An essential element of success in any organization is the growth and development of employees. Thus, leaders and HR Professionals benefit from a basic knowledge of how people change. This article is designed to pique the interest of readers, and test their knowledge of some basic tenets of personal change.
A popular Jesuit maxim states, "Give me a child until he is seven, and I will show you the man". But are we really preordained to such stability at an early age? As adults, how much can we change? What aspects of ourselves (and our employees) are easier or more difficult to change, and at what age does managed change become more of a challenge? The following short quiz, will test some of your assumptions, and trigger some thoughts about the basics of personal and professional development.
1. During our early life our personality develops until it matures and becomes somewhat more stable. At what age does this stability occur?
This mature personality continues to change at a slower pace. There is considerable research that suggests that, although there is no change that applies to everyone, there are some general trends. Based on the trends identified, do you think the following statements are true or false.
- As adults become older, there is a trend to become more extroverted
(true or false).
- As adults become older there is a trend to become more agreeable
(true or false).
3. Between the ages of 25-75 part of our personality remains stable while the remainder undergoes change. In general what percentage remains stable
- 40% remains stable
- 60% remains stable
- 80% remains stable
4. In research into the genetic versus learned components of personality and aptitudes, one estimate of inherited versus learned (nature versus nurture) crops up time and time again. Is that commonly found percentage:
- 30% learned; 70% inherited
- 50% learned; 50% inherited
- 70% learned; 30% inherited.
5. Employee ambition is highest in the early years of employment. Is this true or false? (note: This is a trick question!)
Before we go to the answers, a few words of caution. Research on life- change suffers from the same issues as all behavioural research, but probably a little more because of the long term nature of the studies. More specifically:
- Remember we are discussing trends not absolutes. As a result, many individuals will not fit the trend.
- Personal change over time (let alone a lifetime) is extremely difficult to measure. Self-reports ("How much have you changed?") are notoriously inaccurate. Therefore, much of the research on which the answers are based relies on testing, then retesting years later, using standardized psychological tests(which carry their own set of issues).
- There is little consensus among researchers on the answers to the five questions. There is always research that contradicts other research. Therefore the "correct answers" reported here are based on the weight of evidence, not clear cut "proof".
With these qualifiers in mind here are our answers:
1. There are a large number of disparate studies on this one, but the weight of evidence indicates that the stability point occurs between the ages of 25-30
2. More individuals become more introverted with age than extroverted. However, more also become agreeable than disagreeable. (maybe because they're more introverted and spend less time with those with whom they disagree).
3. Between the ages of 25-75, sixty percent of our personality remains stable. So, on average, we change less than one percent per year.
4. It's amazing how often this number comes up in research on both aptitudes and personality, but this most common number is 50/50. Half of who we are is inherited and half learned.
5. We warned you that this is a trick question, so whether you said true or false you can score yourself correct. Studies show that ambition drops sharply sometime within the first 8 years of employment. This may be because employees arrive with unrealistically high expectations and, as they experience reality, their ambitions become lower. However, for the next 12 years ambition increases again. This particular study ended after 20 years, but there is other evidence to suggest that ambition is maintained at a high level until either retirement looms, or the individual accepts that he/she will move no further up the management ladder.
Want to Learn More?
Hopefully this short piece whet your appetite and piqued your curiosity about the concept of personal change and development If you want more detail about any of the points made here, or any other aspect of change, I'll refer you to the chief sources of information from which I drew the questions and answers. The first is called "Can a Person Change" edited by Todd F Heatherton and Joel L Weinberger (American Psychological Association,1994). the second is "What You Can Change and What You Can't" by Martin Seligman (Alfred A Knopf, 1994).
A Last Word or Three
One point that struck me during my reading about individual development and change is the absence of absolutes. There is nothing that always changes, regardless of the circumstances. More important, although there are some traits, attitudes and behaviours that are extremely difficult to change, there are always examples of successful change. So the last three words are on an optimistic note. When it comes to attempts to develop, regardless of the challenges and barriers you can find ways to succeed, never say never.
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