The Big Five and Success

Disclaimer: I am not a trained Professional Therapist, Psychologist, or Psychiatrist. If you are experiencing mental health difficulties please visit a Licensed Professional.

In the field of Personality Psychology, there is believed to be a “Big Five” personality traits. These are aspects which dominate our personalities, everyone exhibits these traits to varying degrees.

The traits considered to be the Big Five are as follows (this is just a basic overview of the traits, and not an exhaustive list of everything that they cover):

• Openness – People who are high in openness show creativity, openness to new ideas & challenges, and they deal well with abstract concepts
• Conscientiousness – Essentially this refers to doing things purposefully, planning and paying attention to detail
• Extraversion – Sociability and emotional expressiveness
• Agreeableness – If you score high in this trait you are more likely to show interest in others, care about others, and feel empathy
• Neuroticism – You would score high in this trait if you experience a lot of moodiness, stress, and mental instability

Psychological testing has shown us a lot about personalities through these traits. For one thing, these traits—referred to as the five-factor model—are quite universal across industrialized, literate societies.(1)

Why are we discussing Personality Psychology and the five-factor model on a blog about business and entrepreneurship? Well there are some interesting and possibly useful correlations between certain traits and success.

The Big Five are obviously not the only factors in whether or not someone is successful, there are a wide variety of factors including (but not limited to), the economy, luck, individual IQ, etc.

However, high conscientiousness and low neuroticism are a predictor of success in individuals.

Emotionally stable and conscientious participants reported earning higher incomes and reported more satisfaction with their jobs.(2)

While substantial portions of our personality and how the Big Five are represented in it, are inherited (approximately 40-60% according to studies on twins)(3), people’s personalities can be shaped. Changes often happen with age, and possibly with the intent of the individual.

Even before I had read up on the five-factor model, I realized that I was becoming less agreeable, and more conscientious as I got older. The more I grew to understand that conscientiousness, that is doing things purposefully, is a key driver of success the more I started cultivating that trait in myself.

One might be inclined to believe that if someone is less agreeable, that means they’re more likely to be a jerk; that isn’t necessarily the case. Being less agreeable simply means that one can be more critical at times, and is much less likely to “go along to get along.” To be completely honest, I have never been completely agreeable.

It may be difficult to completely alter one’s personality, especially in the short-term. And really, you don’t have to completely change yourself to be successful. For instance, if you want to be a Sales Person, that doesn’t mean that you have to be an extrovert. Plenty of introverted people do well in Sales – one thing that people can work on is finding other sides of themselves in different situations.

That does not mean being inauthentic, we all have different sides of our personalities. For instance, I can go to parties, have fun and make friends with people (even though I may not be the most outgoing person at an event). However, being an introvert, I’ll need to go home and “recharge” for a while afterwards.

Part of the journey towards success, is realizing which traits are key indicators of it. To help you on your journey, you may come to rely on sources of inspiration, self-help books, possibly even professional therapy.

You may come to find other sides of yourself that you like!


(1)Gurven, M., von Rueden, C., Massenkoff, M., Kaplan, H. and Lero Vie, M. (2013). How universal is the Big Five? Testing the five-factor model of personality variation among forager–farmers in the Bolivian Amazon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(2), pp.354-370.

(2)Sutin, A., Costa, P., Miech, R. and Eaton, W. (2009). Personality and career success: Concurrent and longitudinal relations. European Journal of Personality, 23(2), pp.71-84.

(3)Power, R. and Pluess, M. (2015). Heritability estimates of the Big Five personality traits based on common genetic variants. Translational Psychiatry, 5(7), pp.e604-e604.

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