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What if smart people are over-rated?

====Begin quote====

The management of Enron, in other words, did exactly what the consultants at McKinsey said that companies ought to do in order to succeed in the modern economy. It hired and rewarded the very best and the very brightest—and it is now in bankruptcy. The reasons for its collapse are complex, needless to say. But what if Enron failed not in spite of its talent mind-set but because of it? What if smart people are overrated?

====End quote====

http://www.gladwell.com/2002/2002_07_22_a_talent.htm

Sarah Tonin
Sunday, August 04, 2002

ya it's much better instead of hiring the best and brightest to hire the worst and dimmest. werks like a charm

thought we had this conversation already
Sunday, August 04, 2002

It's certainly an interesting read.
So is chaos theory and, the two seem the same.

I dont think that Smart people are over-rated, just those that would tell you they are smart.

Regs,

James Ladd
Monday, August 05, 2002

Take "Smart" and subtract off "Arrogance" and you are left with your net "Usefulness" of an employee.

Assumptions can be drawn...

Nat Ersoz
Monday, August 05, 2002

A famous chef once claimed that the most important attribute of an excellent chef is not being the most innovative, or having the most flair or the most refined pallete, etc but having ENDURANCE.  I.e. the ability to churn out dishes to a predefined standard of quality again and again and again to tight timescales.

Perhaps the same applies to software developers?

Sherlock

sherlock_yoda
Monday, August 05, 2002

Take "USA" and subtract off "Arrogance" and you are left with your net "usefulness of superpower" of a nation, and maybe world peace.

globalcop
Monday, August 05, 2002

You should hire smartest people at lower level. Hiring smart CEO is not the same thing as hiring smart developer and allow him to grow and became a CEO.

Russian Developer
Monday, August 05, 2002

You don't grow a CEO by planting a developer, however smart.
Just like being a developer, being a CEO requires training. Training aimed at being a CEO, which is unlike training at being a developer.

But I am sure that is not what you intended to say in the first place, did you?

Erik van Linstee
Monday, August 05, 2002

Knowing some classmates that recently became consultants at McKinsey, I'm not so sure whether a McKinsey consultant is 'smart' by default. Hell, just imagining that one of these 'consultants' who really just left university and received some training will tell a pro software engineer how to properly develop software gives me the shivers.

doesitmatter?
Monday, August 05, 2002

If you really want to know the answer to that question read "The Bell Curve" by Charles Murray.  (And by the way, that answr is they are not!)

Matt Watson
Monday, August 05, 2002

I like Nat's formula: real smartness is the smartness left after subtracting any arrogance.

There's a confusion in that story; it's not really talking about hiring smart people; it's talking about a culture of aggressively promoting MBA's. Who says MBA's are good? MBA's.

Hugh Wells
Monday, August 05, 2002

MBAs from Harvard are not necessarily the smartest. They are just  the fellas who have proved capable of passing exams.

Smart person is one who can get the job done, not one who has read all the latest management mumbo jumbo.

Strategic management by definition cannot be taught. What you are trying to do is outsmart your competition. Now if all of you are thinking the same thoughts in the same way, then not much competition happening.

Just for the record, I have worked for McKinsey, and I did meet some very intelligent people. One of the cornerstones of McKinsey (at least before the dot com euphoria) was that they only consulted at the highest levels of a company.

They would not for example do a job for a product manager in a backwater office of P&G. Unless they could effect change from the very top of an organisation, they were not interested. And it works.

The only problem is that that kind of power does do things to a man's ego. When we walked into the client's offices, it was like the second coming. We walked in like a crack commando, clearly added value, made sure the client could continue the work after we did, and left.

tapiwa
Monday, August 05, 2002


heh.

I think the wierdest thing happens when companies fail to promote from within, and instead recruit MBAs.  People begin to notice the glass ceiling, and the good ones leave.

The pay check collectors (the bad ones), of course, realize that they don't have to work very hard and will never get fired, and stick around.  So the company becomes a bunch of Dillbert's Wally's led by a bunch of MBAs.  The sad thing is that many of these companies had such good interia to start with that they last 30 years this way. :-)

Sometimes a re-emergment, good culture can save a company 15 years into decline; most of time, it can't.

