What families can teach us about being a radical

siblingsLast summer I looked at four distinct personality types when it comes to innovators and radicals.  The post looked primarily at how people respond to innovation.

  1. The first type that we’ll look at can best be paraphrased as the Luddites.  They look fondly upon a time in the past when things were better, and would like very much to return to that golden time as soon as possible.
  2. Whereas the first type hark back to a bygone age, the stick in the muds are very happy with how things are (thank you very much).  When this group of people dominate, it can often hinder attempts by the organization both to sense changes in the marketplace, and to respond to those changes.
  3. The third type of person is arguably the most common.  This type are open to the need for change and want to do as well as they possibly can.  This desire manifests itself in the need to optimize performance and are heavy consumers of the latest trends and thinking.
  4. The final group are slightly different to the preceding group in that they look to lead the intellectual agenda.  They don’t buy into the belief that the future is something that simply happens and must be responded to, and prefer instead to believe that they themselves can control the future.

I’m sure you can probably recognize yourself or people you know in these four personality types, but what goes in to making someone one or the other?

Researcher and author Frank Sulloway believes that your family plays a big part in just how radical you are in life, and of course in your work.

In particular, he suggests that whether you are a first born or second born child plays a big part in just how innovative you are as an adult.

He believes that first born children can generally get by and being good at what they do, therefore they study hard, participate in sports, play musical instruments, the usual stuff.

Second born children often therefore find this territory already claimed by their older sibling, so have to resort to alternative means of garnering attention.  They might act the joker for instance or rebel through their choice of music.

When Sulloway researched 121 major historical events, such as major shifts in science, political revolutions and the like, he found that second born children (and above) were roughly twice as likely to take the radical position.  Those defending the status quo however, were much more likely to be first born children.

The love of danger

Nowhere was this finding better emphasized than in participation rates in so called danger sports.  In a study Sulloway did of over 8,000 participants in 24 different sports, it emerged that later born children were 1.5 times more likely than first borns to participate in dangerous sports (rugby for instance vs tennis).

Indeed, it even extended to playing style within each sport.  For instance, when Sulloway analyzed brothers who had played professional baseball, he found that the younger brother was 10 times more likely to try and steal a base (a risky play) than their older sibling.

All of which casts an interesting perspective on what it means to be a corporate rebel.

Were you a first or second born child yourself?

 

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6 thoughts on “What families can teach us about being a radical

  1. Certainly the surrounding can influence how people behave and how ambitious they are, children tend to find role models and follow them … in many cases they do better than the role model. Risk perception, persistence and attitude play are the main ingredients of how good or bad a person would perform.

  2. As a second child, I did compete with the first but having been of the opposite gender I wanted to do things my way as better than his.

  3. Second born and was last for first 8 years of my life. There are two after me now. I am the most different of my siblings.

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