Smart Enough

Smart Enough

I want to share a interesting idea in this blog post about technology R&D organizations, private, public and Universities included.



The majority of organizations do not need more intelligent employees. The truth is most organizations who hire engineers and scientists are smart enough already.


The idea that in order to build the best R&D organization we need to always hire the Stanford scientists, the Harvard MBA’s and the MIT engineers is incomplete.  Sometimes these high-caliber candidates can actually be a detriment to an organization.


There is something that trumps intelligence and training when trying to build a high-caliber R&D organization.  That something is team health.  A healthy team of average intelligence professional will beat a toxic team of Ivy league academics trying to produce within a toxic culture over time. I’ll take a team of state school engineers led well in a manner conducive to organizational health over a team of Nobel Prize winning physicists any day. That is if creating a productive and profitable company or University is the goal.


To be clear I am not saying that we should avoid recruiting Ivy league talent I am saying that there is something more important to do first.  R&D leaders often think they simply must hire the smartest and then take for granted the importance of building a healthy culture. A healthy culture enables the full utilization of the intelligence of both the Ivy league talent and everyone else.


Healthy beats smart every day of the week.  When unhealthy teams attempt to work they waste energy with internal politics and competitiveness.


I have watched some of the brightest and most talented scientists incapable of planning an experiment because of silly office politics that they were incapable of navigating.  They just were not trained in leadership, they were not trained in engaging in healthy conflict. The scientific skills and intelligence of that scientist were sitting idle because of the culture that they were not able to navigate properly.


Time spent investing in team culture, in understanding the nature of team dynamics. In identifying toxic leaders vs. healthy leaders provides more value than dues just hiring Harvard MBA’s and assuming they will outperform.


There exists a plateau above which it becomes difficult to move employee productivity beyond.  Beyond this plateau the per employee productivity can actually decrease creating a loss.


Cultures that encourage politicking, that have little to no vision and reward toxic leadership waste time and money.


In an unhealthy culture leaders often conclude that they need to hire another smart person if I want to increase productivity.  What the leader fails to see is that adding more smart people to a toxic culture is like adding wet wood to a furnace.  A lot of that new wood’s energy is consumed in boiling off the “water” that has saturated the culture.


The net effect of adding that wood to the furnace could actually be negative depending on how that new employee reacts to the corporate toxicity.  Do they react poorly, do they contribute to drama, do they shrink back in disgust? Are they the self-congratulatory academic type who have not had to do much else than impress a professor?  Of course every person is different and reacts differently to culture, but hiring great talent without preparing the way for them with a healthy culture is risky.


Invest in your team culture, create a culture of clear vision and with clear communication of that vision.  Manage well the behavioral values of your teams not only the written corporate “HR speak” values.


Work on culture first then Ivy league hiring second and build a creative, innovative, new technology pumping organization that the next generation can count on for technological advances.


How do you manage your team culture?


Announcement: Please stay tuned I am in training around forming knowledge-based products to help people tap into their personal creativity and help organizations become more healthy.  You haven’t heard from me in a while because I am aligning my podcast and blog content around this plan.