In my book, Emotional Intellegence, Creativity, and Leadership are more important in an executive than IQ.  Sure, IQ is important, but IQ alone isn't enough once your company is larger than about 10 employees.

Matt H.
Monday, August 05, 2002

_Emotional Intelligence_, by Daniel Goleman, is one of the ten best non-fiction books I've ever read:

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0553375067/

Normally, I try to avoid the "touchy-feely" section of the bookstore.  However, I received this book as a birthday gift a few years ago, and I ended-up liking it very much.

The central premise of the book is that one's success in life is largely determined by one's emotional reactions to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  Conventional intelligence (IQ), by contrast, isn't as important as we've been led to believe.

I judge books partly by the number of "aha!" moments they inspire in me.  By this criterion, _Emotional Intelligence_ is an excellent book.

Sarah Tonin
Monday, August 05, 2002

Measuring one's worth by their IQ is about as accurate as measuring someone by the amount of shinny bubbles they can show you, or material items they have acquired.

If history has proven anything it is that smart people can fail and that dumb people can achieve. Life is too complex to measure one's ability to achieve/survive by an IQ test.

Ian Stallings
Monday, August 05, 2002


If your business plan requires brilliant employees and flawless execution, you are in deep doo-doo! Sure, smart people are an asset, but a great plan is one that will succeed using just average people.

I read about this idea in marketing book called "Marketing Warfare". The book is cheesy but rather insightful.

Zwarm Monkey
Monday, August 05, 2002

"If history has proven anything it is that smart people can fail and that dumb people can achieve."

Sure - but is that what usually happens?

b
Monday, August 05, 2002

["If history has proven anything it is that smart people can fail and that dumb people can achieve."

Sure - but is that what usually happens? ]


I'm just pointing out that it doesn't ensure that a goal will be achieved. That being said, I'd go with the smart ones myself :-)

Ian Stallings
Monday, August 05, 2002

That is the key... no one ever said that ALL smart (smart being a generic term for someone with a high IQ) people are going to perform better than those who are not as smart.  IQ does not take into account things like motivation and such. 
But it is the BEST way to average it.  Based soley on IQ you have a better chance with someone who has a higher IQ. 
Once again, if this interests you, pick up "The Bell Curve" where they prove all of this with studies done on the past twenty years.

Matt Watson
Monday, August 05, 2002

I have noticed that truly smart people are rarely arrogant. Sure arrogant people can be sort of clever, maybe smarter than the pack, but greater intelligence usually belongs to peaceful, quiet folk.

Alberto
Monday, August 05, 2002

"greater intelligence usually belongs to peaceful, quiet folk"

This has been my experience, as well.

Back in the summer of 1989, I spent a few days working with Bert Sakmann, a German neurobiologist who went on to win the Nobel Prize two years later:

http://www.nobel.se/medicine/laureates/1991/sakmann-autobio.html

Although I was but a lowly graduate student at the time, Sakmann treated me almost like an equal.  He was very approachable and easy to get along with -- not at all arrogant.

Although, who knows what happened after he won the Prize -- maybe he now makes Barbra Streisand look reasonable.  (I doubt it, though.)

Sarah Tonin
Monday, August 05, 2002

Matt Watson wrote:

"...you have a better chance with someone who has a higher IQ."

As they say, IQ gets you hired, but EQ (emotional intelligence) gets you promoted.

====Begin quote====

IQ by itself is not a very good predictor of job performance.  Hunter and Hunter (1984) estimated that at best IQ accounts for about 25 percent of the variance.  Sternberg (1996) has pointed out that studies vary and that 10 percent may be a more realistic estimate.  In some studies, IQ accounts for as little as 4 percent of the variance. 

An example of this research on the limits of IQ as a predictor is the Sommerville study, a 40 year longitudinal investigation of 450 boys who grew up in Sommerville, Massachusetts.  Two-thirds of the boys were from welfare families, and one-third had IQ’s below 90.  However, IQ had little relation to how well they did at work or in the rest of their lives.  What made the biggest difference was childhood abilities such as being able to handle frustration, control emotions, and get along with other people (Snarey & Vaillant, 1985) .

