Do genetic factors account for the tendency to be an entrepreneur? A fascinating study just published in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled “Genetics, the Big Five, and the Tendency to Be Self-Employed” tackles this question by examining 1702 identical and 1710 fraternal twins from the UK and 694 identical and 606 fraternal twins from the US. The lead author of the study is Scott Shane, who also wrote the exceptional book Illusions of Entrepreneurship.
Shane and his colleagues hypothesized that one of the ways genetics might manifest itself in entrepreneurial tendencies is through personality. With respect to the Big Five personality characteristics, entrepreneurs are more likely to be Extraverted, Open to Experience, Conscientious, Emotionally Stable, and Disagreeable “because agreeable people are less likely to pursue their own self-interest, drive difficult bargains, or use others to achieve their own objectives” (p. 1155).
In both the UK and US samples, only Extraversion and Openness to Experience were significantly correlated with the tendency to be an entrepreneur. It’s important to note that while the correlations were statistically significant, they were not very large. What’s interesting is that “for both of these personality characteristics, the majority of the modest association was genetic in origin.” (p. 1159). In the UK twins, genetics explained 62% of the variance in Extraversion and 85% of the variance in Openness to Experience, and in the US twins genetics explained 60% of the variance in Extraversion and 74% of the variance in Openness to Experience.
Based on these results, Shane and his colleagues advise that those involved with encouraging entrepreneurship should avoid focusing on personality. You can’t change someone’s personality, and most of the modest association personality has with entrepreneurship appears to be genetic.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to be comfortable interacting with investors, customers, and employees. It also helps to be curious, creative, and innovative. If those don’t come natural to you, don’t be discouraged. Since you can’t change your personality, work on your attitudes and behavior.