children may be born entrepreneurs. They used to sell seashells at the Cape May, New Jersey, seashore. People could walk on the beach and pick them up themselves, but for some reason they bought them from my kids.

Multiple studies have shown that having at least one self-employed parent increases the chances that a person will be self-employed.2 Are genes at work here? If so, how? Or is it simply a case of learning by example—imprinting, as we trained scientists say? Is the entrepreneurial instinct created before baby’s first breath, or when Mom or Dad helps set up a lemonade stand in the front yard, as Pam and I did for our three children?

Being exposed to an entrepreneurial environment early in life clearly is important; we’ll look at how and why in Chapter 2. And it’s true that some entrepreneurial skills must be learned. No one is born knowing how to put together a good business plan, get financing, or juggle the myriad tasks involved in a start-up.

However, environment doesn’t explain everything. Many of the successful people interviewed for this book said they grew up watching entrepreneurial behavior in their family, but just as many said exactly the opposite. When you deal with a born entrepreneur, you usually know it.

“For those who do it over and over again, I think there’s probably something innate about them,” says Thomas Kinnear, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. “Somewhere down in those chromosomes there’s gotta be something. My brother’s an entrepreneur, my grandfather was an entrepreneur, his father was an entrepreneur. What is it? I’ve been involved in nine start-ups. Even though I’m a teacher, I can’t seem to let go.”

Time and time again I have seen eager people come into my office with what seems like a good idea. They may have a great proposal, they may be a lot smarter than I am, they may even be very personable. But the ones who eventually succeed seem to have something else—something that goes beyond smarts, an idea, and being willing to work hard.

Where does that come from? To begin to get at that question, it helps to think about the difference between entrepreneurial behavior and the entrepreneurial personality. My dad ran a neighborhood grocery store; that’s entrepreneurial behavior. People who exhibit entrepreneurial behavior may or may not be successful, and entrepreneurial behavior isn’t necessarily passed on. The entrepreneurial spirit can be expressed in many ways that have nothing to do with starting a business.

“Nobody’s yet found [a specific genetic link], but anecdotally you sort of see it. Even though children of entrepreneurs tend to regress to the average, they probably are more entrepreneurial than the standard average, at least for a few generations,” says Kinnear. “Of course, if they get too rich, then they become Paris Hilton.”

Where biology may play a role is in creating a genetic foundation for personality. Instinctively pouncing on opportunity, being unstoppable in pursuit of a vision, being able to persuade others of the value of your idea—those are some of the marks of thinking like an entrepreneur. They’re also the qualities that help make you successful today, whether you run a grocery store, lead the development and launch of a major product or division, need to revive an ailing corporation, or spearhead a community project.

At this point, no one can provide a definitive answer to the nature-versus-nurture question—certainly not me. But scientific research is beginning to confirm what I’ve suspected for a long time, based on my exposure to hundreds of entrepreneurs and other highly successful people over the years: that it’s not all learned behavior. In the 1950s, many scientists thought we were simply a product of our environments—little rats in boxes being trained to press a lever for rewards. However, there is more and more evidence that some aspects of personality are partly genetic. Even if you didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs, you may still have basic personality traits that give you a head start in entrepreneurial thinking.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that genes play an enormous part in our personalities. After all, the basic genetic code we all share controls everything from eye color to our risk of having certain diseases. It only makes sense that those genetic instructions might also affect how each individual brain absorbs and responds to what’s going on around it.


To understand how the entrepreneurial spirit might get inherited, let’s step back and look at how genes affect us generally. Genes contain the recipe for how every cell in our bodies develops. Every cell has a copy of all the information necessary to produce an entire human being; that’s why Dolly the sheep could be cloned from a single cell. Genes don’t just affect hair color, height, and whether we go bald. The role of genes in increasing the risk of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease is becoming clearer every day.

It’s easy to see that genes influence physical problems and traits. However, scientists are now discovering that our genes affect how we behave, too. The success of the Human Genome Project has enabled scientists to begin to connect what happens in our cells and what happens in our brains. They have found links between genes and increased risk of alcoholism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obesity, depression—even smoking.

