Monday, 25 November 2019

On The Big Five Personality Test

There have been many schemes of classification for the human personality over the years (Myers-Briggs, Facet5, the Colour Code Personality Profile, to name three), but probably the best of all, and certainly one of the most popular in recent times, is the taxonomy of personality traits based on the standard psychological model of the Big Five personality tests. In the last 30 years, it has become the most widely regarded of all the present analyses of personality. The Big Five personality categories are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism - and the kind of person you are is determined by how you score in each of those categories - and more broadly, how the many variable permutations of those five produce the combination of traits that make up your character.

To elaborate further, I will go through each of these categories, I will tell you how I score on each of them by way of illustration (I did the test a few years ago when it was still free - you might have to pay now), what that means intrinsically in each category, and what sort of character that makes me and others in terms of combination of categories. I will finish by trying to extrapolate from the data some general observations that I think will hold humans in good stead in their career-based deliberations.

Openness tends to mean openness to experience, and it describes a dimension of personality that enjoys intellectual curiosity, appreciation of art, sensitivity to beauty, and often broad, expressive interests. People with a low score on openness tend to have narrow interests, and be quite conservative and resistant to change. I score very highly on openness (generally around the 85th percentile), which is unsurprising because I enjoy being very curious, flexible, tolerant and receptive to ideas.

But equally, people who are high in openness and highly intelligent will also often be quite rigid in their views, and I will explain why. The reason I don't score even higher in openness is because I score low on some aspects of standard openness like gullibility, indifference, conformity and being too easily adaptable.

This is a good balance to strike: be high in openness, and yet be unwilling to adapt to anything that is empirically dubious, psychologically stultifying or intellectually lazy. Open people ought to have strong convictions in a whole range of subjects about which they've drawn conclusions. Many people who score high in openness tend to be quite assured about their views and beliefs because they were open enough to explore them rigorously in the first place.

Conscientious people tend to be smart, goal-oriented and purposeful, but they can also be overly-assiduous, unreliable and unadventurous. I score quite highly on conscientiousness (generally around the 70th percentile) which is quite a good combinatorial quality to have with high openness. Conscientious people who are goal-oriented and ambitious in their intellectual pursuits, and at the same time high in openness, are likely to explore ideas very freely and gracefully and arrive at firm conclusions based on well thought out methodologies. High conscientiousness is one of the strongest predictors of career success, so if you score highly on that, you might like to consider whether you could be aiming for even greater career heights.

Extraversion and introversion are quite well known traits, and it's fairly easy to observe in people where they sit on this spectrum. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are energetic, and often experience positive emotions. Introverts are the opposite; they tend to be quieter, more insular and less socially active. I score very highly on extraversion (generally around the 80th percentile), which is interesting because I am rather like an introvert trapped in an extravert's body. Like other extraverts, I thrive by associating with others and being exploratory in nature when it comes to other people's personalities, but I am also frequently exhilarated by solitary pursuits and can go without socialising for sustained periods of time. Keep an eye out for the introverts in your team who are also high in openness and conscientiousness – they may have great ideas that are not being expressed within the team, and therefore not heard.

Agreeableness is a lot to do with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals tend to value getting along with others, and are friendly, gregarious and generous. I score quite highly on agreeableness (generally around the 65th percentile) and that may be surprising to some, given my no-nonsense approach to establishing truth and facts. But it isn't very surprising to me, because even though I value competition of ideas and hardline rigour, I do value relationships with people very highly, care about their well-being, and have a high regard for mutual cooperation, despite being quite feline in nature (which probably explains why I only score moderately high on agreeableness).

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions. People who score highly on this tend to have a greater susceptibility to anxiety, anger, or depression. I score relatively low on neuroticism (generally around 30th percentile) because I am quite low in intensity, fairly easy-going, and unlikely to respond emotionally erratically to situations that require a calm, balanced response. Being high in openness, it's good that I'm relatively low in neuroticism, as they can be a problematical pair, because open people tend to be exploratory and enjoy complexity and philosophical intractability - and if you're high in neuroticism you may find this difficult and emotionally challenging. Neuroticism does have advantages, particularly if you're high in conscientiousness, like caring for your own well-being, and knowing yourself well, meaning you're quite open about your emotions.

Bringing this together
There are numerous combinatorial links to these different personality scores, and there isn't a typical optimum profile to which one ought to gravitate, because there are contrasts in each trait that bring to bear different strengths and weaknesses on the personality. For example, people who score high on extraversion may have the positive quality of being intellectually adventurous, but people who score low may be quite cautious in a way that makes them unsusceptible to flights of fancy. A team that has one of each will often perform better than a team that has two of one or two of the other. People who score high on agreeableness may be gentle, but people who score low might have a reliable strength of their convictions. People who score high on openness may reap the many benefits of not having too much of a closed mind, but people who score low on openness may not drift waywardly so often, and remain quite grounded in some views.

