Artificial Intelligence, Personality, and HR

An artificial intelligence tool that analyzes text written by individuals whose personality you are interested in may prove useful, but we should not get carried away. No one tool should guide our decisions in recruiting, developing, and retaining employees.

When looking at trends for HR in 2016, I saw mention of an artificial intelligence tool called Personality Insights (PI). Powered by IBM’s Watson, the tool analyzes text written by an individual whose personality you are interested in. According to the Watson Developer Cloud site, the tool can “Uncover a deeper understanding of people’s personality characteristics, needs, and values to drive personalization.” “Personalization” is a current buzzword in our data-driven world, and the developers point to a number of potential applications:

  • Fine-grained customer segmentation
  • Better quality lead generation
  • Better marketing design and product recommendations
  • More personal and relevant customer care
  • Better recruiting and placement

I’m sure PI and similar tools will prove useful, but we should not get carried away. Without sensible precautions, any tool like this can cause damage to organizations and individuals.

There is a demo site for PI, so I decided to take the tool for a spin. If the results are to be statistically significant, you need at least 3,500 words, ideally 6,000 (although you can still play with the demo if you have at least 100 words).

First, I entered an article I had written called “Crossing Cultures” (available on the TMA World Website or my LinkedIn page). It is approximately 340 words. I was a bit shaken when the first lines of the analysis said, “You are boisterous, explosive, and sentimental.” OK, I’m sure I can be sentimental sometimes, but “boisterous” and “explosive”? I’m an off-the-scale introvert, and running a training class can drain me for hours. As for “explosive,” everyone who knows me says I am very calm with the patience of Job. The feedback went on the say, “You have a hard time sticking with difficult tasks.” Ask my colleagues if that is true of me.

Looking at the article I entered, I could see how Watson might have reached its conclusions. In order to make key points about the challenges of working across cultures, I had made some “in-you-face” statements, such as:

  • I have an open mind. No, you don’t!
  • I have no prejudices. Oh, yes, you do!
  • I don’t judge others. What? Are you a saint?

Given the small number of words I entered, and the style I had consciously adopted, I can see a rationale for the outcome. This does, however, raise a red flag. If you don’t have enough text from, say, a potential recruit, what conclusions would be valid? The tool told me my results were a “Weak Analysis.” What if I had entered a small amount of text written by a colleague, and decided on their suitability for a position, or had put the analysis on social media for everyone to see?

Next, I entered an article on Brexit (also available on TMA World’s Website and my LinkedIn page). This article was approximately 1,300 words. I could more easily identify with this analysis: Shrewd (canny, observant, sharp-witted, perceptive of motives) and Skeptical (not easily convinced, doubting, questioning). I think my colleagues would agree.

The feedback also said I was unlikely to adapt to new situations, which is a bit overstated in my “objective” view. In reality, it could put off an employer thinking of me hiring me for any number of roles.

My final input was closer to the recommended 6,000 words and came from my e-book, “Matrix Working” (also available at TMA World’s Website). After looking at the feedback, my wife said, “I recognize that man.” While this feedback might more accurately reflect my personality, I still want to be cautious; anything like this needs to be interpreted, and all interpretation is open to interpretation. Below, I have reproduced the feedback, along with some of my notes (in italics).


  • You are inner-directed (Some might interpret that as “He’s self-centered” or “He doesn’t work well on teams.”) and skeptical (Skeptical might be interpreted as “cynical”—always finding fault or he’s stubborn.)
  • You are philosophical; you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them (Could be interpreted asHe’s going to spend huge amounts of time “exploring” and very little delivering on promises” or “He’s not going to be Mr. Speedy!”)
  • You are empathetic; you feel what others feel and are compassionate towards them (Could be interpreted as “He’s too soft to be a leader; don’t look to him to make the hard decisions.”) You are imaginative: you have a wild imagination (Hmm…what does “wild” mean? Creative? Hopelessly impractical?)
  • You are motivated to seek out experiences that provide a strong feeling of organization (I’m not exactly sure what that statement means. I want to be given structure? Most of the time, I have to create my own structure.)
  • You are relatively unconcerned with tradition: you care more about making your own path than following what others have done (Could be interpreted as, “He’s a maverick. You won’t be able to control him.”)
  • You consider achieving success to guide a large part of what you do; you seek out opportunities to improve yourself and demonstrate you are a capable person (Could be interpreted as, “He’s insecure and always trying to prove himself” or “His ego and drive are going to make him very unpopular.”)
  • You are likely to______

Click on an ad (Rarely)

Follow on social media (Not that often)

Change careers (Not very often)

  • You are unlikely to______

Buy eco-friendly (Occasionally, if the product is good and “eco” is not just marketing)

Reply on social media (I have been known to be neglectful)

Adapt to situations (I can adapt pretty well)

I wonder how my wife actually interpreted the feedback? I’m not going to ask.

While welcoming another tool in the HR toolbox, let’s be wise. No one tool should guide our decisions in recruiting, developing, and retaining.

Terence Brake is the director of Learning & Innovation, TMA World (, which provides blended learning solutions for developing talent with borderless working capabilities. Brake specializes in the globalization process and organizational design, cross-cultural management, global leadership, transnational teamwork, and the borderless workplace. He has designed, developed, and delivered training programmes for numerous Fortune 500 clients in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Brake is the author of six books on international management, including “Where in the World Is My Team?” (Wiley, 2009) and e-book “The Borderless Workplace.”