Personalities and Prosperity

In one of the coolest parts of his new book, “Who’s Your City?”, creative-class guru Richard Florida argues that regions, like people, can have personalities. He identifies five standard personality types — openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion (sociability), agreeableness and neuroticism — and, based upon 600,000 survey responses from individuals around the country, plots the responses geographically.

In a nutshell, it’s possible to construct a personality profile of a region. The obvious question then arises. What is Virginia’s personality profile? And, following the line of reasoning that Florida lays out in his book, what are the implications for building more prosperous, livable and sustainable regions?
The good news is, Virginia is not a hot-spot of “neurotic” personalities — that distinction is reserved for New York and environs, and parts of the Midwest. The bad news, the “open to experience” personality type also eludes Virginia. Florida associates this category with creativity, innovation and economic growth. You’ll find it most prevalently on the West Coast and the Northeast, although there are pockets in Colorado, Texas and Florida.

Virginia is relatively devoid of the “extrovert” personality type — that’s found mostly in the Midwest and large swaths of the South. But that’s no big deal because the category is economically neutral.

The two personality types that most define Virginia are “agreeable” and “conscientious.” Combine the two together, and you get what Florida refers to as a “conventional” or “dutiful” personality cluster. On the positive side, people tend to be more pleasant and more trustful. They get along. But they don’t challenge authority, don’t rock the boat, and they’re not terribly innovative. And innovation, remember, is one of the keys to prosperity in a globally competitive economy.

If Virginians aren’t temperamentally suited to be cutting-edge innovators, what path is there to prosperity? Well, I have always emphasized two paths to prosperity: innovation and productivity. If we aren’t especially well suited to be innovators, we are suited to excel at productivity. As Florida himself notes, “agreeable” personalities more easily form bonds of trust, and they tend to work together in teams and collaborative situations — a prerequisite for high-performance business organizations today. Similarly, Florida notes that conscientious types “work hard and have a great deal of self discipline. They are responsible, detail-oriented, and strive for achievement. They tend to be better-than-average workers on almost any job.”

Virginia has two broad alternatives: Try to compete for more “open-to-experience” personality types, a daunting task given the fact that the “opens” tend to migrate to regions where others like themselves reside. Or, we can make the best of what we’ve got and build productivity-enhancing institutions that play upon our strengths.

Such speculation is so far beyond the level of most thinking about economic development in Virginia today that it will fall on deaf ears initially. But I sense that Florida is on the right track. (Read my column, “Personalities and Prosperity” for a fuller treatment.) If Virginians take to his latest theories as enthusastically as they greeted his earlier discussion of the “creative class,” we may be having that conversation sooner than later.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    I wonder what Woody Allen would say to this research.

    Peter Galuszka

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Peter, You anticipated Richard Florida… who observed in his book that Woody Allen might be considered the perfect New Yorker as both open to new experiences (thus artistic, creative) and neurotic!

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Did Florida perceive NoVa to be different from RoVa?

  4. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, The maps were not detailed, so it’s hard to tell. NoVa was on fringe territory but seemingly in the Virginia personality zones. But I wouldn’t consider those very small maps to be definitive. Unfortunately, Florida doesn’t provide any greater granularity.

    But I would suspect, as I expect you do, that the differences would be substantial. Personality-wise, NoVa would be as close to New Jersey as to Richmond.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    Jim – what most Virginians are best at is doing something that relies on federal funding. I too am guilty as I am in the process of trying to finalize contract for a project with a federal agency.

    The Governor understands this too, as Tim Kaine is working to keep certain Naval operations at Norfolk instead of being transferred to Florida.

    But wouldn’t we be better off as a state if we could also produce something beyond goods and services sold to someone that are paid by taxpayers and subsidized real estate development? An honest understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses enables progress.


  6. Groveton Avatar

    Continued bad news …

    Sports Illustrated just named the best high school sports programs in each of the United States and Washington, DC.

    Virginia – Stone Bridge HS (Loudoun County).

    Whatever happened to the days when Clyde “the Glide” Austin played for powerhouse Maggie Walker down in Richmond and NoVA was a perennial also – ran?

    What ever happened to Clyde “the Glide” Austin?

    And, for Peter and Jim, worse news…

    Washington, DC – Gonzaga

  7. Anonymous Avatar

    Gonzaga? And you mean GP just spent that $65 mil on a new sports complex for nothing?

    Peter Galuszka

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