Another good example is a study of 80 Ph.D.’s in science who underwent a battery of personality tests, IQ tests, and interviews in the 1950s when they were graduate students at Berkeley.  Forty years later, when they were in their early seventies, they were tracked down and estimates were made of their success based on resumes, evaluations by experts in their own fields, and sources like American Men and Women of Science.  It turned out that social and emotional abilities were four times more important than IQ in determining professional success and prestige (Feist & Barron, 1996). 

====End quote====

http://www.a2zpsychology.com/articles/emotional_intelligence1.htm

Sarah Tonin
Monday, August 05, 2002

What's the definition of success that you are all talking about?

Jason S.
Monday, August 05, 2002

If anyone's going to read "The Bell Curve", they should also check out "The Mismeasure of Man", by Stephen Jay Gould, in which it is pointed out that the Bell Curve draws some _very_ shaky conclusions.

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393314251/

Honesty forces me to admit that I've only fllicked through the Bell Curve, but nevertheless I think it's fair to say that using IQ as the "best" indicator of whether someone will be an asset to your organisation is ... ill conceived, perhaps.

Adrian Gilby
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

In addition...

Matt Watson said:
> That is the key... no one ever said that ALL smart
> (smart being a generic term for someone with a high IQ)

I must (along with everyone else) take issue with this. "Smart" does NOT mean "high IQ" or indeed any other conventional measure of "intelligence". Smarts, ability to solve team problems, call it what you will, simply can't be measured that easily. That's why, as Joel points out in his guerilla guide to interviewing, you're looking for people with the following attributes: 1. Smart. 2. Gets things done. He doesn't mention IQ anywhere.

> [snip] But it is the BEST way to average it. Based soley
>  on IQ you have a better chance with someone who
>  has a higher IQ.

Well, yes. Of course if you base your hiring decision solely on IQ, statistically you'll do better with people with higher IQ. This does _not_ mean that IQ is the "BEST way to average it". You could come up with an awful lot of measures which give you _some_ indication of how good an interviewee is, none of them would be the best way.

>  Once again, if this interests you, pick
>  up "The Bell Curve" where they prove all of this with
>  studies done on the past twenty years.

Out of interest, specifically what do they prove? That IQ is the best measure of how beneficial an employee will be to an to employer? If this has been proven, why don't MS just use IQ tests. And McKinsey? etc.

Adrian Gilby
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

I will tell you why they don't just use IQ tests.... becuase it is Illegal to do so.  The Supreme Court and most people in this country (USA) do not think that it is appropriate to believe that some people might possibly have an advantage in a situation.  So they try and "level the playing field" to make it seem that all people have an equal chance. 
Even though we are unable to hire based on cognitive ability (or IQ, I wouldn't want people to jump down my throat again for using a word in which I was trying to generalize for everyone's sake.  Gosh the way this thread is going you would think I was on Slashdot), it is still the BEST predictor of Job performance.  It is not the only predictor but it is the BEST.  I forget the percentages from the book but what I do know is that IQ was the best and things such as how they perform an in interview and such were the least effective in determining job performance.

And if you think the Microsoft does not hire on IQ, think again.  Why do you think that they have such tough interviews?  Becuase they are testing on IQ without ACTUALLY testing IQ.  The supreme court ruled that you can use test scores as a hiring practice if the test is specifically releated to their job.  Microsoft is hiring on the basis of IQ, they just don't say it that way.  And why doesn't Microsoft only ask technical questions?  Becuase the closer a test is to rating general intelligence the better it will predict performance on the job. 

There are tons of stats to back this up, I just don't have any of them with me right now.  Sorry.

Matt Watson
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Matt Watson wrote:

"[IQ] is still the BEST predictor of Job performance"

I haven't read _The Bell Curve_, but the book I referenced above -- _Emotional Intelligence_ -- spends a considerable amount of time debunking that belief.  I posted references to some specific studies a few posts up from this one.

Sarah Tonin
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

If anything smart people are under-rated. In our model of society it certainly can't be tolerated that someone who actually is informed about a certain subject and has the wits to make a decent analysis of the data at hand should have more decisive power than your average home-grown doh-"what's that smell"-huh-huh-snicker-snicker-dude.
No, that would be "discriminating" wouldn't it. Can't have that now can we?
When you took "equal opportunity" and turned it into "equal results", what outcome where you aiming for?

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Nobody here is suggesting that everyone is inherently equal, or that unqualified people deserve to be given difficult, demanding jobs.