We’ve only begun to explore just how our genes create a predisposition to such behaviors. Some scientists believe it’s because genes direct how our brains develop, before and after we’re born. Genes may program some of us to develop more circuitry in certain parts of our brains than others. For example, women have been found to have more connections between the right and left sides of their brains than men do. Others believe mechanical processes are more important than developmental ones. Genes guide our brains in producing and processing the chemicals, such as dopamine, that affect our moods. Some believe it’s a combination.

Whatever the process, the most important point is this: Our understanding of just how important our genes are and how they shape our day-to-day behavior is in the infant stages. With the decoding of the human genome, we’ve just started to unlock these secrets. Companies are already marketing genetic tests to consumers who want to know how vulnerable they are to illness, or how well their bodies process nutrients, drugs, or environmental stresses. I believe by the time my yet-unborn grandchildren are my age, we’ll all know parts of our genetic code and what they mean for our lives in the same way we now know our cholesterol levels.


I heard a story a while back that reminded me of the mystery of genetics. A man was watching his four-year-old son do what kids do: show off. As the father watched, something seemed strangely familiar about the dance the little boy was doing. Suddenly he realized that the boy’s movements were exactly the same as the dance the man had watched his own father do as an elderly man. Since the boy’s grandfather had died thirty years before the child was born, he couldn’t have somehow learned the steps.

As I said earlier, scientists have found that roughly 50 percent of the differences in our personalities are linked to our genes. Any parent knows that some children are born with a sunny disposition, physical gracefulness, or a thirst for learning—and others, even in the same family, simply weren’t. Children display a personality early on that can’t necessarily be explained by their upbringing. (I can hear every parent out there heaving a huge sigh of relief.)

Researchers in the emerging field of behavioral genetics have begun to turn up some fascinating examples of just how strongly inheritable our personalities are. Countless studies have demonstrated striking similarities between twins separated at birth. Here’s a brief sample of the kinds of discoveries scientists have made in recent years:

* In one famous example, identical twins who were reared separately tended to have similar occupations, senses of humor, habits, and opinions.3

* A person’s overall level of happiness and well-being seems to be largely genetically determined. Researchers found that they could predict a twin’s happiness better by looking at the other twin’s happiness than by looking at educational achievement, income, or status.4

* Genes seem to affect the tendency to start and to continue smoking.5

* Differences in how one specific gene gets copied seem to affect anxiety levels. One variation of that gene has been linked to self-confidence and cheerfulness; a different variation seems to promote chronic anxiety.6

* One switched letter on yet another gene seems to affect whether someone tends to be chronically depressed. That is even more remarkable when you consider that we have an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 genes, and roughly half of those are considered “junk DNA.”7

* In one study of men in New Zealand who were treated badly as children, the activity level of a specific gene seemed to affect whether the men later became criminals. Those in whom the gene was very active turned out okay; those with less activity were four times as likely to become criminals.8

* Scientists have been able to make mice more aggressive by knocking out entirely the functioning of one gene. Replacing it calms the mice down.9 (And before you say “I’m a human, not a mouse,” remember that we share roughly 98 percent of our genes with mice.)10

* One study of 700 teenagers and their parents found that genetics accounted for anywhere from 71 to 89 percent of a teen’s score on antisocial behavior, depression, school performance, and social responsibility. (Ironically, the study had intended to show the impact of friends and other influences, not genes, on teen behavior.)11

Some scientists are even beginning to go beyond saying that our personalities are influenced by our genes. They’ve started linking certain aspects of our personalities to specific genes. For example, a craving for novelty has been linked to the long version of the D4DR gene, although this finding has not yet been fully confirmed.

One recent study is particularly interesting. Comparing leadership behavior and personality characteristics in twins, researchers have found that genes account for roughly 30 percent of the differences between people in terms of having a track record of leadership. Almost all of the rest was accounted for by what’s called “non-shared environmental influences”—in other words, life lessons, events, and the impact of other people outside the family. In fact, family seemed to have very little statistical connection.12

My days in the lab are long behind me, so I’m not in a position to validate scientifically any individual research project. But they demonstrate that we have only begun to understand just how strong that influence is. Collectively they make a case for genetic influence on our personalities and behavior.

And they certainly support my own observations over the years that some people naturally have an innovative bent, work habits, risk-taking tolerance, and problem-solving talents that contribute to business success. These people may have learned skills that enhance those tendencies. They may also have had an environment that encouraged those tendencies through either positive or negative reinforcement. But like ivy climbing a wall, those learned skills and that environment also had something on which to build. Having that foundation doesn’t mean those lucky people are predestined to become successful. It simply means they probably started out with an extra helping of certain qualities that tend to promote success.

