Do Dumber People Have More Success in Startups?

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Do dumber people have more success in startups?  The answer is maybe.

Today, in Hire For Cultural Fit Over Competence, Brad Feld writes:

While you always want to shoot for high competence, high cultural fit people when you are hiring early in your company’s life, it’s always better to chose cultural fit over competence when you have to make a choice.

A point which I agree with whole-heartedly, and which I’ve written on before in Higher IQ Doesn’t Always Yield Better Results:

…the conventional wisdom is that the smarter team is the one that will do a better job on the project, yield better results and have more success. But, in fact, that isn’t true.

It turns out that the team with greater “social awareness” will have more success, according to new research by Anita Woolley, a professor at Carnegie-Mellon University.

In other words, teams that get along better with each other will have more success than other teams which, may be smarter, but don’t get along as well.

I’ve said it many times: given the choice, I’ll always choose a good team over a bunch of geniuses that can’t get along.

Written by scottporad

December 18th, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Posted in Miscellaneous

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3 Responses to 'Do Dumber People Have More Success in Startups?'

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  1. Agreed. The geniuses who can’t get along belong in an academic setting.

    Brad Feld

    18 Dec 12 at 5:26 pm

  2. That reminds me of a post from Joel Spolsky a long time ago:

    First of all, the #1 cardinal criteria for getting hired at Fog Creek:

    Smart, and
    Gets Things Done.

    That’s it. That’s all we’re looking for. Memorize that. Recite it to yourself before you go to bed every night. Our goal is to hire people with aptitude, not a particular skill set. Any skill set that people can bring to the job will be technologically obsolete in a couple of years, anyway, so it’s better to hire people that are going to be able to learn any new technology rather than people who happen to know SQL programming right this minute.

    Smart is hard to define, but as we look at some possible interview questions we’ll see how you can ferret it out. Gets Things Done is crucial. People who are Smart but don’t Get Things Done often have PhDs and work in big companies where nobody listens to them because they are completely impractical. They would rather mull over something academic about a problem rather than ship on time. These kind of people can be identified because they love to point out the theoretical similarity between two widely divergent concepts. For example, they will say “Spreadsheets are really just a special case of programming language” and then go off for a week and write a thrilling, brilliant white paper about the theoretical computational linguistic attributes of a spreadsheet as a programming language. Smart, but not useful.

    Now, people who Get Things Done but are not Smart will do stupid things, seemingly without thinking about them, and somebody else will have to come clean up their mess later. This makes them liabilities to the company because not only don’t they contribute, but they soak up good people’s time. They are the kind of people who copy big chunks of code around rather than writing a subroutine, because it gets the job done, just not in the smartest way.


    18 Dec 12 at 5:36 pm

  3. Generally, I would agree with you….

    However, I think that social intelligence and the ability to work with others is a type of “smart” – so maybe someone who is just deep in one area (such as technical skills or coding ability) wouldn’t be a good fit. There is way more to smart than just IQ 🙂

    kate matsudaira

    18 Dec 12 at 10:09 pm

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