What I *am* suggesting, though, is that IQ isn't very important beyond getting your foot in the door.  After that, other factors largely determine whether or not you will succeed in any given venture.

Sarah Tonin
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Hire the right people and manage them correctly.  Enron is a story of mismanagement and the lack of ethics

Ron Zeno
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

I wouldn't be surprised if IQ is not *sufficient* to predict job performance, or that there is not a 100% correlation between the two.

But if you think that a person of above average IQ is NOT necessary to do development work, or that a person with a higher IQ isn't going to create better code faster than a person of low IQ, I really really really really want you to go work for my competitors and help them out. Really.

Really!
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

<When you took "equal opportunity" and turned it into "equal results", what outcome where you aiming for? />

I think the real crux of these matters are the idiots that ascribe to "Political Correctness".  Or IOW I usually manage to get the Mamby Pamby types pissed at me!

Greg Kellerman
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Edward de Bono pointed out that somebody with a high IQ doesn't necessarily think better than someone with a lower IQ. 

IN EDB's books, he points out that a person with a more modest IQ may learn better thinking skills and come up with a more interesting results than a smart person thinking less clearly ...

of course, I'd cling to that, wouldn't I?

Julio
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

<IQ isn't very important beyond getting your foot in the door. After that, other factors largely determine whether or not you will succeed in any given venture>

I think you and M. Watson are talking about two different things  when you talk about "success,"Sarah. When he is referring to the "Bell Curve"s concept of better performance based on IQ he is talking about actual ABILITY TO PERFORM. He said earlier that it does not take into account motivation, lack of such, time, interest in the work he/she is doing, connections and physical charm... IQ, with all other variables constant or equal between two individuals,  will be the determining factor in how WELL one is ABLE to PERFORM a certain task and improve it over time. 

Katia Kochetova
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

<When you took "equal opportunity" and turned it into "equal results", what outcome where you aiming for? />

The same sort of hideous outcome that you got at Enron by assuming that the smartest person in the room always has the best ideas (and should be put in charge of implementing them, without any sort of oversight).

That is different than looking at two people who grew up with different opportunities and trying to sort out their actual future potential, rather than blindly choosing the person with the most impressive list of previous achievements.

Flipped through an interesting book at the store the other day: Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid by Robert J. Sternberg.  Unfortunately, an academic text and an essay collection to boot.  But, he made an interesting point, that smart and stupid are not in any way mutually exclusive.  So, hire smart people, but have enough of a checks system to catch really dumb stuff.

Someone else who seems relevent here is "Genghis" John Boyd.  This is the guy who was one of our best pilots, and after his flying career taught himself calculus and wrote the textbook on the physics of aerial combat.  He never tested higher than 90 on IQ tests, but said that a lower IQ was a good thing, because it forced him to think more efficiently.

So my hiring equation would be IQ * Efficiency + Ability to Get Things Done * Common Sense.

Contrary Mary
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Katia Kachetova wrote:

"IQ, with all other variables constant or equal between two individuals, will be the determining factor in how WELL one is ABLE to PERFORM a certain task and improve it over time."

This is probably true, but not terribly relevant in practice.  How often does one encounter two people who are identical, except for a difference in IQ?

My position continues to be that IQ is over-rated as a guide to predicting performance in real-world situations.

Sarah Tonin
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

You're right of course Sarah... there is no such thing as two identical people with the exception of "one thing".

IQ tests... certification... all that crap is to come up with the magical factor that will either insure the hiring manager makes a correct decision without having to think about it... or have something acceptable to blame it on.

Hiring practices made on some magical factor are just as valid as all of the "get rich quick" schemes.

Companies fail (like Enron... et al) because they don't focus on results - meaning either the incorrect results or on secondary factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the primary results desired.

And please... don't confuse a results focus on something totally stupid like MBO.

Joe AA
Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Something I read on Kuro5hin recently...
'Winning an argument on the web is like winning a handicapped race, you're the winner but you're still a retard' - or something like that.