“My mom has told me, ‘The older you get, the more you’re like your dad,’” says Herman Cain, former chairman of Godfather’s Pizza. “Both my mom and dad were people persons. I inherited that orientation toward people. My dad was more of an extrovert than my mother; he was like a magnet. He would walk into a room and people would be attracted to him. Quite frankly, I inherited that.”

Richard Branson is known for outrageous behavior to promote the Virgin Group. As a young adult, Richard Branson’s mother demonstrated similar daring. She became a chorus girl—“My parents were shocked”—and persuaded a flight instructor to let her pilot a glider (“He said I could do it as long as I dressed like a man.”). To make money to help support her family, she made and sold objets d’art.13

“Arthur had that tenacity,” says Molly Blank, mother of Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. So did she. After her husband died, she took over the pharmaceutical supply company he had started and ran it successfully before eventually selling it.14

“[Tom] was a catalyst; he was the ringleader,” says Jane Scott of her son Tom, co-founder of Nantucket Nectars.15

“It’s something genetic,” says Robert Crandall. The former chairman of American Airlines was referring to the indomitable spirit of a seventeen-year-old girl who was the subject of a story in the New York Times. The story depicted her struggle to keep up her good grades at school despite having been born into poverty. “Maybe she’s a descendant of Attila the Hun, who was a very determined person.”

Let me make clear that all of this has nothing to do with intelligence—at least not in my view. For one thing, intelligence is even more highly affected by learning and environmental influences than personality is. And intelligence isn’t the same thing as the “success genes.” Take it from me. I worked like a dog all through school, but if I had had to rely solely on grades for success—well, let’s just say I’m a lot happier tackling business problems instead of written exams. What I’m talking about here is the personality traits that give someone a leg up in achieving what they want to achieve.


So why is any of this relevant in a business book? Well, given all this new scientific information about how our genes affect our personalities and behavior, doesn’t it make sense to understand and use your genetic background to increase the odds of your being more successful? If you were born with a predisposition to being analytical or outgoing or emotional, doesn’t it make sense to take advantage of those natural strengths instead of trying to fit yourself into a mold that forces you to work against who you are?

There are five broad aspects of our personalities that scientists say are highly inheritable. Everyone has a unique combination of these traits. The terms used to describe them by researchers beginning as early as 1957 have varied: the “Big 5,” the “five-factor model,” and so on. They’re the basis for much scientific research as well as many of the personality tests often administered by human resources departments; they also inspired the Entrepreneurial Personality Quiz later in this chapter.

These traits don’t work like on-off switches. Personality is not a case of “you either have it or you don’t.” With each trait, you may have a lot, very little, or be somewhere in the middle. Each of the Big 5 traits also has multiple aspects, and you may have more or less of each one of those as well.

In each of us, those traits and subtraits combine in a unique way. Even without any environmental influences, the number of possible combinations is enormous. And when you throw in how our environments affect those genetic qualities, it’s easy to see why each of us is unique.

The Big 5 Traits are easily remembered by their acronym OCEAN, attached to them by National Institute on Aging researchers Paul Costa Jr. and Robert McCrae:

Openness to Experience: Measures how receptive a person is to new experiences and ideas. Someone who prefers buying a new car every couple of years to sticking with the old one, and traveling to new places rather than visiting familiar haunts year after year, probably would be highly Open to Experience. Innovators, researchers, entrepreneurs, even some marketers all tend to score high on Openness (some personality researchers refer to it as Intellect).

Being focused on the here and now Being imaginative and creative
Preferring the routine and familiar Preferring variety and novelty
Having few interests Having many interests
Preferring the conventional Preferring originality
Mistrusting emotion Valuing emotion
Being dogmatic Being flexible

Conscientiousness: Measures a person’s motivation and deliberate approach to accomplishing tasks. Being disciplined, organized, methodical, reliable, and persistent are hallmarks of someone who’s highly Conscientious. The accounting profession probably is filled with highly Conscientious people. (Before you say “What about recent financial scandals?” remember that in psychological terms, Conscientiousness isn’t the same as ethics. You can be extremely Conscientious in pursuing a questionable goal.)

