Today, I was sent this link. It’s an article by Dave Logan about why geniuses don’t have jobs, specifically jobs in large corporations. His argument is basically that it’s either because geniuses can’t keep their mouths shut when they see the stupidity around them or else they are socially impaired geeks who can’t get through the interview process. It’s an engaging argument, but it’s crap.
Logan is a clever writer. He defines genuis in such a nebulous and all-inclusive way that it’s impossible for the reader not to quickly realize that he or she is one of the geniuses Logan is talking about. It’s just like reading Jungian archetypes or horoscopes–bright, impatient with others, witty, fiercely loyal to friends, sometimes works too hard for his or her own good….yes, yes, yes, that’s me! Logan does the same for geniuses. Yes, yes, yes, that’s me. That’s why I never became CEO of IBM, because I was blackballed by those genius-hating morons in HR. That’s me!
Like all such things, there’s just enough truth in it that it resonates. We all know some very smart people who say the wrong thing at the wrong time, and some very smart people who are socially awkward, and the people in HR are morons.
However, that has nothing to do with why corporations don’t hire geniuses, or at least many of them. It was H.L. Mencken that said, “For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clean, simple and wrong.” Logan’s is just such an argument.
The truth is corporations don’t hire geniuses because they don’t need them, or at least don’t need many of them. Corporations are the most economically efficient mechanism yet devised by man. They’re so efficient that many are now larger than countries, much larger. 200 multinationals now control over a quarter of the world’s economic activity. 51 of the largest 100 economic entitities on the planet are companies. One third of the world’s trade is now intra-company. In a comparison of GDP and revenues, General Motors is larger than Norway. Ford is larger than Saudi Arabia. Believe me, I’ve spent my entire career working and consulting to big corporations–GM, Ford, Pepsi, Coke, Kraft, J & J, Monsanto, Exxon, P & G, Harley Davidson, Gap, Kellogg’s, Cemex. If it was economically rational to hire geniuses, the places would be full of them. To understate the case, they’re not.
Why not? To put it simply, big corporations don’t need genius, or much of it. Big corporations are not big and successful because they come up with the best ideas, but rather because they get the most out of the good ideas they do have. Big corporations are all about execution. A big company is like a beehive–a small number of elite and huge numbers of worker bees. For everyone at the officer level in a typical Fortune 100 corporation, there are at least a hundred non-officers. It’s called leverage. As my colleague Sam Smith recently posted, there’s real scientific research that says too many smart people hurt a company’s performance. Just think how much damage surplus geniuses could do.
Let’s do the math. The official definition of genius is the top 2% of the population. That means there are three million adult geniuses in the U.S. Let’s say every Fortune 1000 company should have 100 geniuses wandering the halls. (I picked that number because it is absurdly high.) That means corporate America needs 100,000 geniuses. But of course the Fortune 1000 doesn’t include privately held and smaller companies, so let’s multiply that by three to pick up geniuses-needed-by-business-in-addition-to-the-Fortune-1000. So in all, that means there’s room for 300,000 geniuses in business, roughly 10% of the total genius pool.
It would make no sense for businesses to hire more geniuses than they need. Geniuses will grow frustrated with menial tasks more quickly and become problem employees.
So the problem is not a shortage of jobs, but a glut of geniuses. We could dump them into medicine or academia. What do you know? That’s exactly what our economy (and all developed economies) do. There are 1.7 million academics and 1 million physicians in the U.S.
Also, I’ve heard they’re hiring at the Apple Store.