Alberto
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

IQ is not a "magical number" as  sir AA was trying to imply a couple of comments earlier. It is a widely accepted measure that allows to predict performance (natural ability to perform, if you will). I did not say THE ONLY measure, but A measure.
And if you think it is an "easy thing," maybe you should read a little on the history of the IQ theory and attempts to measure it throughout centuries. Ok, so it is not an ideal measure, but is anything? Results maybe, but that is AFTER the fact. So please, do not treat IQ as alchemistry. Because if you completely deny the people vary in cognitive ability or that there is no way to say SOMETHING (not everything) about the person based on his IQ, then you must not believe in chemistry, physics, stats and other "invented" and "magical" sciences either. (And if you think that those sciences are EXACT, read some of A. Einstein's late works :)

Katia Kochetova
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Katia... I did not mean to imply that people don't vary in cognitive as well as other abilities.

IQ is alchemy.  It is an "accepted" number based on a test score.  As with all tests, your score will improve the more you take it.

Is having some imperfect measure better than no measure at all? Is a 100% sure thing of getting AIDS better than no sex at all?

Depends on how you use IQ... if you do use it as an measure that clearly defines the abilities of different individuals in an absolute way (cognitive or otherwise), I would constitute a misuse.

Your argument based on associating IQ with science, implying truth of one implies the truth of the other is not logical.

Joe AA
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Katia Kochetova wrote:

"[IQ] is a widely accepted measure that allows to predict performance"

Sure, it can be used to predict performance, but those predictions won't turn out to be very accurate.  You can considerably increase the accuracy by including other factors, as described below.

====Begin quote====

Now it would be absurd to suggest that cognitive ability is irrelevant for success in science. One needs a relatively high level of such ability merely to get admitted to a graduate science program at a school like Berkeley. Once you are admitted, however, what matters in terms of how you do compared to your peers has less to do with IQ differences and more to do with social and emotional factors. To put it another way, if you’re a scientist, you probably needed an IQ of 120 or so simply to get a doctorate and a job. But then it is more important to be able to persist in the face of difficulty and to get along well with colleagues and subordinates than it is to have an extra 10 or 15 points of IQ. The same is true in many other occupations.

====End quote====

http://www.a2zpsychology.com/articles/eq.htm

Sarah Tonin
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Good quote, Sarah. is it from that book you keep promoting? Anyway, as great as it is I do not think it answers your question whether smart people are overrated.  I guess it all depends on the situation. In my experience in the work place, I guess in most of the jobs that require intellectual work I would still give preference to "smarties" over hard-working "dummies." (oh please please please forgive my political incorrectness - I am russian, I ignore those things :)

Katia Kochetova
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

> I would still give preference to "smarties" over hard-working "dummies."

If a person is not willing to work then it is irrelevent how smart they are.

name witheld by request
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

<If a person is not willing to work then it is irrelevent how smart they are. >

right. but if a person is smart and does not have to sit for hours to figure something out and that means he puts in a little less time, he is my type of person.  it does not mean he is not willing to work, but work just comes easier to him and he accomplishes things without much "hard work"

Katia
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

<quote>
How should that ranking be done? Unfortunately, the McKinsey consultants spend very little time discussing the matter. One possibility is simply to hire and reward the smartest people. But the link between, say, I.Q. and job performance is distinctly underwhelming. On a scale where 0.1 or below means virtually no correlation and 0.7 or above implies a strong correlation (your height, for example, has a 0.7 correlation with your parents' height), the correlation between I.Q. and occupational success is between 0.2 and 0.3. "What I.Q. doesn't pick up is effectiveness at common-sense sorts of things, especially working with people," Richard Wagner, a psychologist at Florida State University, says. "In terms of how we evaluate schooling, everything is about working by yourself. If you work with someone else, it's called cheating. Once you get out in the real world, everything you do involves working with other people."
</quote>

Sandro
Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Smart = Knows what he is doing. Tests things before he delivers things. Does things quickly.

Success = Convince others that you are worthy.

> Strategic management by definition cannot be taught.
> What you are trying to do is outsmart your competition.
> Now if all of you are thinking the same thoughts in the
> same way, then not much competition happening.

Then chess cannot be taught either and there is no real competition.

It is simply absurd, as you can now see. Being smart is not about having a lot of imagination, but about testing things. If you can do it faster than the rest, is because you have done it a lot: Most people are intelligent for some sort of thing, for the rest they are completely dumb.

Bart Simpson
Thursday, August 08, 2002

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