10/2/09

Do You Call Them "Clever People" or "Loose Cannons"?

My good friend Emily directed me to a fascinating Forbes.com article called "The Odd Clever People Every Organization Needs." As I was reading it, I was thinking that the type of person the authors were describing either fit me or were describing Sheldon from "The Big Bang Theory." As I was reading this from my laptop while seated on my designated corner of my couch, I thought it was absurd that I was even making this connection. Then my second thought was "oh no... I hope my 'clever' outshines my 'odd' to those that I work with."
In the article the authors have an excellent definition of the clever people we need in our organizations:
Clever people are highly talented individuals who have the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from the resources that an organization makes available to them.
I like this definition!! I'm going to put it on a shirt (maybe a series of 3 shirts with 9 words on each, with a superhero logo on the front and the saying on the back, then wear them over a three day period of time.)
However, apparently clever people like this are also difficult to work with. Really?? Here are some qualities they point to as being difficult:
--They know their worth (their skills are not easily replicated). --They ask difficult questions. --They are organizationally savvy. --They are not impressed by corporate hierarchy. --They expect instant access to decision makers. --They are well connected outside of their organizations. --Their passion is for what they do, not for who they work for. --Even if you lead them well, they won't thank you.
Well, "thank you very much" for pointing out these flaws. And, did you notice that I said "thank you"? I think that disproves some of these points right off the bat.
I've actually seen organizations treat 'clever' people two distinct ways. In most situations, they are identified as 'loose cannons' and need to be monitored carefully so as they do not destroy something important. Many times this type of reaction is caused by a manager that doesn't want someone they supervise to "outshine" them. This type of approach usually ends with the clever person leaving to take an opportunity elsewhere. Not to worry, though... the manager will remain to drive away the next clever person that comes along.
The second approach, and the one that the Forbes article suggests, is to be the "benevolent guardian." Giving them just enough freedom to allow them to be creative, with the structure needed to keep them on task. I've had to do this with some of the brilliant Techies with whom I've worked. Tell them what the goals are, allow them to come up with their own ideas on how to achieve those goals, then monitor them from time to time to make sure they keep on task. Clever people can become distracted by something 'cool' that can take them off on a tangent. If you do not monitor them as they are progressing on your task, you could end up with something truly fascinating, and completely worthless to the task you assigned them.
The tenor of the Forbes article sounds like they are discussing young workers. However, 'clever' people can be any age. I've worked with people in their 70's that are creative 'outside the box' type thinkers who have the same issues as 20 year-old creative 'outside the box' thinkers. Hopefully, as these creative thinkers get more experience, they can self-regulate their need to follow those tangents and stay on task.
Clever people also do not have to be geeks, although they do seem to filter toward the geeky side of things. In fact, you can probably look at a roster of people in your different Practice Groups, or Administrative departments and quickly identify those 'clever' people in the bunch. They are generally the ones you go to when you have to have something now, and don't have time to go through the normal channels in order to get it. They may not be the best people to manage, but they sure are nice to have around when all you other ideas don't seem to be working.

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2 comments:

Lisa Salazar said...

I have noticed these sort of personalities seem to be drawn to law firms where lawyers are alternately charmed or flummoxed by the individual's whimsical, tangential processes.

It has been my experience that, in most cases, law firms are more than willing to suffer the occasional lapse in niceties in order to gain the discoveries that these characters offer.

And for the record, Greg, I just think you are brilliant.

Clever implies a lack of intelligence and I know different, my friend. You are one smart cookie!

Emily C. Rushing said...

Interesting post! And I agree with Lisa!

 

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