Build or burn?

Just intelligent enough

The brightest among us tend not to make the best managers.  Management being difficult, you’d think the cleverer you are, the better manager you’d be, but this is not my experience.

The business environment moves so fast that speed of decision-making is critical.  The most insightful analysis is no good if you take too long to act upon it.  I’ve seen examples of products that could have been taken to market straightaway that have instead taken years of tinkering around with prototypes, focus groups and adjustments to manufacturing lines before they were eventually launched.  Sometimes these projects just seemed to fizzle out, not because of the market rejected them but because they never got all the way through the product development pipeline.  Key people either left or were moved on to other projects, or the market changed.

A decisive person does not need to be intelligent.  Consider two leaders, one is deliberative and bright, the other is quick to act but dumb.  Both are given a task of leading their troops to an objective across difficult terrain.  The dumb leader charges off in the first direction he thinks off.  It soon becomes obvious he made the wrong choice and he quickly reverses course and tries a new direction.  The bright leader doesn’t move.  Instead he does his homework, weighs up the pros and cons of each option then, after consulting with his team, strikes off in a clear direction.  Who reaches the objective first?

The answer is…we don’t know.  The clever leader’s first choice is correct but then the dumb leader picks up information along his zig-zag travels that puts him on the correct path.  Who reaches the objective first depends on how long the dumb leader took to realise he was on the wrong path versus how long the clever leader took to decide which was the correct path.

In business, when you have incomplete information you frequently don’t know what’s going on.  Blindly stumbling along in the dark can be a better strategy than sitting in your comfort zone trying to work out what to do.

Academically gifted people tend to suffer from seeing too many angles.  They tend to get excited by the interestingness of the problem and explore too many sub-branches of a decision tree.  They like to weigh all the evidence carefully.  Even if they already have quite a lot of evidence in front of them, they tend to want more, even if the benefit is marginal and the cost of collecting it is high.  Because they see so far towards the horizon they see obstacles that others do not.

Sometimes, people that achieve difficult things wouldn’t have started out on the journey in the first place had they known at the beginning how difficult it was going to be.  In such cases ‘not knowing’ the full picture is an advantage.  The person that can see all the obstacles might never begin the journey.

Clever people can be deliberative and indecisive.  Dumb people can charge off into the bushes and get stuck.  You need a happy medium.  You need to be just intelligent enough.

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