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Psychological Profiles of the Dream Team: The Matrix Thinker


In my previous post, I described the psychological profile of the “Champ (and the Chip),” how people with those characteristics tend to function in the workplace and where they fit in your Dream Team lineup. In this post, I’ll discuss a different type of person: the “Matrix Thinker.”

What Makes Them Tick?

Matrix Thinkers are your quintessential creative types. They don’t just “think outside the box,” they think about where the box came from, why it’s there and how it could be designed better. While many people think in a linear fashion (a leads to b leads to c), Matrix Thinkers think more like a cube (a leads to m leads to z leads to c).

Thus—as in the case of Albert Einstein—they may struggle with grade-school math, yet excel in theoretical physics. Matrix Thinkers are constantly absorbing information from everything around them; as a result, they often make connections among seemingly-unrelated concepts. Frequently, this leads them to creative and revolutionary ideas–but sometimes, it just confuses everyone.

Highly-functioning Matrix Thinkers have developed an ability to synthesize the many inputs they’re receiving. They maintain clear thinking, connect the dots and present their ideas in a way that makes sense to other people. They have their personal lives, finances and working environment under control: even if there are seven piles of papers on their desk, they know how to find everything.

Poorly-functioning Matrix Thinkers, on the other hand, are impulsive decision-makers with chaos and disorder in their personal lives. They may exhibit tendencies of (or be diagnosed with) attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), jumping from idea to idea too rapidly. They are more likely to have conflict with other people; if they’re also an angry person, this can spell trouble.

Being a Matrix Thinker is mostly genetic; it’s about 75 percent nature, 25 percent nurture. As with our other psychological profiles, however, maturity is independent of personality type.

Mature Matrix Thinkers have learned to tone down their cantankerous tendencies and have more refined people skills: meaning the ability to handle constructive criticism, empathize and see the other person’s point of view with the intention of solving the problem. Well-developed people skills allow Matrix Thinkers to overcome typical problem areas such as communication, teamwork, tenure and commitment.

What Qualities Do Matrix Thinkers Have?

Here’s a quick breakdown of how Matrix Thinkers tend to rank for certain key qualities and tendencies:

Rating (out of 5 stars)

Who Are Some Famous Matrix Thinkers?

Here are some famous Matrix Thinkers throughout history, grouped by level of maturity:

More Mature
Less Mature

Bill Gates

Steve Jobs

Paul McCartney

John Lennon

Thomas Edison

Nikola Tesla

As mentioned, a mature Matrix Thinker has their cantankerousness under control, has well-developed people skills, has learned valuable life lessons and can synthesize the inputs they’re constantly taking in from their surroundings. An immature Matrix Thinker can still be successful—but their interactions with others are often problematic.

Jobs, while brilliant, was petulant and abrasive; Gates, on the other hand, is approachable and congenial. Similarly, Lennon was impulsive and struggled with relationships, while McCartney was much easier to work with. It is said that Edison gets credit for many of Tesla’s inventions because, while both men were great thinkers, Tesla was reclusive and struggled to communicate his ideas to others.

What Makes Them Great?

Matrix Thinkers possess some important characteristics that make them great employees:

  • They’re good problem-solvers. Answering complex questions is the Matrix Thinker’s forte. Their strong ability to think in the abstract leads them to innovative approaches for solving problems. Matrix Thinkers tend to disregard common assumptions about what will and won’t work, instead looking for entirely new ways to achieve goals.
  • They’re creative. Creativity is another core strength of Matrix Thinkers. They are artistically expressive, and find inspiration in unique sources. Combined with their ability to synthesize seemingly-unrelated information, this makes them some of the most brilliant artists, inventors and creative minds.
  • They’re trailblazers. Highly-functioning Matrix Thinkers are often visionary; they believe firmly in their ideas and methods, even if others don’t at first. This often leads them to develop exciting new products, projects and processes. They are naturally ambitious and strive to be the best—and the best will become top-level executives or creative types.
  • They take in everything. Nothing gets past a Matrix Thinker: they are constantly scanning their environment, receiving inputs from everything around them. Highly-functioning Matrix Thinkers can connect the dots from one concept or project to another, and can effectively manage multiple projects at once, switching between them seamlessly as business needs require. However, make sure that project goals and expectations are clearly defined ahead of time to reduce ambiguity, which can overwhelm a Matrix Thinker.

What Challenges Do They Face?

While Matrix Thinkers have many great characteristics, their personality traits also lend them some unique challenges:

  • Distraction. The constant flow of inputs they’re taking in can cause Matrix Thinkers to become easily distracted. The may start and stop on projects without finishing any of them. This can also result in disorganization and a messy desk, which may be a problem for managers and coworkers who share their space.
  • Conflict. Matrix Thinkers are more likely to have conflict with people in their lives, be it at home or in the workplace. You must keep a close eye on whether or not your Matrix Thinkers can function in a corporate environment, and collaborate within an established framework of rules and processes. They may have trouble reporting to a rule-following boss, such as a Giver.
  • Information overload. Sometimes, Matrix Thinkers become overwhelmed with all the information they’re taking in, and just shut down. It’s not uncommon for them to put hours or days of work into a project only to abandon it. They also may become overwhelmed by the research phase of a project, waiting until the night before it’s due to get started: sometimes they work well under this pressure, but sometimes it backfires.

How Do Matrix Thinkers Perform in Key Roles?

Here’s a quick look at which roles Matrix Thinkers are well-suited for, and which could prove problematic:

What They’re Good At
What They’re Not So Good At
Software Development
Customer Service
Marketing Strategy
Writing & Editing
Executive Support

Which Roles Are Best for Them?

