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Why I never hire brilliant men?

Why I never hire brilliant men? is an article resurrected at taoyue.com that recounts the personal observations of a businessman from the 1920s as printed in February 1924 issue of The American Magazine.

Why bring up an article so well worn out its reprint? I’d argue that it offers a window into the observations of other people with regards to human nature and human behavior. It is one reason why I prize historical reading of any kind – biographies, autobiographies, scripture, wisdom readings and whatever else one can find i.e. within the cultural milieu of the historical reading, you find several actors making decisions and plans to deal with the issues of the day; instructional or otherwise, they offer a window into types of human behavior.

The Why I never hire brilliant men? piece falls into that category but like all generalizations, they are likely to be largely true. I work with some very brilliant men but I can vouch for their excessive attention to detail and completeness in their work. I also have a sneaking suspicion that we might be generalizing in the absence of good insights into the decisions that brilliant men make.

Some excerpts though:

The article explains all the faults that the author found endemic among brilliant men. They start well but never finish, they get excited over revolutionary developments but grow weary at repetitive small tasks.

At taoyue.com, Tao Yue, remarks on the contrast between the article from 1920s and this article – "What Is Google’s Secret Weapon? An Army of Ph.D.’s" by Randall Stross.

WORKING in Google’s favor is its practice of putting new Ph.D.’s to work immediately in the exact areas where they have been trained — in systems, architecture and artificial intelligence. Google, the company, may falter, but Google, the human resources experiment, is unlikely to be the cause.

Perhaps, the world has changed, stumbling towards abstractions and distractions on multiple levels and a firm may actually need a PhD or several of them to spur them along some line of thinking but the essential has remained – the esoteric must be made practical and more importantly, connected to reality. Couple that with the laws of business and human nature, one could have quite a stirring combination requiring the hiring of brilliant men. But read both articles and see where you might wager your bets?

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Category: Personal Observations


3 Responses

  1. Alan Buxton says:

    Here’s another interesting take on Google’s people


    The post talks about how, even with all those PhD’s, Google has not been able to develop significant new revenue streams beyond its advertising products.

    In other words – just adding more PhDs to the team might make a good story but it won’t guarantee you good results.

    My wager: one PhD may be necessary on particular projects where you need someone particularly academic. But not long term. And certainly not an army.

  2. (Chris) Jacob Abraham says:

    Fortunately, I work in a team which is overweighted (very) with PhDs. Or is that unfortunate? No, I definitely think it is the former. Having worked with a lot of PhD’s, I can only say that brilliance and PhD’s are neither identical sets nor largely overlapping sets.
    One of the significant points made in the first article – “Why I never hire brilliant men?” is an articulation of certain traits exhibited by this category of people.
    One of the reasons that my team is quite successful in what we do is that the brilliant people on the team (and everyone else as well) are open to being mentored by the realities of a customer driven project and associated product delivery. Or in a sense, we’re humble enough to keep learning – and I see that this has helped immensely.
    All the individuals I work with display the quoted traits and then some but they’re humble enough to learn.
    Humble brilliance – now, that’s a combo I see continually producing extraordinary results. I don’t know much about Google save what I read in the press but thanks for that article.


  3. Alan Buxton says:

    “Humble brilliance”. I like that. A lot. I think we could (all) do with more of that.

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October 2007