There isn’t one single Enneagram type that corners the market on innovation, and you can find sparks of genius and transformative inventions across the nine personality styles. It is said Steve Jobs of Apple Computer was a Type 4, Andy Grove of Intel a Type 6, and Richard Branson of the Virgin Group a Type 7. But when you dig deep into the story of innovation, more often than not, you’ll find a Type 5 in the mix. From vaccines to personal computers, from laser pointers to social media platforms, today we pay a tribute to the Type 5s across the globe and all the ways they make the world a better place.
With 2020 as the backdrop, this is the perfect time to say thank you. The coronavirus pandemic has a light at the end of the tunnel, thanks to the teams of scientists who almost definitely include a few Type 5s. And while the individuals referenced in this post are not students of the Enneagram and have not self-typed, I’ve made the correlation to Type 5 based on their characteristics and behaviour.
Let’s explore a few Type 5s
Katalin Kariko, is a Hungarian-born biochemist who spent 40 years researching mRNA technology. She has been relentless in her pursuit, enduring demotions, ridicule, and grant rejection after grant rejection for her research on mRNA. Unwilling to give up, she pressed on and now in 2020, her mRNA discoveries are one of the foundational parts of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, the first vaccine to gain approval in the Western world for prevention of Covid-19.
She’s joined by the husband and wife team of Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci, the founders of BioNTech. German-raised with Turkish roots, these researchers met early in their careers and fell in love over a mutual love of science. On the day they were married, Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci returned to the lab after the ceremony. A humble couple who shuns the spotlight, they celebrated the news that their coronavirus vaccine was highly effective by sharing cups of hot tea in their modest apartment.
And their company BioNTech owes some of its success to another Type 5. In 2019, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation invested $55 million to fund BioNTech’s work treating H.I.V. and tuberculosis. This funding allowed the scientists and infrastructure to be in place when Sahin and Tureci decided to pivot BioNTech in 2020 to focus on a coronavirus vaccine. Bill Gates is probably the most high profile Type 5, and his involvement is behind many innovations in the last decades.
You’ll find Type 5s and their contributions throughout history. Beyond Bill Gates and the 2020 coronavirus researcher superheroes, you’ll find Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking, and Mark Zuckerberg, just to name a few.
Even Apple Computer has a Type 5 in the background. While Steve Jobs, likely a Type 4 was the face of the company, if you look under the hood, you’ll find Type 5 Steve Wozniak, an electronics engineer and the brains behind the first Apple computer.
What makes the Type 5 so well-suited for innovation?
The Investigator personality style features a few key characteristics that set them up for success:
When I teach the Enneagram, I describe Type 5s as the intellectual deep divers of the personality system. This is a personality style that can hold a focus like no other. Type 5s go deeper and deeper into a topic, and their organized mind makes it easier for them to parse information, understand connections, and execute next steps. When you imagine the mind of a Type 5, think of an excel spreadsheet feeding into a flow chart. They can track all information in a clear, organized way, and this gives them excellent problem solving and analytical skills.
A Deep Love of Knowledge
Type 5s often don’t work for a paycheck, recognition, status, popularity, or material wealth. They aren’t overly interested in these things. They have a true love of knowledge and in most cases, a desire to help the world. This leads to a relentless work ethic with a foundation of true enjoyment of learning.
By way of example we can look at Katalin Kariko, the researcher responsible for the mRNA work. Her work days typically started at 6:00 a.m., she worked weekends and holidays and even slept in the office on occasion. "From outside, it seemed crazy, struggling, but I was happy in the lab," she said. "My husband always, even today, says, 'This is entertainment for you.' I don't say that I go to work. It is like play." With this attitude, it is easier to make the long journey required to get to transformative innovations.
And it doesn’t stop once an innovation is created. Bill Gates famously takes several “reading” vacations each year where he gets away from his daily routine to study up on his favorite subjects. He calls it a “Think Week” and has been taking them since the 1980s. These Think Weeks led Microsoft to launch Internet Explorer. Today it fuels and inspires his work at the Foundation.
Avoidance of the Trappings of the Material World
Type 5s famously live modestly and avoid getting too caught up in the trappings of the material world. This minimalism and lack of focus on “stuff” frees their mind for higher pursuits. They ensure their basic needs are met, and the rest of their energy can go into mental pursuits. This may be why, despite being billionaires and two of the wealthiest people in Germany, the BioNTech couple Dr. Sahin and Dr. Türeci continues to live car-free in a modest apartment bicycling to work each day.
It might also help explain why Mark Zuckerberg usually commutes in a VW hatchback despite having an estimated net worth of over $60 billion. Type 5s may occasionally splurge or have something expensive they collect due to personal taste and passion, but in general, their interest in the material world is low, and they aren’t out to impress others with their material things.
Unswayed by Public Opinion
Type 5s are well known for having a casual disregard for the opinion of the general public. While they may care deeply about the opinion of those they respect, this is usually a small, select group. The opinion of the rest of the world rolls off them like water off a duck’s back. It’s less that they don’t care and more that they don’t notice. Their laser focus is turned to their area of expertise and those relevant in that field. This is what takes up mental space in their minds. This meant when Kaitlin Kariko was demoted, ridiculed and rejected over and over for her research, she persevered. She kept her focus on her belief in her research and rose above the negative public opinion.
All these characteristics are part of what make the Type 5 personality style so well-suited for innovation. And while the personality style can also often be socially awkward and sometimes come off as arrogant, the next time you find yourself struggling to communicate with a Type 5, remember all they bring to the world and try to be a little gentler. The world is a better place thanks to our Type 5 Investigators!