I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two types of people in this world, two that are often ignorant of the other’s existence. They are the structure-seeking, and the structure-averse — those who make, and those who work.
The names are somewhat misleading. They may remind you of “risk-seeking” and “risk-averse”, though the truth tends to be that those who are risk-averse are structure-seeking and those who are risk-seeking are structure-averse. This might give you the idea that the concepts are opposites, but even that isn’t true. We’ll get to why that is.
Before that, let’s define structure-seekers and structure-averse(ers?) by playing a quick game of word association.
Structure-seekers are accountants, prestige-chasers, graduate students, good in school, believe in authority, logical, academic, and to some extent, bureaucratic. They prefer structure — institutions, plans, organization, black-and-white.
Those who are structure-averse are creative, entrepreneurial, think outside the box, are artists, entrepreneurs, think big, hate authority, do poorly in school (unless it’s a subject they’re interested in), and believe in independence. They are averse to structure — they think rules exist to be broken and thrive in the grey area.
Now, hearing these definitions, you should realize that these definitions are not new. This is the left- and right- brain of American parlance, the kapha and vata in Hinduism, and the upstanding citizens and dangerous criminals of China. Jokes aside, at this point you’re probably wondering what it is that I’m telling you that’s new. Haven’t you heard this story a million times already?
Well, the truth is that these traditional definitions are close — but they don’t go all the way. Take two people, one a physicist and the other an author. Which one is structure-seeking, and which one is structure-averse?
The answer is that I tricked you. It’s impossible to tell, because structure-seeking and structure-aversion isn’t correlated to something as simple as an occupation. You can have a physicist who feels safe within the confines of the university, who publishes papers in order to get tenure, who prefers to teach classes than be on sabbaticals. This person would be structure-seeking. On the other hand, you can have Einstein. Hopefully you see the stark difference.
Same goes for authors. Even something as specific as authors of fiction aren’t necessarily assumed to all be structure-averse. Joyce Carol Oates is a fiction writer, yet she thrives on structure. Born out of academia, she prefers the theory and rules of writing when making stories. Contrast that with William Burroughs, who sees the traditional literary theory with rancor and derision. Two similar people, two very different philosophies.
And, as I’ve mentioned, we can’t rely on definitions of risk, either. In fact, you could make a pretty decent matrix of people who fit risk on one axis and structure on the author. A risk-averse structure-averse person may be a part time entrepreneur, whereas a risk-seeking structure-seeking person might be someone vying for a job in an investment bank. You can think of similar examples for the other two cells of the matrix.
The final point I’ll make here is the ignorance we can have when it comes to acknowledging that the opposite side exists. Those who are structure-averse live in the bubble of “it’s time to build” and “maker’s schedule, manager’s schedule”. Those who are structure-seeking see entrepreneurs and artists and make complaints such as “it will never work” and “remember the odds!”. My structure-seeking girlfriend remarks in confusion and horror when I tell her about the ideas of side hustles and creator economy, even though these concepts are practically second nature to me by this point. I think we can learn a lot from one another when we recognize that both of these sides exist, and that neither is particularly better or worse than the other.