Why geniuses don't have jobs
Rich, this is a GREAT article! I love this anecdote:
The heart of the problem for geniuses -- people who are 9 or 10 at something -- are that they are probably a 2-3 in other areas. Joe Polish is a product marketing genius (9+), especially for items that are novel, fun, or focus on personal development. He charges people $25k to join his "25k club," and people I interviewed from this group report receiving far greater value than they give up when they write that big check. Joe is also stubborn, crass and prone to topic-jump in a way that makes it seem like he's listening to voices we can't hear. His sense of humor alone would make him unemployable in most big companies. So in terms of "playing by the rules," he's a "2" on a good day.
Joe would be a dangerous hire for a company. Yes, he's a genius in product marketing. But the chance that he'd offend someone in a conservative culture is 100% -- in the first week.
So Joe has done what geniuses do -- he went out on his own, crafted his own path, and is running his own company where he gets to make the rules. While this is the right decision for Joe, the fact that every company in the world isn't calling him for help highlights the problem.
If you do hire a genius, there are ways to mitigate the risk. I include two below.
Working with a genius risk mitigation, part one:
First, have clear conversations about what is, and isn't, acceptable -- and plan to repeat that action every week or so. Many geniuses become surgeons, and are famous for throwing temper tantrums or harassing people. That's not ok -- no matter how great the ability. The cost of giving one person a free pass on the rules is to say the rules don't matter. It's also insulting to everyone else, and will drop your culture into the "my life sucks" zone on the "Tribal Leadership scale."
Working with a genius risk mitigation, part two:
Second, set development goals that bring the person closer to a 4 or 5 on the ability scale in the problem areas. Many geniuses need professional advice, and managers shouldn't play amateur psychologists. Others need someone to help them develop a sense that most of us already have -- like saying inappropriate words in public needs to stop. There are training programs, books, and coaches for just about every type of problem. Overwhelm the genius with offers of help. The message has to be: We value you (the whole person, not just the ability), and we want to help you make this work.
I think these findings underline the need for a holistic look at what makes a person "successful" or even employable. Someone can be amazing on the IQ side, but really lacking on the EQ side. As you've shared, the good news is that both areas are actually flexible. As long as someone is willing to grow, they can be coached and taught to improve the skills they need. Carol Dweck talks about this in her insightful book, Mindset. If more "geniuses" would embrace this need to change and grow, it would be a great boon to the world at large, I think.
Geniuses need to learn to be self aware before they can change and grow.
Self awareness is hard to teach.
Yes, that is a very good point. Why do you think it's so hard for people to be taught self-awareness?
Learning about our blind spots, weaknesses, and insecurities is emotionally challenging:
Not being self aware is a brain's way of trying to protect itself and its world view.
Interesting article, Adam! Scott Berkun makes a poignant statement:
Self-awareness, the trickiest thing to develop, is a paradox: to become more self-aware, you have to be aware enough about yourself to know you need to know yourself better. How can anyone possibly teach this to anyone else?
Right, some people don't even have the minimum needed to bootstrap.