What’s wrong with being smart?

471467221_07170467b0_m.jpgElizabeth Birk-Urovitz wrote an article in the latest [Sept 07] issue of the Canadian Mensa Communications magazine “MC2” on how university students viewed smart people. She used the University of Toronto Biome discussion threads as a research medium with Mensa as a key word as it relates to smart people. She indicated that postings were either plain negative up to vulgar and uncharacteristic of what an academic environment is supposed to engage in – pursuit of knowledge.

Would having smart people in the classroom create an unfair balance in class dynamics thus entitling a particular group to be more hostile to another group? How does this relationship translate in the workplace? Would having smart people in a meeting create professional jealousy that entitles a group to be more abrasive to another?

My thinking is to leverage the smart people instead. Maybe there is an issue with needed shorter time-to-market cycles or meetings need to be more efficient or maybe development cycles need to be more effective and detailed or knowledge management to be shared. Whatever the issue may be, how about leveraging the smart people in these situations as they may see solutions that have not been uncovered by all yet.

I do remember discussions with some executives at companies I’ve worked with before about this and I found two threads of thought: (a) fear of being replaced because of a smart employee and (b) non-academic reimbursement assistance due to potential employee attrition.

My response to these two concerns:
(a) There will always be opportunities for growth for anyone and everyone so long as they perform at stellar levels. If not in this company, in another. Cushy jobs can only occur with constant prevention of the newcomers to be fully engaged in their work. My thought for those who are in power is to continue learning so that they don’t feel insecure. Just because they’re on top doesn’t mean there is no competition and suppressing any movement within the ranks will only create animosity.
(b) Just because a firm pay for one’s tuition does not mean that individual will leave upon completion of a programme. There are many ways to prevent potential attrition. I’ve seen companies have contracts signed so that they repay if they leave within a period of time after completion. This seems too rigid to me but it does exist. A company like Sun Microsystems, would pay for tuition and not have you sign anything like this – its part of the benefit package. Most individuals I know who have been given the chance to get their education reimbursed actually would not terminate employment – loyalty as payment in kind seems to be the response; so I’m all for it – besides on the firm’s accounting side, its a wash because there is a tax break for providing this benefit anyway.

So in any overall human capital development programme, there will always be exceptions, negative results, and displacements but this should not deter furthering continuous improvement. For those who self-identify as smart, there will be opportunities for them as well and I’m sure if asked, they’d provide a hundred or so ideas that may not even have been thought of.

The question remains therefore “What’s wrong with being smart? Why are they being shunned as seen in the article mentioned above?” What are your thoughts on this? Do you agree with the discussion above? Post your comments here.


If you happen to be interested in Mensa, you can try the Mensa sample assessment here, here, and here. If you have a child you think is gifted, there is an association you can have him/her join as well, here. Apart from Mensa, there’s also the High IQ Society and the Prometheus Society. Check these out today!

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