Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
This is my site Written by Alora on February 2, 2010 – 10:30 am

Personality tests are one of my favorite types of brain candy.  I find something innately amusing about trying to discern something about someone’s psyche from how they answer a quiz or the way they seat themselves around a conference table during a meeting.  Whether there is validity to them or not is always secondary to how much amusement I derive from taking them — and predicting their results.

That includes one recently posted to the American Express OPEN Forum by Guy Kawasaki as a means of helping with the screening process of prospective employees.  What is the sage insight suggesting employers look for in potential hires?  How well they speak of their former bosses?  How many times they brought something homemade to the company potluck?  How well they scored in a department-wide garbage can basketball tournament?

Nope.  The test in question is, “How do they cross the street?

Huh?

Yep.  The authors of the book, “I Hate People!,” Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon, break down personality types based on how someone crosses the street.  They even recommend trying to watch unobserved, to help gauge your subject’s style without any undue influence.

The five personality types Kawasaki lists are:

  • Matador
  • Wader
  • TextWalker
  • Light Jumper
  • CurbHugger

The descriptions of each and the roles the highlight as best fitting each of the personality types are both amusing and reasonably logical (I’m a Matador), and worth a quick glance.  The bigger question, though, is about the value of the assessments when it comes to entrepreneurs.  For as much as there is logic in the authors’ claim that Matadors make natural entrepreneurs, it doesn’t mean that every entrepreneur is a Matador.

Of course, this question isn’t just limited to the ‘pop business culture’ versions of personality assessments.  For years, professionals have used assessments such as Meyers-Briggs, DISC and StrengthsFinder to help understand the strengths and weaknesses of individuals (especially leaders) to help steer career management and development.

The world of the entrepreneur is a bit different, though.  After all, once you’ve started a business suddenly discovering that your “personality type” isn’t generally regarded as a natural entrepreneurial type doesn’t mean a whole lot.  No one is going to close up shop just because the Meyers-Briggs implies that you aren’t cut out for it.

When I lived in the corporate world, these assessments had value in limited ways: understanding how to identify different people’s communication styles to help bridge interpersonal gaps, recognizing differences in decision-making paradigms when working in a team to solve a problem, or breaking down and allocating tasks based on the strengths of the people involved.

To be sure, all of those things are still relevent in an entrepreneurial world.  But now there are additional value-adds to these types of insights, and they are things that have far more impact on my professional life now than they ever did in a corporate setting:

Business Model
Have you ever met one of those people who seemed to hate everything about their business?  And I’m not just talking about having a bad day, but someone who appeared to derive absolutely no joy from any aspect of their industry, organization or clients.  Have you ever asked yourself, “If they can’t stand this business so much, what in the world are they doing in it?”

An introverted night owl is unlikely to be happy running a high-traffic cafe and bakery, where you have to be up early and be pleasant and engaging with customers before the sun even rises.  And someone with no internal clock is probably doing themselves an enormous disservice to be in a business where they are performing client tasks that are billed by the hour.  Knowing what you are good at — and what you are not good at — is vital for an entrepreneur to make the right choices about a business.

Employees
Understanding my assessment results relative to my management style is a huge advantage when it comes to hiring.  Finding employees who can function in the type of environment that comes from how I communicate, collaborate and delegate is critical to success.

If I hate micromanaging (which I do), but I hire an employee who never takes any initiative and who wants to be told what to do at every step of the way, then I have just made a hiring choice is that is likely to cause me more stress than relief — and I’m not doing my employee any favors, either, because I’m not capable of giving them the type of environment in which they are best suited for success.

Partners
Knowing how I score on these assessments not only helps me be clear on my strengths, but also my weaknesses.  This is one of the biggest advantages to identifying and selecting potential partners as an entrepreneur.  While there is a certain about of over-lap that you want when it comes to strengths (after all, you need to start with at least a little common ground), the real key to success is in identifying partners who are strong in areas where I am weak.

As an extrovert, I know that the types of partners and collaborators I most enjoy working with are also other extroverts: it is important for me to know that the people I am working with will speak up and make themselves heard when they have something to say, rather than waiting for me to stop and ask them for input.  While I try to remember to do that at times, it doesn’t come naturally to me, and when I am particularly focused or excited about something, I rarely remember to do it.  The last thing I want are partners who will feel slighted that I didn’t solicit their input, when I was merely assuming that if they had something to say that they would just come forward and say it.

So while there can be endlessly amusing hours of Facebook and Cosmo quizes to mindlessly pass the time, a good entrepreneur should always remain thoughtful of what the results mean, whether they are valid, and how they can be considered within the context of your responsibilities as a business owner.

It’s much easier to work with someone who is self-aware, recognizes their weaknesses, and then learns how to build a well-rounded team to help compensate, than someone who appears to have all their ducks in a row on the surface, only to uncover hidden surprises once you look a bit closer.  The first step to that, though, is to take advantage of every opportunity possible to do exactly what the Oracle told Neo in the Matrix:  temet nosce or know thyself.

(This post is part of my Entrepreneur Evangelist series and was originally published on WorkingPoint‘s Small Business Blog.)

  • jeteye

    Funny, I cannot make my mind up as to being a Matador or a Wader, maybe I am a Wadador or a Mader. Which even, I cannot believe some as simple as crossing the street and determine a man's/woman's fate?

  • jeteye

    Funny, I cannot make my mind up as to being a Matador or a Wader, maybe I am a Wadador or a Mader. Which even, I cannot believe some as simple as crossing the street and determine a man's/woman's fate?

  • http://alorachistiakoff.com/ Alora

    I agree, it's quite an amusing notion. I can by that there is something telling about how people behave in casual situations. We often reveal a lot about our personalities without ever realizing it. Whether or not there is huge legitimacy to this one, who knows. But I do find the notion highly amusing.