Brilliance vs mediocrity – are you too smart to be hired?

Posted by

There’s something really screwed up with today’s workplaces and, especially, their advertised “culture”.

One the one hand, you get to see all these lovely images and videos of various layers of corporate structure and, on the other, you experience the “reality”.

The saying “perception is reality” seldom applies to a workplace and, in my experience, the image-creation “machine” has been splendid at, oh well, lying.

Richard Branson says that:

you should find people better than you to do what you’re not very good at, because they will free you up to do things you’re good at.

Many of my peers specialise in internal communication; they genuinely believe, and rightly so, that any culture change and culture development start from top to bottom, and their sustainability and applicability lie in how the workforce relates to the top echelon of the organisation.

In my experience, the second and third hierarchical tier of any organisation (particularly mid- to large organisations) are very telling of its actual leadership (CEO, MD or Chairman).

There is a type of leadership culture which advocates that the greatest majority of those in a leadership position should surround themselves by people who are brighter and more competent than they are.

Why? Because there is clear evidence on the bottom line and in terms corporate success that competency and expertise have a real positive business impact.

At the opposite end, we have what I call the “god”-figure organisation where the 2nd and 3rd hierarchical tiers are occupied by mediocre and rather incompetent managerial figures, those who are not necessarily expected to yield any results or drive any productivity but, simply, to be there to tick a box and not rock the boat.

The hardest time right now for anyone looking for a job, especially for those who are looking for roles in Comms and PR, is for those who know too much or can do too much.

Someone I know applied earlier this year for dozens of positions – from mid to senior level, both in-house and agency. He was turned down by all because he was too senior and too experienced.

Now, I don’t know about you but, if I had an agency or led an in-house team – of course, providing I weren’t afraid to lose my seat to the newcomer – I would give the job to someone who can do it with their eyes closed and in their sleep, someone I can totally rely on and whose expertise I could also use for other work.

So why are we so afraid of bright and experienced people but welcome incompetency and mediocrity with open arms? Because those who do are insecure, rather incompetent and mediocre themselves and others’ brilliance is scary.

There is hardly an add circulating these days across LinkedIn that doesn’t mention how “wonderful” it is to work for this and that, what this and that are doing to promote a diverse and inclusive culture, and how this and that are only staffed by “exceptional” talent.

“Talent” to me translates into brilliance, expertise and competency. It doesn’t translate into lukewarm, average and rather incompetent. Watch this video of a young Steve Jobs discussing his workplace philosophy: “we hire smart people to tell us what to do”.

If you can buy a pound of organic carrots for the same price as an intensive farming one, which one would you buy? If you could buy a Mercedes for the price of a Vauxhall, which one would you choose? If you can employ someone who is bright and competent for the same wages you would someone who isn’t, then why would you choose mediocrity?



Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.