An Arranged Marriage
The success of the two-poled personality
Arranged marriages were once a common way for families to ensure their legacies. Often, a young woman from one noble family was married off to a suitor from another noble line. Apparently, it all happened with the best intentions, and it was just the way things were back then. Many romance films even spice up the story: because of these forced marriages, many people gave up on finding true love. Few such films depict how some of these forced marriages also resulted in true love.
Since the Great Recession, we have observed the phenomenon that many successful companies are headed by people — sometimes alone and sometimes with their partners — who exhibit personality traits and the resulting qualities that are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. While well-defined sets of attributes produced success for older generations, real success in modern business is often brought about by complexity. What are we talking about specifically? If we tell a company to be innovative, dynamic, constantly evolving, and creative, the company can get behind this. These are nice-sounding traits for a business. The owner is satisfied, and colleagues feel comfortable being part of such a community. They are less concerned with the fact that the qualities that they consider positive are downright repulsive to many people. Different personalities judge these traits quite differently. For some, dynamism, creativity, or even constant development means chaos, unpredictable situations, and often unreliable work; not necessarily quality workmanship. And most of the time, these sceptics are right. Those who strongly represent the “Individual” side of the psychological circle are, in most cases, incapable of channelling features of their polar opposite, the “Expert”. And unfortunately, the Expert side means quality craft, detail, and perfect implementation. This side isn’t that trendy, it is not necessarily creative, and it is by no means dynamic; companies on this end of the spectrum don’t even strive for dynamism. While the Individual can sell anything well, often they sell “nothing”, the Expert, in contrast, is unable to sell even “something”. The Individual has a new idea for every situation, while Expert hangs back in every new situation. The Individual jumps on a task with considerable momentum, then quickly loses it; the Expert slowly builds up their enthusiasm and can then sustain it for a long time. While uniqueness and standing out from the crowd are the key for the Individual, the Expert values a perfect professional background. The Individual dabbles in many professions but does not deeply focus on a single one; the Expert chooses a single profession in which they strive for perfection. While the Individual can assess a situation in a matter of seconds, albeit superficially, but enough for an immediate reaction, the Expert needs a long time to form their initial opinion. The Individual loves new paths, new challenges, but quickly gets tired of the current ones; the Expert does not like to change lanes but considers the continuous development of existing approaches to be of paramount importance. We could continue listing the differences, but I think it’s quite evident that these two personality types have nothing in common from the business perspective. Which means, historically speaking, companies went either in one of these directions or the other. Of course, each of them highlighted their positive features to the general public, and many times they convinced themselves that they could manage both directions at the same time, or that one did not overwrite the other, but that had no basis in reality.
As the business world grows more complex, it requires increasingly complex solutions. The greater the competition, the better the strategies that need to be developed. And this means that people with opposite poles must be present in a company’s top decision-making positions. But as we saw in the previous paragraph, the Individual and the Expert have nothing to do with one another. What is important to one is unnecessary to the other. That which provides the basis for success for one guarantees failure for the other. As people, they are not at all sympathetic to one another, and this causes headaches for large companies and multinationals. The misconception is that just because a company has a higher headcount, then it is easier to resolve the simultaneous presence of these two poles. Hardly! It is perhaps even more difficult, as it exacerbates existing corporate cultural issues that are already difficult for a multinational to reconcile. Smaller firms handle this issue better. While it is not exactly pleasant when two such completely different people are in the same room, they are still easier to manage than two different teams say, on a board of directors. And I’m not talking about interpersonal disagreements or internal power struggles here. The company’s leaders need to find a consensus on the crucial, company-defining issues. However, without this unity, they will not emerge victorious from COVID. Following the Great Recession, personality analysis firms conducted research to determine which personality types best handled the crisis. The result was staggering even then: for start-ups and SMEs, there was a clear trend that “two-poled” owners and managers fared best. These two-poled managers simultaneously exhibit the restless, creative, dynamic personality traits that seek change, but they also need to organise the chaos, build a new system from it, and eliminate the disorganisation that results from dynamism. This two-poled personality is very rare in relation to the total population; it is around 0.5%. Yet it is present in more than 40% of the owners and top decision-makers of the most intensively developing companies post-2008. If we look at the same data for large companies, we see that the most successful companies have found a way to have both of these poles represented within the organisation. They accepted the conflicts caused by the presence of these two poles because they sought the exceptional results that only this combination can produce. The ideology of modern business development has also changed in parallel. In the field of organisational development, professionals at companies that want to achieve outstanding success no longer strive for conflict-free collaborations. Conflict has a place in a successful organisation, so a meaningful and intelligent platform needs to be developed within teams and among teams. In fact, decision-makers start to worry when everything is calm within their organisation. After all, such calm means that their business represents only one pole. And that is certainly not the recipe for success in a post-COVID world.