Brief Thought Exercise: Intelligence vs. Authority

Intelligence vs. Authority

Just thought of this one: it’s going to be a short post that Google will probably penalize me for or something, so that sucks, but I think it has validity in how we think about work. Here’s how the game works; admittedly it’s better for small to mid-size companies, although if you work at a huge company, you can do it for your department:

1. Try to think of the 10 smartest people in your office/organization/department.

2. Try to think of the 10 people with the most influence/authority/clout/power in the same area.

3. Count the overlap number.

I feel like this is a generally good litmus test, right? If the number you get is 1, that’s probably bad: the intelligent people are virtually not-at-all overlapping with the people who have power and authority. We often confuse the ideas of “formal power” and “knowledge about every topic under your power,”┬ábut I think an ideal number for this exercise would be 5 or so: that would seem to mean some intelligent, forward-thinking people are rising up and the rest of the 10 most powerful people are probably hard-charging clout-chasers. That’s not ideal, but at least there’s some balance there.

I don’t know if I’ve ever worked at a place where this exercise would yield me a number higher than five.

And yes, there are elements here that are fraught — it’s hard to define “intelligence,” especially in a work context (people often confuse “intelligence” and “good at politics”), but I feel like it’s a valid question to consider.

Ted Bauer