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When Smart isn't Necessarily Smart

Optimize Blog - June 15, 2015 - 0 comments

When hiring, promoting or even just putting together a team, we tend to look for the smartest people in the room. But is that necessarily the right thing to do?
We think that there is a problem with smart people. You see really smart people often think that they know more than everyone else. A classic example of this is the Enron management team – the former US energy trading company. Remember them? At one time they were known as “the smartest guys in the room.” That didn’t turn out as well as they might have hoped. Those “smartest guys in the room” were a group of leaders that despite their smarts, were an arrogant group who took wild chances and lost billions of dollars. The company dissolved in 2001.
Intelligence is one of those characteristics where there is a minimum level needed to be in the game. Once past that, too much intelligence can be a drawback or worse. So do you really need to find the smartest leaders? It’s an interesting debate and clearly if you surround yourself with people that are not capable then you should certainly not expect spectacular results!
Now, the job for which you’re hiring makes a difference and no doubt that you do want big-time intelligence for researchers, analysts, and coders, but if they lack emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills, you can keep them apart and let them do their thing because they can work on their own.
So maybe smart people really do know more than anyone else but that doesn’t help them when they’re trying to get others to buy into whatever they’re selling. In our experience some of these smart people fail to recognize that we don’t all see the world in the same way. This becomes a particular issue when working with peers and where the only way to get momentum toward their preferred outcome is to convince others to support the idea. Imposing the “smarter” solution just won’t work.
What we often witness is the irony of the most talented person being one of the most ineffective managers. There are parallels in sports where retired superstars often find it difficult to coach or manage successfully because they are now supervising lesser mortals that weren’t blessed with the same degree of innate talent.
We also witness it when organizations think that their product is simply the best and yet consumers display seemingly irrational behavior by buying someone else’s product…… Of course the best technology doesn’t always win, just like the smartest people don’t always succeed.
Relying on the smartest and the most talented to lead and manage people and teams may be one of those things that sounds a lot better in theory than in practice.

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