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What Should Start-Ups Do With the Brilliant Jerk? 480

Posted by timothy
from the put-them-in-management-with-the-other-jerks dept.
First time accepted submitter glowend writes "Cliff Oxford writes in the New York Times 'I define Brilliant Jerks as specialized, high-producing performers. They are not, however, brilliant business people, and that is what companies need during periods of rapid growth. There are a lot of hurdles to cross when companies move from start-up to growth, including dealing with chaos and changes in culture. But the biggest hurdle is dealing with the human factor — how you move, shift and replace people as the company grows into the next level of success.' So how do you make the best use of the Brilliant Jerk as your company grows?"
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What Should Start-Ups Do With the Brilliant Jerk?

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  • Do unto others (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dietdew7 (1171613) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:04PM (#41479399)
    as you would have them do unto you.
  • easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hypergreatthing (254983) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:05PM (#41479407)

    brilliant business people are the opposite of productive.
    Jerk in any way shape or form is not needed in any business.

  • by GeneralTurgidson (2464452) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:08PM (#41479443)
    Some types of autism or personality disorders make people come across as "jerks" to other more extroverted people. If someone is just quiet or short with you, it doesn't necessarily mean they're a jerk.
  • by MyLongNickName (822545) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:10PM (#41479471) Journal

    The article has it right

    "So what’s the right answer? Get rid of the Brilliant Jerk as fast as you possibly can"

    First, the brilliant jerk isn't as brilliant as he or others think he is. Often, it is right after your superstar leaves that people covering his work find out about the shortcuts he took.

    Second, his positive contribution will stay stead, but his negative contribution will grow proportionally to the size of your company and the number of people he works with.

    Third, the longer he stays the bigger headache it will be to get rid of him.

    Fourth, be sure he realy is a jerk and cannot be reasoned with.

  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hypergreatthing (254983) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:13PM (#41479495)

    brilliant business people are the opposite of productive.

    That's an ignorent statement.

    The whole point of being a brilliant business person is to let others produce for you while taking full credit/full benefit from it while exerting the least amount of time making that happen.

    And i'm fairly sure it's ignorant.

  • Wait, What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:13PM (#41479497)

    I define Brilliant Jerks as specialized, high-producing performers. They are not, however, brilliant business people

    Seriously, he's never met a brilliant jerk MBA business guy? He needs to get out more. Many business types are jerks, some are even very talented and smart.

  • by syntap (242090) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:14PM (#41479513)

    I can think of no better way to inspire under-performers in a growing company than to jettison the worker who has been a superhero to date in a small company. This article is baffling to me and I don't understand why the author thinks dealing with super-performers should be different based on the company size. And the premise that it is unreasonable for the guy who constantly pulls backsides of others out of the fire to become a little irritated is odd.

    Just so I have this straight, in order to drop the "jerk" suffix, a super-achieving worker who fills in for people when they are on vacation or sick, does not take vacation himself because the company is so reliant on his performance, and probably isn't getting credit for how many times he saved his coworkers must a) always be cheerful, and b) not speak up when he believes management is heading in directions that will increase reliance on said worker and make life even more difficult.

    Basically the mind is cutting the heart out of a company, when both need to recognize each other's strengths and capitalize on them instead of picking a "winner".

  • Sack him. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest (935314) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:15PM (#41479531)

    Honestly, I've never met a brilliant jerk who actually is.

    People only get genuinely brilliant because they're capable of introspection, because they're capable of looking at themselves and seeing in what areas they can improve and then they go out and do exactly that, they improve that area. If they could do that, they wouldn't be a jerk because they'd recognise it as an area of improvement.

    People who are jerks often think they're better than they are and simply don't have anyone above them competent enough to call them out on their bullshit.

  • Isolate them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:15PM (#41479533) Homepage

    1. Give them a sandbox where they're the autocratic ruler and sole resident.
    2. Slowly make that sandbox not at all relevant to the core of the business, by creating alternative approaches to solving the problem that the jerk used to solve. Other people will naturally route around the jerk whenever possible anyways, since nobody wants to deal with a jerk if they can help it.
    3. When the sandbox becomes irrelevant and socially outcast, fire the jerk.

    There are smart people who aren't jerks. Get them instead.

