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Openness: What is it and why your business should care

December 15, 2023

Understanding the personality of your employees and applicants can be extremely useful, both for hiring decisions and the everyday workings of the organisation. When you know how your employees act, think, and behave, you’re more likely to be able to reach them, as well as hire the right people for the team and the role.

However, deciding which traits to explore can be tough, as different careers require different strengths. The Big Five model tries to answer this question, and today, we’re exploring one of the main qualities in its core — openness.

Note: Thrive assessments already come with our psychologists’ recommendations for traits and cognitive abilities for individual roles, so you don’t have to do the work yourself!

What is the Big Five model?

The Big Five model states that there are five clusters of personality traits that are central to a person’s character, and therefore, are the most indicative of performance: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism — also referred to as OCEAN. These are scored on a spectrum, giving each individual a unique result for each trait, rather than boxing them into a ‘personality type’. Because of this, while other personality models can be beneficial for different purposes, the Big Five theory is considered the most useful and scientifically reliable assessment type when it comes to business decisions.

Further reading: The history of psychometric assessments

What is Openness?

The O of the OCEAN traits, openness is essential to understanding an individual’s personality. It can also be referred to as openness to experience, which might explain it better. People who score high in openness are creative, hungry for knowledge, and curious; they have a vivid imagination, love to try new things, and appreciate a good step outside their comfort zone. Open individuals are usually artistic, curious, and seek adventure, and are generally considered to be happier.

Those who score low in openness tend to be more conventional, believe in traditions, and follow routines. They might prefer to do the same thing over and over again, be more strict with rules and red tape, and avoid changes.

What traits are related to openness?

Openness is a complicated cluster. In the Thrive platform, the main traits that relate to openness are:

  • Adaptability: Thrives in a changing environment, enjoys variety, and adjusts easily.
  • Analytical: Relies on facts, likes working with information and using it to support decisions.
  • Conceptual: Enjoys working with complex concepts, and works best with visionary or abstract ideas.
  • Creativity: Develops original ideas, experiments with new techniques, and is willing to take risks.
  • Inquisitive: Shows curiosity across a range of topics, and questions how things work.

Other qualities that may fall under the umbrella of openness are:

  • Curiosity
  • Imaginative
  • Innovative
  • Problem-solving
  • Adventurous
  • Insightful

On the other hand, some traits that could be associated with low openness are:

  • Routinist
  • Rule-following
  • Closed-minded
  • Traditional

How do open people act in business situations?

Open people are like working with a well of ideas. They are extremely creative and imaginative, and aren’t afraid to take risks — just like they would be more likely to try an exotic dish in a restaurant, they’d be more likely to try a novel way of working or to test different approaches and tools at the office. More open individuals usually have higher job satisfaction, strong leadership skills, and enjoy a variety of tasks.

For example, an open employee is more likely to:

  • Lead a team successfully
  • Take a risk that could pay off, instead of follow traditional methods
  • Help colleagues adjust to changes
  • Prefer to work in a diverse environment
  • Get bored with routine
  • Suggest a great idea at a brainstorming session
  • Come up with solutions
  • Be tech-savvy
  • Make insightful decisions

People with lower openness scores, however, are more likely to avoid change, be great at one thing (but not have many talents besides it), stay analogue, prefer practical conversations to abstract ones, stay away from conceptual thinking, and uphold the traditional way of doing things.

What roles would benefit from high openness?

Openness is a vital trait for many professions, especially those that require out-of-the-box thinking, an unrelenting interest in the subject matter, or high levels of creativity. They’re also particularly suited for leadership positions. Some of the roles that high openness is crucial for are:

  • Graphic designer
  • Entrepreneur
  • Author
  • Painter
  • Journalist
  • Researcher

On the other hand, people who score lower in openness would benefit from a stable and consistent environment, and a focus on one or a few areas they can excel at, without too many surprises. For example:

  • Accountant
  • Policymaker
  • Police officer
  • Cashier
  • Financial controller

It’s important to note, however, that one trait on its own is not enough to provide a reliable answer to an individual’s suitability for a role. Only a fuller assessment would reveal real insights.

How can openness be developed?

While we are mostly born with a certain set of qualities, it doesn’t mean we can’t develop our soft skills. If you want to improve your openness score you could try to:

  • Practise change: If your tendency is to refuse or reject new ideas, approaches, or opportunities, try to make a goal to accept at least one every few weeks.
  • Improve your decision-making: When making decisions at work, start by identifying any barriers that might be hindering your shift towards using data and information, such as time constraints or lack of confidence. Reflect on recent decisions and assess how you could have approached them more analytically. Utilise tools like the SWOT analysis to analyse the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats to help you decide on the best route to take.
  • Think about goals: Rather than getting stuck in perfecting the minor details of your work, think about what it really is that you're trying to achieve, and let that guide your thinking.
  • Learning time: Assign yourself an hour a week for exposure to visionary ideas and concepts. This can be done through TED talks, documentaries, and seminars, or engaging with thought leaders and innovators yourself.

Wondering how open your staff or candidates are? Book a demo with Thrive today to learn more about how we can help you to identify this trait in potential employees and how to nurture it within your current team.

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