Written by Anthony Demangone
I love when someone challenges a common rule or assumption.
We've heard this one before: Hire the smartest person you can find, and then get out of his or her way.
In other words, wicked "smaht" (Youtube.com) should be better than smart, all other things being equal, right? Perhaps not.
In "Why I Decided to Rethink Hiring Smart People" (HBR.org), Roger Martin argues that some folks might just be too smart. And he learned from experience.
We had a pretty simple recruiting philosophy during our swift ramp-up from inception in 1983 to that point in time: hire super smart consultants because, thanks to their great intellect, they will be able to learn best and fastest. In fact, we had a thoroughly obnoxious catchphrase — stupid is forever — that I am very embarrassed ever existed, and repeating it here is part of my penance for once holding the view. Its (deeply flawed) logic was that you could teach someone all the interpersonal skills necessary as long as they were really smart. But if they weren't really smart to begin with, there was nothing you could do.
We were a Harvard Business School shop in the early days and, having great respect for Baker Scholars (the top 5% of the HBS class), we hired as many of them as we could. But they didn't work out nearly as well as we expected, and some flamed out pretty spectacularly. As is often the case, we attributed that to flawed execution of a fundamentally awesome theory — we had just hired the wrong super smart people.
What is his new theory? Some folks are simply too smart.
They are so very smart that they are also very "brittle," to use Argyris's descriptor. When something goes wrong, rather than reflect on what they might have done to contribute to the error, they look entirely outside themselves for the causes and blame outside forces — irrational clients, impossible time pressure, lack of adequate resources, shifts beyond their control. Rather than learn from error, they doom themselves to repeat them.
It all reminds me of my civil procedure law professor. The man is brilliant. On the first day of class, he announced that he would teach this class differently. Rather than go over basic tenants of cases first, he'd jump right into the actual rules of civil procedure. Granted, this was our first week of law school. He said he found the other way far too slow when he studied law at Yale. This was, of course, after he received his doctorate in Philosophy from Tufts. Like I said, this guy is wicked smart.
He quickly lost us. As he progressed through the class, he was teaching and communicating at one level, while all of us were living on a different planet. While I'm sure his delivery would have been perfect for the sharpest minds in the legal community, he confused and aggravated the entire class.
He simply was too smart.
So, good readers, I have a question for you today. Do you agree with the article? In other words, can someone be too smart to work out well in an organization?
With that, have a great weekend, guys. May you be "wicked smaht" (Youtube.com) when it matters. But not too smart...