Clever or Supergeek?

Different Brains

“Geeks shall inherit the earth”

Alexandra Robbins

How can we understand different kinds of clever minds in the workplace?   While tools such as psychometric tests have helped businesses do this for many years, they don’t tell the whole story. What about the lifelong differences in how our brains work? This is the territory of neurodiversity which includes IQ, handedness and innate talents as well as ADHD, dyslexia and autism.

Some of the most valuable yet challenging employees are those with high IQ or “clevers” (Goffee and Jones, 2009). However, not all clever people are the same. Simply having a high IQ doesn’t tell us much about what someone needs to perform well at work. Some have strong abilities in all areas and are good at learning just about anything whether it is technical or interpersonal. At the other extreme are those with uneven ability profiles who have astounding expertise in a narrow technical area yet find the people side of work mysterious. These are the “supergeeks”.

What do “clevers” and “supergeeks” have in common and how do they differ? What makes them different? Why does it matter and what can managers or coaches do to get the best outcomes?

Here are some similarities and differences seen in the workplace.


  • High IQ
  • Intense focus on topics of interest.
  • Advanced, complex use of vocabulary.
  • Passion for learning and solving complex problems.
  • High achievers.
  • May both be referred to as “High IQ, Low EQ”.


Clever Supergeek
•       Copes with interruptions.

•       Flexibility of thought.

•       Strong in both technical and social abilities.

•       Can generalise learning.

•       Communicates abstract ideas

•       Uses humour, irony, sarcasm

•       Two-way social interaction with intellectual peers.

•       Easily learns EQ.

•       Manages stress well.

•       Attuned to social norms.

•       Aware of how perceived by others.

•       Finds distraction difficult.

•       Rigid thinking, resistance to change.

•       Technical abilities clearly stronger than social abilities.

•       Many situations experienced as novel.

•       Prefers clear, direct language.

•       Misunderstands humour.

•       Tendency to monologue.

•       EQ learning is challenging

•       Unusual stress profile

•       Less awareness of social cues.

•       Less aware of how perceived by others

Why it matters.

The differences given here will be familiar to many.   They are also qualitatively consistent with traits of Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) that exist widely in the general population, particularly in STEM occupations.   Businesses, managers and coaches can make use of what is known about how AS minds work without the need to label or diagnose anything. This knowledge can be used to manage, lead and coach supergeeks.

There is increasing evidence that the application of neurodiversity based knowledge makes for better managers and better coaches.   This is because it develops skills that everyone benefits from. Supergeeks are a “game raiser”. They do need something different that can be delivered in the high quality and prestigious manner they deserve.   And the good news is that, by understanding how different minds experience the world, what works for supergeeks works for other people too.

Masterclass: “Coaching Supergeeks” Central London Monday 9th November

Click here for more information and to book your place.

Reference: Goffee, R and Jones, G. (2009) Clever. Harvard Business Press
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About the Top Stream blog.

This blog is written and curated on behalf of Top Stream by Sally Moore, Chartered Psychologist. The idea is to inform, promote discussion, and make the science of neurodiversity available and accessible to new audiences. Some funny stuff may creep in – when different brains connect, there is a serious side but it creates some comedy too. There will be contributions from guest writers, interesting interviews, research updates and first hand stories of people’s real life experiences. If you would like to be included or have a story to tell, please get in touch!

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