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Features : Editorial Last Updated: Jul 23, 2014 - 9:57:11 AM

Geniuses in the office: more pain than pleasure?
By Steve Ferber
Jul 23, 2014 - 9:56:28 AM

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Have you ever worked for a genius? I have.  
The year was 1979, and though the subsequent six years were emotionally painful (he had this unique ability to make you feel inept at every turn), there were positive results, economically speaking.
Those six years remain fresh in my mind, leading me to wonder, from time to time: if you work for a genius, should you bolt, or should you stick?
That was the dominant thought that ran through my mind when I read Walter Issacson’s crueling biography of Steve Jobs. Jobs, of course, was a genius by everyone’s account, changing of the course of five (yes, I said five) industries. Yet nearly every page of Issacson’s text revealed Jobs’ cruel and demoniac treatment of colleagues. So I wondered: why did these people stick?  
Last week, I found the answer.  
It appeared on page 332 of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s glorious book “The Bully Pulpit” (which traces the intertwining lives of Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft). The dynamic passage – authored by Ida Tarbell, the nation’s leading journalist a century ago – was written about Sam McClure, the nation’s leading publisher. But it could just have easily been written about Jobs, a century later. Wrote Tarbell (in a letter to colleagues):
“Never forget that it was he and nobody else who has created that place . . . He is a very extraordinary creature, you can’t put him into a machine and make him run smoothly with the other wheels and things . . .  Able methodical people grow on every bush but genius comes once in a generation and if you ever get in its vicinity thank the Lord & stick.  You probably will be laid up now and then in a sanitarium recovering from the effort to follow him but that’s a small matter if you really get into touch finally with that wonderful brain . . . If there was nothing in all this but the annoyance and uncertainty & confusion – that is, if there were no results – then we might rebel, but there are always results – vital ones . . . The great schemes, the daring moves in that business have always been [his]. They will continue to be. His one hundredth idea is a stroke of genius. Be on hand to grasp that one hundredth idea.”
Hire or Fire?
So when it comes to genius, do we bolt, or do we stick? Do we hire or do we fire?
The verdict is unclear. Enthusiasts maintain that businesses need to actively recruit geniuses, in order to advance the organization. Others, however, insist that geniuses do more harm than good and should be led out to pasture. Below are four contrasting views. Take your pick.
Hire ‘Em – Dave Logan, writing for CBS Money Watch
Logan urges companies to hire geniuses, then learn to manage them. Logan acknowledges that often, as bright as geniuses are, they can be incredibly difficult to work with (Logan jokes: “. . . the chance that [the genius] will offend someone in a conservative culture is 100% - in the first week.” Nonetheless, Logan recommends that you pull the trigger, saying: “If the hiring manager knows the tradeoffs, they’ll often do the right thing for everyone by hiring the genius, and then working to minimize the deficits, or clean up messes when they happen.”  
Fire ‘Em – Scott Lowe, independent consultant, in an article for
Says Lowe: “Eventually, when a serious attitude problem exists, it’s more than likely that you’ll need to fire the person for the sake of the rest of the team . . . For my own organization, I hire attitude first, skill second. . . Look for people who fit our culture and have appropriate skills to do the job . . .  You can teach skills, but teaching attitude is much harder.”
Hire ‘Em – Diane Coutu, in a piece for Harvard Business Review
Explains Coutu: “Geniuses appear in many guises. Although traditionally associated with the arts and sciences, engineers, designers, analysts—even some managers—display genius. Yet for all their creative energy, they don’t always make the best employees, colleagues, or bosses. They are notoriously prickly people: They don’t suffer fools gladly. And they can be fiercely individualistic; often they are anti-team players. Moreover, the inner lives of geniuses can be surprisingly fragile. They frequently act with flamboyance—but inside, they can be deeply vulnerable. Despite these obstacles, working with and managing genius is precisely what companies must learn to do if they are to survive in the unforgiving, competitive environment of the twenty-first century.”
Fire ‘Em – Noor Shawwa, in an article for
Shawwma argues that it’s “. . . better [to let] go of the genius than to hold on.” She offers nine reasons, four of which are offered here:  (1) The Team. “The friction with the rest of the team often causes a drop in overall performance.” (2) Your Time. “By spending so much time ‘taming the beast,’ . . . you are taking away from your most precious resource – your time.” (3) Your Values. “You compromise your values by bending the rules for the genius.” (4) Losing Talent. “When other high achievers (who might not be as brilliant) perceive you are favoring the genius, they will look for somewhere else they feel will appreciate them more . . . ”
Stick or bolt?  Hire or fire?  It just might take a genius to decide what to do.

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