The big question: Which type of worker are you?


A few years ago, one of my closest friends from college and I discovered something that would change our lives.

It was a research area that harbored some of the nerdiest (and coolest) people in the behavioral sciences. It was called “psychometrics”.

The people who founded the discipline were not fuzzy psychologists. No—these were engineers in psychologist clothing. They brought mathematical rigor to a field that had, up until that point, been filled with case studies and armchair philosophizing.

They also looked at human behavior in a fascinating way.

They saw human behavior as an expression of fundamental characteristics each person carried with them through life. Johnny is social because he’s extraverted, not because he’s in a social context. Suzy is not nerdy and intellectually curious because she’s in a classroom, she’s in a classroom because she’s nerdy and intellectually curious.

This field fascinated me for two reasons:

  • It’s the model that most people from most cultures naturally adopt and operate by.

  • It’s completely at odds with the point of view espoused by the faddish and unreliable disciplines currently en vogue (social psychology, etc.)

The dominant belief in social psychology, positive psychology, and behavioral economics is what I’d call environmental determinism.

Environmental determinism posits that our actions are primarily determined by our context. We’re organized and responsible because we’re in an organized, responsibility-promoting environment. We’re creative because we’re in a creative environment. Etc.

One only needs to ponder this for a few moments to realize how absurd it is.

Is it more likely that people are going to get re-shaped by each environment they enter, or is it more likely that people *select* environments that match their personalities/characteristics?

Yes, our environments shape us a little. But they merely wipe off a scuff here or slightly tweak an edge there. They don’t remake us in their image. They have a marginalinfluence.

This is why most nudge interventions have such marginal effects, and why social psychology’s effect sizes are practically nonexistent.

But the purpose of today’s post isn’t to bash popular psychology (even though that might be my favorite pastime). Today I want to talk about a striking observation I’ve made over the last 9 months:

Each successful company is made up of two different species.

Well—maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. Successful companies may not contain two separate species, but there are definitely two *dramatically different* psychological types that seem to make up each company.

One type I’ll call “The Happy Soldier”.

The other type I’ll call “The Rebel”.

The Rebel and The Happy Soldier… Sounds like a million-dollar children’s book, doesn’t it?

The Happy Solider is disciplined and organized. He makes sure that his tasks are done correctly and on-time. He doesn’t spend a whole lot of time pondering things and thinking of new ways to disrupt industry A or B. But he makes sure that the battle plans laid out by his commander are executed as flawlessly as possible—with a smile on his face the whole time.

The Rebel couldn’t be more different. He’s the genius who came up with the idea, the battle plan, that the soldiers are executing. He’s not particularly organized and hates rules, but his disdain of “best practices” and tradition are what allowed him to come up with his grand (and creative) plan in the first place. He’s a great starter but a terrible finisher.

Luckily, he has an army of Happy Soldiers behind him.

Every Happy Solider needs a Rebel to imagine a victorious future and craft a battle plan, and every Rebel needs a band of Happy Soldiers to execute the plans successfully

Yin. Yang. Chaos. Order.

Rebel. Happy Soldier.

At least this is what my partner and I have seen as we’ve given personality tests to thousands and thousands of people over the last 9 months. We’ve tested all sorts of people, from line-cooks to CEOs. And, as the data has come pouring in, the pattern couldn’t be clearer:

Most star employees are Happy Soldiers. They have a specific, high-conscientiousness personality profile.

Founders are Rebels. They have a specific, low-conscientiousness personality profile.

For a startup to grow out of its disorganized and chaotic phase and scale properly, it needs to have a ship filled with Happy Soldiers. It needs to pick people with personalities that are probably going to be quite different from those of the founding team members.

We saw this with Google—Larry Page and Sergey Brin, two rebels, hired meticulous Eric Schmidt to come in and bring order to the creative chaos that characterized the early company.

Of course it’s possible to go too far. It seems as if hiring too many Happy Soldiers can kill the spirit of innovation in a company. I’m not sure what the golden ratio of Rebels to Happy Soldiers is to keep the creativity high and productivity high, but I’m sure that’s something my partner and I will uncover at some point.

Here’s what we do know so far: we know how to find top-tier Happy Soldiers all day long, and we work with companies to help them identify this top-talent.

If you run a company (or are actively hiring people for your team) and are interested in learning about our personality-testing software, let me know. I’m happy to tell you more and give you a demo if it makes sense.

More personality science coming your way soon.

PS: If you want help applying the personality sciences to any problem you’re facing, you can book time with me here:

If you’re doing a lot of hiring, I also work with companies to help them make their recruiting processes as scientific as possible. Just respond to this email with a quick note with more information about your organization, how many people you’re hiring, and what you’re looking for.