Is Wicked “Smaht” better than Smart?

Written by Anthony Demangone

I love when someone challenges a common rule or assumption.

We’ve heard this one before: Hire the smartest person you can find, and then get out of his or her way.

In other words, wicked “smaht” ( should be better than smart, all other things being equal, right?  Perhaps not.

In “Why I Decided to Rethink Hiring Smart People”  (, Roger Martin argues that some folks might just be too smart.  And he learned from experience.

We had a pretty simple recruiting philosophy during our swift ramp-up from inception in 1983 to that point in time: hire super smart consultants because, thanks to their great intellect, they will be able to learn best and fastest. In fact, we had a thoroughly obnoxious catchphrase — stupid is forever — that I am very embarrassed ever existed, and repeating it here is part of my penance for once holding the view. Its (deeply flawed) logic was that you could teach someone all the interpersonal skills necessary as long as they were really smart. But if they weren’t really smart to begin with, there was nothing you could do.

We were a Harvard Business School shop in the early days and, having great respect for Baker Scholars (the top 5% of the HBS class), we hired as many of them as we could. But they didn’t work out nearly as well as we expected, and some flamed out pretty spectacularly. As is often the case, we attributed that to flawed execution of a fundamentally awesome theory — we had just hired the wrong super smart people.

What is his new theory?  Some folks are simply too smart.

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