The characteristics shared by Matrix Thinkers make them well-matched for certain workplace roles, including:

  • Creative roles. Matrix Thinkers thrive in non-structured roles where their natural creativity has freedom to roam. They can be your best artists, designers and content creators; given the flexibility to explore and develop their ideas, they can bring ideas to the table that are truly groundbreaking.
  • CEO. Matrix Thinkers not only have great ideas, they have confidence in those ideas and are driven to prove them. Mature Matrix Thinkers, who have learned to effectively synthesize the information they’re receiving and communicate this to others, can be visionary leaders who rise to the level of CEO.
  • Project-oriented roles. Variety is the spice of life for Matrix Thinkers; they flourish in project-oriented roles, where they’re never doing exactly the same work twice. They are gratified by the sense of achievement a project’s completion brings, and like tackling new challenges on a regular basis.

Which Roles Should They Avoid?

While Matrix Thinkers are great in creative roles, they aren’t a good fit for every position. Some of these include:

  • Customer service. Matrix Thinkers may excel at solving the big problems, but their minds tend to move too fast to focus on the little ones. While they probably know how to help a customer, they often struggle to explain their logic to others, causing frustration on both sides of the customer service exchange.
  • Sales. The constant information-cataloguing that characterizes Matrix Thinkers also makes them prone to distraction; they’re better at big-picture thinking than selling to individual customers. Their creativity and impulsive nature will probably lead them off-script during sales calls, as well—which could prove messy for interactions with leads and prospects.
  • Roles involving many repetitive or mundane tasks. Matrix Thinkers will tire quickly of mundane or repetitive tasks, leading to decreased productivity and increased turnover in these types of roles. Their need for intellectual and creative stimulation will probably result in more Internet-surfing than, say, data entry.

How Do You Identify a Matrix Thinker in an Interview?

During the interview process, there are certain approaches you can take to identify whether or not a candidate is a Matrix Thinker:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Since they think outside the box, Matrix Thinkers will want to provide more than “yes” or “no” answers—so phrase your interview questions accordingly. Don’t just ask about their skills and work experience; ask about things like their goals and greatest accomplishments, which will allow them to go deeper.
  • Ask about creative endeavors. You can identify a Matrix thinker by getting them talking about ways they’ve expressed themselves creatively. See if they’ve had success leading creative projects, creating something artistic or coming up with a unique approach to solving a problem. Ask how these ideas or projects came about, and see if their creative process follows the constant feedback loop characteristic of Matrix Thinkers.
  • Allow for a non-linear conversation style. In their head, a Matrix Thinker will already be several interview questions ahead of you—so don’t be thrown off if they jump from one to the other, and back again. They are taking everything in, so they’ll try to answer all of your questions; it just may not be in the order you’re asking them. If they get distracted and forget a few of them, you may have to gently remind them.
  • Find out how they handle conflict. Discovering how the candidate handles conflict can not only help identify a Matrix Thinker, it can also be indicative of maturity. Ask how they felt and how they handled the situation when they had a dispute with a boss or coworker. If the candidate was able to handle the conflict in a diplomatic way, regardless of how strongly they felt about it, and was able to take constructive criticism from the other person, they’ve likely got their feistiness corralled and have developed their people skills enough to function well in the workplace.
  • Look for a pattern of career advancement. Matrix Thinkers are driven to be the best; if they’ve been working in positions that utilize their natural talents, they can likely be identified by a pattern of career advancement. If they’ve been in positions that they were ill-suited for, however, don’t be thrown off by a spotty work history: Matrix Thinkers won’t stay long in a job that bores them. Whether they’ve risen through the ranks or jumped around in search of a better opportunity, they’ve always got their eye on the next best thing.

What Should You Do As an Employer?

When you’ve got Matrix Thinkers on your staff, there are a few things that, as an employer, you should do to keep the team running smoothly:

  • Don’t overload them with inputs. Matrix Thinkers will take in everything you give out to them—so be careful not to give them too much, lest they become overwhelmed. While highly-functioning Matrix Thinkers can effectively juggle multiple projects, if you’re constantly providing changes and updates to all of them, they may try to address everything at once… and fail to complete anything.
  • Make sure they know what’s expected of them. Since Matrix Thinkers are already dealing with so much outside noise from their environment, they may struggle with additional ambiguity in the form of undefined expectations or authority. They would rather have full control over a few projects than partial control over many, so make sure you clearly define roles, rules and expectations for them.
  • Don’t penalize them for disorganization. You may need to relax your standards for organization somewhat when you have Matrix Thinkers on your staff, as long as they aren’t interfering with their colleagues’ workspaces. While their desk may look chaotic, there is likely a unique system behind it.

Matrix Thinkers can be some of your most innovative team members: given a flexible, creative environment, they can revolutionize the way your company does business. Of course, as with any personality type, you’ll need to have others on your Dream Team to balance out Matrix Thinkers. In my next post, I’ll discuss another psychological profile: the “Savant.”

Holly Regan and Dr. James Maynard also contributed to this article.

Image by Holly Regan.

Steve Jobs Headshot 2010-CROP” created by Matthew Yohe used under CC-BY-SA 3.0 / resized.
Bill Gates – Interview” created by OnInnovation used under CC-BY-ND-2.0.
Paul McCartney black and white 2010” created by Oli Gill used under CC-BY / cropped and resized.
Thomas Edison2” created by Library of Congress used under public domain.
Tesla circa 1890” created by Napoleon Sarony used under public domain.
John Lennon last interview Tomorrow show 1975” created by NBC Television used under public domain.

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About the Author

Don started Software Advice in 2005 after a ten-year career in the software industry. Previously he held positions as an ERP analyst at an investment firm and as a corporate development executive at a pioneering CRM software company. Don lives in Austin, Texas with his wife Lauren, daughter Hudson, son Stone and Bernese mountain dog Stinson.

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