Spontaneous Methodical
Disorganized Organized
Late Punctual
Irresponsible Dutiful
Unmethodical Self-disciplined
Unambitious Driven to achieve
A procrastinator or abandoning tasks quickly Persistent
Unreliable Reliable

Extroversion: Measures how attracted a person is to activity and people. If someone you know is always on the go, loves to party, likes to dominate the conversation, and seeks out adventure, chances are they’re highly Extroverted (salespeople are the classic example).

Being a loner Preferring groups
Being unlikely to reach out to others Being outgoing
Being a very private person Assertiveness
Not being a thrillseeker Craving excitement
Being less exuberant Being prone to positive
Preferring a relaxed pace emotions
Passivity A high energy level
Liking to dominate

Agreeableness: Measures the ability and desire to cooperate with others and avoid confrontation. Someone who is self-sacrificing, tends to defer to authority, generally trusts other people, and hates to argue is probably pretty Agreeable (administrative assistants couldn’t do their jobs without having a high degree of Agreeableness).

Skeptical Trusting
Having a sense of superiority Modest
Guarded Candid, frank
Arrogant Eager to defer to authority
Uncooperative Cooperative
Objective, ruthless Altruistic and tender-hearted
Aggressive Disliking confrontation
Competitive Self-sacrificing

Neuroticism: Sometimes labeled Emotional Stability or Emotional Control, this measures a person’s overall tendency to feel chronic negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, and hostility. Being generally pessimistic, easily upset, and anxious characterize someone who’s Neurotic (artists often are stereotyped as having a high degree of Neuroticism.)

Calm Easily upset
Fearless Anxious
Unemotional Easily angered
Resilient Easily depressed
Self-possessed under stress Vulnerable under stress
Resistant to immediate temptation Impulsive
Unselfconscious Nervous in social situations

After about age thirty, all five traits tend to stay relatively stable.16 Your behavior may change over the years as you learn skills and make mistakes, but these aspects of your personality will tend to color your perspective on the world and your automatic reactions to it. The research that demonstrates this only confirms the opinions expressed by many of the interviewees for this book. Former Philadelphia 76ers president Pat Croce’s comment is typical of most of their answers: “I don’t think you can change your basic personality. People can cope, they can bend, they can learn to deal with things, but rarely do they change. I think your hard drive is wired, just like a computer is wired, but you can change the personal path you take.”

That’s why, regardless of whether you’re a one-person business or a leader in a Fortune 500 corporation, understanding how these traits affect performance is important—not just for you personally, but for the people who work with you. Managers have to match employees to the right tasks in order to give them their best chance for success. Looking at inherited personality traits gives managers more powerful tools in making hiring and training decisions and getting the most from employees.

Taking an individual’s genetic strengths into account doesn’t mean discrimination. Researchers have shown that the Big 5 traits function across cultural, gender, and racial lines. However, it does mean that managers may need to screen personality traits specific to a given job and recognize which aspects of personality will likely stay the same regardless of training or exposure to new experiences. Understanding the Big 5 traits can help you manage people of varying strengths and personality types. Knowing them can help you identify employees who may need extra help in specific areas, or who are likely to adapt and evolve in certain roles. And that knowledge can certainly help you understand how to manage yourself to success.


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.


None of these traits is an unmixed blessing. Depending on the situation, each can help, hurt, or simply be irrelevant. Even if you read the description of, say, Agreeableness and think it sounds like an admirable personality trait, it can also be problematic. Each one, taken to an extreme, can become a problem.

For example, Openness to Experience sounds like a great idea for an entrepreneur, right? But Openness without some balance of Conscientiousness can mean you leave a lot of things unfinished, distracted by whatever bright, new shiny idea crosses your path. Someone who is highly agreeable may automatically defer to others, unwilling to trust his or her own judgment. And Neuroticism may sound awful, but if you never feel anxiety, anger, or depression, you may seem a bit robotic to other people.

To understand how these traits can help you be successful, let’s think about the role of a CEO. I believe there are various types of CEO. Some are what I call “builder CEOs.” These are the folks who have the great idea, launch companies or divisions, shift those ol’ paradigms, and try to change the world. Chances are a builder CEO would probably be high on Openness to Experience. Then there are the “maintenance CEOs.” These are people whose strength is in brilliant execution rather than a novel strategy, and who are in established companies in relatively stable industries (if there is such a thing anymore). Their personality profile might be even stronger on Conscientiousness than a builder CEO’s. There are “turnaround CEOs”; I would guess their traits are probably closer to those of the builder CEO, since they need to choose a new course for the enterprise.

