Leadership, Top Story

An OCEAN of Personalities

Grant Dryden

Grant Dryden

Every person in the world classifies and labels the things they encounter. We do this with objects such as: a phone, a pencil, or a cup. We even do this with the people we meet based on characteristics of how they behave or interact with others. These characteristics are called personality, and there are many different systems of classification for categorizing people into. No personality system is 100% accurate, but they each have their uses.

Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator

You have probably heard of the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Meyers developed the MBTI beginning in 1917. The MBTI attempts to classify people into 16 personality types based on a self-reported questionnaire. Many corporations and individuals use the MBTI for personal development, which is unfortunate. Human psychology has matured a lot since 1917, and there are better methods of assessing personality today.

It is important to note that the MBTI is not a scientific assessment of personality. The golden standard for scientific analysis is repeatability of results. Unfortunately, the MBTI has been shown to lack consistent results when takers repeat the questionnaire over a short period of time. While the MBTI does measure something, it does not measure “personality”. The outcome is heavily influenced by a test taker’s level of energy, the environment where the exam is administered, and their current life events.

It is reasonable to expect personality to change over the course of a few years, but it does not generally change over the span of a few months. The MBTI can vary wildly over the course of only a few months or weeks, which is a problem for repeatability.

A Better Personality Test

A better personality assessment that you should consider using is OCEAN. OCEAN is a taxonomy for personality analysis, but it is based on the “Big Five” personality traits. The Big Five traits were the results of statistical analysis being done over a large set of personality survey data. In other words, these are the statistically significant keywords which are used to define personality traits among real people.

One reason why this is better than the MBTI is because the categories are data-driven. The Big Five traits are not just a theory, they are a practical, real model. They describe which English words are actually used most often by people to categorize themselves.

The OCEAN assessment is still a self-reported survey. Self-reports do have their own limitations, but OCEAN tests are repeatable. This means you’ll get a better gauge for how you are developing yourself if you take the assessment over a long period of time.

The Big Five

The Big Five personality traits are as follows:

  • Openness (to experience)
  • Conscientiousness
  • Extraversion
  • Agreeableness
  • Neuroticism

Before we cover each trait individually, let’s understand that a trait in itself is neither good nor bad. A trait is like a fact, it just is, whether it is good or bad depends on the context and way it acts out in the environment.


This trait measures a person’s willingness to explore new things. A person low in openness may just be a rule follower or be data-driven (good), or they may be dogmatic (bad). A person high in openness could be described as innovative or creative (good), or they might just have a lack of focus (bad).

As you can see, the way in which this trait in played out in the environment determines whether it is good or bad, not how much “openness” a person has.


Conscientiousness measures a person’s easy-going or spontaneous nature. Low conscientiousness may mean a person is agile, adaptable, or just plain sloppy. High conscientiousness may mean they are reliable, stick to plans, or are rigid and inflexible in nature.


Extraversion is a person’s tendency to be solitary or reserved versus outgoing or energetic. Low extraversion typically indicates a more reflective or independent nature, or someone who is self-absorbed. High extraversion may indicate someone is more sociable, energized by others, or talkative.


Agreeableness measures how challenging versus friendly a person is. Low agreeableness may mean a person is protective or competitive, or maybe they’re resistant and defiant by nature. High agreeableness may indicate the person is cooperative and helpful, or they could be submissive.


I have always disliked this term because it’s seen immediately as a negative trait. Neuroticism is not a negative trait, what this really measures is a person’s sensitivity to negative emotion. As with the other traits, this can be both good and/or bad. Low neuroticism could indicate a person is emotionally sensitive or has the capacity to be very empathetic, or it might just be bad and indicate emotional instability. High neuroticism could indicate a person is very emotionally stable or calm, or that they are simply uninspiring and not interesting.

Wrapping it Up

As you can see, OCEAN personality traits are simply that – traits. Traits are neither good nor bad, they are intended only to describe our personality. How each trait is acted out is what can be good or bad. It is up to us to learn about ourselves and develop our personality characteristics into the “good” version.

If you’re ready for it, I recommend taking the OCEAN personality test here. The Big Five Project not only gives you your score, but also tells you your percentile relative to other test takers.

You can’t improve if you don’t set a goal, and learning where you’re at will help you set more achievable goals. Put in the time to become the best you that you can be.

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