The Potential Problem with Hiring Smart People
I’d have thought being smart is a prerequisite for most jobs. OK, maybe not jobs filled with routine, repetition, or mindless activity. But intelligence certainly seems to be a minimum requirement for jobs that require careful analysis, critical thinking, problem-solving, or decision-making.
But apparently, intelligence is not always an asset. For example, intelligence can breed hubris, excessive self-confidence, and a superiority complex. These qualities can lead intelligent people to assume they’re right when they’re not, and to be so certain that their decisions are correct that they reject anyone else’s perspective.
The problem with some smart people is that they can’t believe everyone else doesn’t see the world as they do. Furthermore, many bright people can analyze situations and reach conclusions faster than everyone else, so they lack the patience to wait for others to catch up—or to listen to their views when they do. Still, intelligent people don’t have a monopoly on these qualities; some not-so-bright people exhibit the same excessive pride, self-confidence, and sense of certainty.
Fortunately, many bright people are huge assets to their organizations. On an insidiously complex project back when I was an IT manager, I was fortunate to have several extremely bright programmers on the team. These people didn’t go around strutting their stuff. Instead, through discussion, debate, and collaboration, they tackled the challenge and delivered what many thought was impossible. Maybe they weren’t equally bright in other aspects of their lives; as Mark Twain put it, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.” But on the project, these bright people did the job and did it well.
Therefore, when hiring, it seems important to seek people who exhibit humility about their abilities, and to weed out the know-it-alls who want to be the one-stop decision-maker. And be careful: Confidence in a job applicant is no predictor of competence.
If you’re the one seeking a job, this is a subtle matter; you have to demonstrate you’re capable of doing the job, and at the same time establish that you’re willing and able to talk with people on their levels, explore problems from multiple perspectives, and consider alternative solutions. And if you get the job, it’s wise to let your intelligence shine through in the way you work with others.