Sunday afternoon, browsing on the web, BBC Capital, an article attracts my attention with the following title: The problem with smart people. Okay, let’s find out what this article says is the problem with smart people.
So I go on reading: “When hiring, promoting, even just putting together your team, you should look for the smartest people in the room, right? Not so fast.” Agreed. So far, so good.
“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.” True.
The article gives an example of the Enron board people who were known as the smartest boardroom guys, which, well we all know indeed what happened to Enron. So being smart is not enough – I know that.
“The problem with really smart people is that they often think they know more than everyone else. Maybe they do. But that doesn’t help them when they’re trying to get others to buy into whatever they’re selling.(…)” That is true, whether you are ‘smart’ or not. Not sure where the writer wants to go to. Then come statements which annoy me:
“The irony is that sometimes the most talented person can make for one of the most ineffective managers. You can see this in sports, for example, 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.
Wayne Gretzky, the Canadian hockey legend who retired with more personal scoring records than anyone in the history of professional hockey, was remarkably ineffective as a head coach. The same may be said about Michael Jordan, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever, who has never been able to lead a successful basketball organisation whether as general manager, president or owner.”
These statements annoy me because a lot is being mixed up. Essentially I would ask the question: why would a great hockey player automatically need to be a great coach? Why would the greatest basket player be a great leader, ‘as general manager, president or owner’? What do these talents have to do with one another?
This is indeed what a lot of people don’t realise. Being talented at something, whether it is playing hockey or basketball, or singing, or painting or for that matter ‘being smart’, doesn’t mean one is talented at everything else – why should they?? Why should Gretzky be a good coach? Why should Jordan be a great director? We are talking about very different talents.
Often indeed, great sports players but also singers or painters, start coaching or teaching at some point in their career for various reasons, whether it is after retiring or to earn extra money. But playing hockey, to continue the example of Gretsky, has nothing to do with teaching/coaching. He certainly knows how to play the game (very) well, but that doesn’t make him a good teacher/coach. In other words he might or rather he obviously does not like, let alone love, teaching – which explains why he was ‘remarkably ineffective as a head coach’. In the role of ‘head coach’ there are of course other talents needed but I have here taken teaching as the main talent but his issue could have been with another talent. And same goes for Jordan. No further explanation needed.
So let’s not mix up the different talents needed for different ‘positions’. That will spare a lot of people a lot of unhappiness.
And, being intelligent has little to do with talents. Though it might be true that very intelligent people have often a lot of talents and a large spectrum of inner drives, it is not a given. It is not because a person is intelligent that that person is a great people manager, or strategic thinker, or manager, or team player. If someone is very intelligent he/she will more easily learn something, but it doesn’t mean he/she loves doing it and thus excel in it. Realising this will also spare a lot of people a lot of unhappiness.