He’s got a brain the size of a planet but…
New ideas, innovation, technology, science and engineering have never been more important in the global economy. In a world where not all brilliant minds are the same, where one person can be 10-100 times as productive and valuable than others (Seebach, 1999), and one good idea can bankroll an organisation for decades or longer, looking after the best specialist talent is much more than a numbers game.
At the same time, businesses are increasingly keen for their brilliant thinkers to be able to deal with customers, work in a team, collaborate with or lead others. They want them to be socially competent and emotionally intelligent as well as intellectually outstanding. Those who can either demonstrate or easily learn all these skills are very successful.
“Super geeks” are those gifted thinkers who thrive on solving complex problems but find interacting with others mysterious and challenging. Often described as “High IQ/ Low EQ”, they are familiar to many businesses.
In the workplace, the strengths they bring include: focus to detail; exceptional memory; intense concentration; a clear preference for rationality; impeccable dependability; extraordinary capacity for difficult technical challenges; highly expert knowledge in areas of keen interest and conscientious persistence. These capabilities are essential for businesses reliant on scientific, technological, engineering and mathematical (STEM) skills or other highly specialist talent.
Potential workplace sticking points can include: lack of commercial awareness; awkwardness in social communication; rigid, perfectionistic thinking; resistance to change; and, vulnerability to stress. These can impact on performance and working relationships to the extent that businesses might see people as too “high maintenance” to retain.
These super geek characteristics are the same as those demonstrated by the remarkable individuals who drove the IT revolution from the 1950‘s and eloquently described in Steven Levy’s book “Hackers” (2010). They are also qualitatively consistent with features of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) or high functioning autism.
Supergeeks and neurodiversity
Neurodiversity is an area of neuroscience that focuses on how brains differ in structure and function. Familiar brain differences include left or right-handedness, clumsiness, IQ and giftedness for art, mathematics or music. Less familiar to those without personal or professional experience are differences such as learning disabilities, ADHD, Tourette’s, dyslexia and autism.
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a form of neurodiversity and part of the autistic spectrum. AS characteristics are present at moderate levels in up to 40% of the general population and more commonly in those working in STEM occupations (Baron-Cohen, 2001).
Research into AS over the last 20 years offers tantalising possibilities for businesses seeking best performance from some of the brightest brains in the workplace.
Famous Supergeeks with AS features.
Famous names commonly linked with AS features include a list of astonishing world-changing identities – Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Steve Zuckerberg, Isaac Newton, Mozart and Albert Einstein. In popular culture, well known characters include Sherlock Holmes, Lisbeth Salander, Sheldon Cooper and Gregory House.
Masterclass: Coaching Supergeeks. London, May 2015. Find out more here.
Baron-Cohen, S. et al (2001) The Autism Quotient: Evidence from AS/ High Functioning Autism, Males and Females, Scientists and Mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders Vol 31 (1) 5-17.
Levy, S (2010) Hackers 2nd Edition. O’Reilly Media
Seebach P. (1999) The Hacker FAQ http://www.seebs.net/faqs/hacker.html. Sponsored by IBM.