Agreeable people can be kind, thoughtful and compassionate, but are often vulnerable to manipulation. Disagreeable people may be a strong, influential force in the workplace, but they may not have much of ear for compromise when it comes to listening to people’s needs. IQ is an excellent predictor of academic achievement and career accomplishment, as is conscientiousness – and you’re more likely to thrive if you score highly in extraversion and low in neuroticism.

It can be hugely beneficial to complete your own Big Five personality test, because the five basic dimensions of the personality have reliable predictability of performance in the workplace, as well as in relationships and other forms of interpersonal interaction. With a more thorough understanding of the core essence of your personality, you get to understand how you’re likely to react in adapting to a rapidly changing situation, whether your ideas are likely to be heard in a meeting, how well equipped you are to take the lead in complex situations, how you’re likely to handle those difficult conversations, whether you’re a good motivator, whether you are more likely to thrive working on your own initiative or as part of a team, whether you’re more suited to working with people or with things – the list goes on. The Big Five test can also provide clarity in identifying your talents, skills and character, whereby it can help you ensure you’re performing the right role in the right job, and it can help you in navigating a career path that will give you better job satisfaction and a higher level of contentment.

The Big Five could be a fun thing to try if you're part of a couple too, or even if you're looking to find a beloved - it can help identify your key relationship strengths and weaknesses, it can assist you in ways to complement and learn from each other, or simply help you understand your personality profile better to help find you a good match in the dating pool.

Whichever way it engenders the most benefit for you - whether it be in your career, in love, in your social milieu, or simply as a way to understand yourself better (as per Socrates' great instruction to 'know thyself'), understanding your personality at a deeper level is going to be hugely beneficial for you in a number of ways.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Spurious Arithmetic Of So-Called 'Unfair Privilege'

In a recent Facebook post in response to John McDonnell's desire for forcing harmful redistributive policies on the UK, I explained that, in terms of what we can control, wealth distribution generally follows the following kind of rule of thumb:

1) The harder you work, the better you do in life

2) The more effort you put in to improving your life, the better you do in life

3) The more intelligent, knowledgeable, conscientious and committed you are, the better you do in life

4) The more time you spend wisely and not wastefully, the better you do in life

5) The better your attitude, and the better and more kindly you treat others, the better you do in life

6) The more value you can provide to enhance others' lives, the better you do in life

7) The more you invest wisely in your future, and the less you disadvantage yourself now with unwholesome, selfish, careless and costly pursuits, the better you do in life

8) The better your life choices, the better you do in life

9) The more thoughtful, empathetic, aspirational, creative, imaginative, dedicated and inspiring you try to become, the better you do in life

There is no better, more reliable, more ethical, more empirically robust system for how wealth is distributed than the system above. And that's a fact!

A friend challenged this by talking about how society is geared towards inequality, and how you’re more likely to succeed if you come from a privileged background. He was referring to statistics like this:

"Although just 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, the survey reveals that almost three quarters (71%) of top military officers were educated privately, with 12% having been taught in comprehensive schools. In the field of law, 74% of top judges working in the high court and appeals court were privately educated, while in journalism, more than half (51%) of leading print journalists went to independent schools, with one in five having attended comprehensive schools, which currently educate 88% of the population. In medicine, meanwhile, Sutton Trust research says 61% of the country’s top doctors were educated at independent schools; nearly a quarter (22%) went to grammar school and the remainder to comprehensives."

The underlying hypothesis my friend is positing is that it’s hard to succeed on your own merit because attending private school greatly advantages people in high positions (would-be judges, executives, top military officers, and top doctors). To see why this is the wrong way to analyse the situation, imagine I run creative writing workshops at the University of East Anglia, and I advertise that while only 0.01% the UK population get their work published, 5% of my students do. It would be absurd to claim statistical unfairness here, because only people who feel they have something to offer in the literary world would attend my workshops. To demonstrate an unfair advantage, you’d need to show that budding writers who attend my workshops do better than fellow budding writers who don’t. It’s a bad methodological error to compare budding writers who attend my workshops to the rest of the population, because most of them aren’t budding writers.

So when you have a statistic like “Although just 7% of the population attend independent fee-paying schools, the survey reveals that almost three quarters (71%) of top military officers were educated privately” – to show that is an unfair bias, you have to show that people who are otherwise just like the top military officers, but who were instead not educated in independent fee-paying schools, do worse. In other words, you mustn't discount the notion that it is the shared qualities and talents that make good military officers and explain the success, and not the fact that they went to private school.

In all likelihood, the people who have the kind of qualities required to be judges, executives, top military officers, and top doctors would probably dominate those industries even if all schools were fee-paying or all schools were state-funded. Similarly, it’s also most likely that the people who get published are likely to be talented writers, irrespective of whether they attended my workshop or not – just as it’s most likely that a horse jockey will weigh under 118lb irrespective of whether they had contacts in the horse racing world nor not.

