We care a lot about finding people who are brilliant, who get things done, who make a difference. We care a lot about finding a playwright with talent, a surgeon who can cure us, a programmer who can get the thing to work.
Along the way, many of the linchpins who are able to do work like this develop affectations, quirks and even obnoxious qualities. They might demand an over-equipped dressing room or a private jet or merely be a jerk in meetings (or show up late, which is almost as bad).
We often put up with this, because, after all, they’re superstars, right?
Somewhere along the way, we confused the signals with the work. Now there are people who start with the bad behavior and the affectations, hoping that it will be seen as a sign of insight and talent. And they often get away with it. “Who’s that?” we wonder… “I don’t know, but they must be good at what they do, because why else would we put up with them?” It’s a great plan when it works, but I don’t think it’s a strategy to be counted on.
The key to getting a reputation for being brilliant is actually being brilliant, not just acting like you are.
Phi Beta Iota: The literature on organizational pathologies also refers to this as “rankism,” an affliction suffered by most who rise to the top ranks and allow themselves to be cut off from reality. Daniel Elsberg’s quote from Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers, is still the best:
The danger is, you’ll become like a moron. You’ll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours” [because of your blind faith in the value of your narrow and often incorrect secret information].