The world is nothing if not interconnected, with most organisations now attempting to take a collaborative approach to their work. This requires employees to work effectively both with people inside their domain of expertise but also across boundaries and disciplines.
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Nowhere is this more so than in the scientific community, where the challenges faced are so substantial that researchers have to step outside of their comfort zone and collaborate with peers in other fields. Only by doing this will they ensure the kind of cross-pollination of ideas and techniques that are required to allow them to break new ground and devise innovative solutions to the challenges we face.
While this is increasingly accepted, it is nonetheless not something that comes easily or naturally to many of us. Indeed, a recent study has shown that looking outside of our normal domain for insights and ideas is much easier for some than for others.
A Collaborative Personality Type
The researchers analyzed the habits of scientists aiming to improve our understanding and treatment of diabetes. Research in this area was chosen because it has a long history of requiring collaboration across multiple disciplines to ensure successful breakthroughs.
Nearly 500 researchers were analyzed to determine both their personality type and their research output over a ten year period from 2001 to 2011.
The analysis revealed that being conscientious was a good sign that you were capable of deep research within your chosen, specialist domain. Being competitive and having a strong focus on high performance were also seen as good indicators of specialist expertise.
The researchers themselves revealed that this kind of study is usually considered less risky than other forms of research that take a broader approach.
As you might expect, conscientiousness was therefore negatively associated with such a research style. Being more collaborative was found to require a focus on learning rather than achievement. So, rather than conscientiousness, the results found that being open to new experience was a more desirable personality trait to ensure a collaborative approach to research.
The authors believe this is because such a personality reflects the kind of characteristics that support and encourage scientific enquiry in whatever flavour it comes in.
They go on to suggest that their paper could prove useful for scientists who wish to "make informed and strategic decisions about projects and approaches to their work".
Are they right? Personally, I’m not convinced. The paper only looks at the correlation between the output of each scientist and their personality type. It doesn’t touch upon the consequences at all. So while a competitive and conscientious researcher might be drawn to deeper kinds of research, it doesn’t mean that doing this will bring them a greater degree of success. Indeed, it’s also a stretch to suggest that applying themselves in this way will be more rewarding for them than conducting broader, more collaborative research.
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Nevertheless, in a world where scientific recruiters may be looking for scientists with cross-disciplinary potential, the findings may nonetheless gain some traction, so are worth bearing in mind should you find yourself in such a job interview in the coming months.