The business of birth order

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Why did Charles Darwin pursue the radical idea of evolution when other scientists of the 1870s such as Louis Agassiz rejected it? Could it be that Darwin was the fifth of six children, while Agassiz was a firstborn?

Finding out about the birth order of people you work with will help you work more effectively with them by understanding them better.

Birth order theory is great because it explains so much about a person so quickly. Birth order theory helps you understand someone’s world-view. It also gives insight as to what motivates someone. And, after all, one of the fastest ways to success is to understand people. Birth order theory is another tool in your arsenal to figure out how to relate to people faster.

Here are the basics: First-born children come into a world where parents give them all the attention and the world feels very good. These kids spend their lives trying to preserve order. Youngest kids, by virtue of not being oldest, disrupt order in the world to get attention from their parents. These kids spend their lives disrupting order to get what they want. Middle children are less sure of their place than the oldest or the youngest. These kids are good negotiators but have a difficult time figuring out a place for themselves.

Not convinced? The French revolution was lead almost exclusively by younger siblings, as were most other revolutions. Harvard’s undergraduate admissions committee inadvertently selects first-born children almost exclusively. Middle children are statistically likely to make less money than their oldest or youngest sibling.

There are exceptions. But the list of exceptions is not nearly as long as you’d think. Here’s an example of one: the first-born daughter of two first-born parents usually gives up her place to the second-born because the parental pressure is too intense since first-borns are likely to be perfectionists. I’m in this category, which might explain why I end up taking an alternative route to everything and my younger brother walks a straight line.

Understanding your own birth order position helps you to see why you act in certain ways, and it helps you to have more patience with yourself. Finding out a little bit about the birth order of people you work with will help you to work more effectively with them by understanding them better.

There are statistically good and bad pairings according to birth order. Not that you can do a lot to change who you work with, but you can work better by understanding your relationship to each other. Two first-borns might have trouble working together because they are both used to ordering everyone around. And two last-borns are used to having someone else get to the plan first, so things might move slowly with two youngest in charge. A great pairing is a youngest and an oldest. Note, this is true for marriage, also. People should read a birth order book or two before they ever go on a date.

Author: Penelope Trunk has launched new businesses for multinational corporations and she founded two of her own companies. Her writing has appeared in the London Times, LA Weekly and Time Magazine online, among other publications.