Even if John McDonnell thinks he can drastically reduce the advantages of a privileged background by a socialist intervention, he can’t eliminate the advantages of intelligence, conscientiousness, hard work, commitment, dedication and wise life choices when they are so vital to success. While it’s true that not all of my list produces a fair outcome every time, and while it is true that there are definite advantages in coming from a privileged background, the notion that politicians can equalise those differences is highly dubious, especially as they make no attempt to show that the statistical differentials are driven by unfair discrimination, and not by shared characteristics (like literary prowess in publishing, or height and weight in horse racing) that procure them a natural advantage in society.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Why You Should Scrap The Office Secret Santa

There's a famous paradox called the Abilene paradox, based on an account of a family of four adults who had taken a day out to Abilene even though none of the individuals really wanted to go. Each family member expressed an interest in going on the trip due to thinking the other three family members wanted to go, only to find out on their return that none of the four had wanted to go in the first place. They did it to keep the others happy – which is a noble gesture, even if initial honesty might have produced a better outcome.
The dreaded office-based Secret Santa is a good example of an Abiline paradox – the vast majority of people wish it didn’t exist, but act as though they are happy it does because they think they’d be the lone party pooper. They wouldn’t be: secretly most of their colleagues feel the same, but are staying equally silent on the matter.
Secret Santa is advertised as each team member buying a gift for the one person they draw out of the hat. In reality, though, it is each team member entering into an obligation to not have to buy a gift for the rest of the team that they didn’t draw out of the hat. In a team of 8 members, Secret Santa isn’t introduced for the purposes of Jack buying a gift for one person, it’s so Jack doesn’t have to buy gifts for the other six. This is understandable too – a work team of 8 members would exchange a total of 54 gifts if they all bought one for each other - and almost nobody would relish that prospect.
The total number of Secret Santa gifts purchased in a team of 8 members is 8, which makes Secret Santa fun and worthwhile on the surface. But whoever originally thought up the Secret Santa idea did so because he or she knew that things are better when all the pressure is off staff members - when they don’t have to worry about who is buying what for whom, whether there will be an imbalance in the giving-receiving ratio, and whether exchanges have price equivalence.
Secret Santa is preferable to each member buying everyone else a gift, but even more preferable to Secret Santa is having no Secret Santa at all – thereby creating a team that is saved the obligation of buying any gifts whatsoever. Ask anyone on the quiet if they’d rather we didn’t do Secret Santa in the office this year and most will happily say no. Ask a team together and most will say yes. That’s the Abilene paradox in action; everyone saying yes when they really mean no, because they think everyone else wants yes. Consequently, if you want to do your team a favour, go in the office and declare that you no longer want the team to do Secret Santa. They’ll love you for it.

Monday, 11 November 2019

I Hate Titiana McGrath!!!

I hate Titiana McGrath! I hate her because she’s so good, so on the money, and is doing exactly what I wished I’d have done years ago by getting in first (she’s a he, of course, a fictional creation of comedian Andrew Doyle). From Wiki:

“She is a social justice warrior who promotes identity politics and political correctness on her Twitter account. McGrath characterizes herself as a "radical intersectionalist poet committed to feminism, social justice and armed peaceful protest," while her creator describes her as "a militant vegan who thinks she is a better poet than William Shakespeare."

Troll Titiana McGrath brilliantly sends up the left, the feminists, the snowflakes, the social justice warriors, and everyone too easily offended by matters relating to gender, identity politics and political correctness. She takes absurd claims by many of society’s silliest, hysterical and most reactionary people, extends the logic to a biting, declamatory claim, and then lobs in a sardonic hand grenade and watches it go off:

“If there’s really a problem with gender inequality in predominantly Muslim countries, how do you explain that there has never been a single successful conviction in a Sharia court for misogynistic hate crime?”

"If it's true that men are superior at sports, why is it that transgender athletes tend to win more medals after they transition to female?"

“Women have never been more oppressed than they are today. It’s the *illusion* of freedom that makes our oppression all the more devastating. The fact that so many women think they are enjoying their lives only proves my point.”

What’s so great about Titiana McGrath is that she entertains those who, like her, can see the nonsense of the woke culture, offends all the people that deserve to be offended for their utter inability to achieve a balanced, reasoned worldview, and yet does so in a way that confuses the offended individuals by leaving them slightly unsure about whether she is one of them or one of the opposition.

By eliciting the bewildered reaction she does, she compounds the absurdity of the very reason she exists. Perhaps the best case in point was when she got banned from Twitter – a ridiculous act that proved exactly the cultural point she was making. It’s a shame we live in a world that needs a Titiana McGrath – but thank God we have one – she came along at just the right time.

I'll leave you with a few of my favourite Tweets (the comment by G Miller in response to the final one is pure gold.)