Each can be successful at the right time in the right place—if there’s a good match between personality and opportunity. A maintenance CEO in a company that really needs a builder CEO can leave the company trailing its competitors. A builder CEO can get so caught up in moving forward that the core business gets neglected. A turnaround CEO would probably get bored at a company that doesn’t demand Herculean efforts to succeed.

Another thing to remember about your answers is that how you behave is affected not only by individual traits but by your combination of them and how your environment affects their expression. For example, let’s say you feel angry much of the time—an important component of Neuroticism. If you’re also highly agreeable, you may not express that anger because you want to avoid confrontation. Without a good dose of Agreeableness, someone who’s highly conscientious may get too wedded to a rigid system and have difficulty accommodating other people’s needs. And of course, behavior can be modified by adopting specific behaviors and mental attitudes; it’s called learning (duh!).

The interactions remind me of the building blocks of chromosomes, which are organized in what are called “base pairs.” The nucleotides A and T are always paired with each other; so are C and G. In the same way, the human expression of two combinations of personality traits seem to be especially powerful.

* Openness/Conscientiousness: A good balance between the two of these allows you to be receptive to new ideas, yet gives you the discipline to pursue a goal. I scored high on Openness, but I’ve always remembered—and lived by—something my dad said to me: “Tom, never start anything that you don’t finish.” That’s the best advice he could have given me; it helped bring out my natural Conscientiousness.

* Extroversion/Agreeableness: Balancing these two gives you the energy that entrepreneurial thinking demands, but offsets it with the ability to work with others.

In each paired-up combination, one trait helps counteract the potential problems that a strong dose of the other trait can create. That’s why I call these two combinations Power Pairs. Just as base pairs are the building blocks of our DNA, Power Pairs are the building blocks of success.

Entrepreneurial thinking can benefit from certain aspects of all four of these qualities. However, most people won’t score equally highly on all of them. Knowing which ones affect you most powerfully helps you understand which ones you need to balance in another way. For example, many people who start their own businesses are high on Openness, but they need to partner with someone who can supply the Conscientiousness required for operational effectiveness.

The trait that presents the greatest challenges for thinking like an entrepreneur is Neuroticism. If you’re naturally anxious, you may have difficulty taking risks. If you’re easily upset and lack the ability to rebound from the punches life throws, you will have more difficulty persevering in the face of obstacles. And being easily overwhelmed by a negative outlook or emotions—for example, when a potential customer says “Not interested!”—makes it more difficult to stay on forward focus and spot new opportunities. If you scored high on Neuroticism, you may be saying to yourself about now, “Well, I should just give up; it’s hopeless.” Keep on reading. There are habits and structures you can develop for yourself that can help you tackle challenges that might otherwise swamp you.


Now what? What if you’ve taken the test and you don’t like your results? If you scored low on Extroversion, does that mean you might as well give up and hide out in your one-hundred-square-foot noisy cubicle forever?

No way. Genes aren’t fate. If genes were all there were to it, you could stop reading this book now. Even people with great genes can’t be successful if they don’t do something with what they’ve got. And great genes are no guarantee of success. No one ever got to the corner office by attaching a map of their DNA to their résumé. You have to know how to use your own combination to your best advantage.

The way a gene delivers its instructions is called its expression. A gene produces a result only when it gets expressed. How the gene is expressed determines how those genetic instructions get implemented. Events can interfere with or promote that expression.

Though it’s not a formal scientific process, I like to think of personality traits as functioning in much the same way. How a personality trait gets expressed makes a difference in the impact it has on your ability to succeed. And just as there are things that can promote or interfere with genetic messages, so there are behaviors, attitudes, and techniques that can make the most of what you start out with. In upcoming chapters, we’ll talk in more detail about those behaviors and attitudes. Using them to unlock the hidden power of your own set of personality traits can help you overcome the challenges we all face in thinking like entrepreneurs.

Excerpted from Instinct , by Thomas L. Harrison and Mary H. Frakes . Copyright (c) 2005 by Thomas L. Harrison. Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.

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