  • by madsenj37 (612413) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:18PM (#41479573)
    Find managers that can bridge the communication gap between jerks and the rest of the business. There are plenty of business people who know how to talk with someone like a specialized programmer for instance, without having any practical programming skills themselves. Every business success or failure is about finding the right people, culture, etc. Productivity is only one measure and people must be in place to motivate and communicate with all types of people.
  • by Mozai (3547) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:22PM (#41479643) Homepage

    I worry that people labelled as "the Brilliant Jerk" are sometimes "the guy smarter than me who doesn't go along with what I propose."

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:34PM (#41479777)

    I've seen it happen more than once in an engineering software context. The trajectory of the company is typically as follows:

    - initial startup fueled by technically-capable professionals
    - company growth requires ancillary services including marketing and HR
    - sales and marketing takes over leadership of the company, HR takes over hiring
    - HR hiring significantly dilutes levels of technical acumen and professionalism
    - original professionals are gradually tossed over the side or quit
    - company reaches apogee, is taken over, and disappears

    It strikes me that the article can be succinctly summarized as an argument for mediocrity.

  • by photon317 (208409) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:34PM (#41479781)

    There's a need for and room for a certain number of large-scale companies in this country and in the world. There's also a need for and room for countless smaller and medium-sized companies. They're all integral parts of a functioning society and economy. Most small/medium companies will never be big and shouldn't be. When you fully understand business scaling, you realize that both in theory and practice it's *impossible* to scale a company without changing the product or service being delivered to your consumer.

    Think about the quality difference between say, Famous Restaurant Chain and that long-running Small Family-Owned Restaurant near you that makes incredible-tasting food. If you think the difference between the two is that the big tasteless one always sucked at making food but had a brilliant business guy at the reigns, and the small one, while tasty, simply lacks the business sense to scale up their operations and make real money on their talent, you've completely misunderstood how businesses scale.

    Most of those famous large-chain restaurants and fast-food joints actually started out as a single family-owned restaurant that was doing very well financially because customers loved the place. They genuinely loved the food, the service and price. The low-quality form they exist in today is the direct result of scaling; there's simply no other way to do it. Quality of the goods and services *always* falls when you scale up, but you make more money. Many of those successful small family restaurants that stay that way are constantly under pressure from peers and partners to expand and are perfectly capable of handling the business process of expansion, but they relentlessly resist because they don't want to ruin a good thing.

    At a small scale, each employee really matters. You do need some people who are brilliant at their respective jobs to be successful. Moving from there to the large scale is all about commoditization. It's about building a self-sustaining organization that delivers a consistent product or service regardless of which employees come and go over time. It means trading out the special people that make great things for the ability to turn out consistently mediocre things cheaply using random sets of mediocre employees. It's a hard transition to make, and it's a constant process as you grow rather than a one-time thing. If you want to grow, you have to hire people that can work with that process. People that can take themselves out of the picture personally. People who can instead design and operate an ever-expanding system where employees are just cogs in a machine which always runs smoothly even if some of the cogs are a little warped and misshapen, and even if there's a regular pace of cogs just leaving the machine and randomly-different ones replacing them sometime later.

    So if you're a businessperson, or business owner, or investor, this sort of scaling and growth is what excites you. You're not excited by making the best fajitas this side of the Mississippi, you're not excited by making the best firewall software man has ever seen, etc. You're excited by creating systems out of human cogs that scale up infinitely and keep giving back ever-increasing monetary rewards. But so many business people in the world want to scale their small-to-medium company into the next behemoth and most of them will fail. Scaling is hard, and there's only so much room, and your already-larger competitors already have a big leg up on you. Most of them shouldn't even try to scale. It's perfectly ok to stick to your smaller size, not frustrate everyone with scaling attempts, and simply keep re-investing profits into making it the best damn small company anyone ever did business with.

    The "brilliant jerk" isn't necessarily the problem. Maybe he's perfect for that small company, and the problem is your unnatural desire to scale things at the cost of quality, destroying a beautiful and functional small cog in the economy by trying to make it too big.

  • by shimage (954282) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:36PM (#41479795)
    Except that in that case the brilliant jerk was the business person. Woz was the brilliant nice guy who created the technology during the startup phase.
  • OK, I read TFA (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:40PM (#41479829)

    I read TFA, assuming that the definition of "Brilliant Jerk" in the summary was, in fact, summarized, and that the whole definition actually defined the "jerkiness" as something other than just not being a "business person". But that wasn't the case. Later in the article were some half-assed examples of what the author means by "jerky" behavior, but still no real definition. He ended up a competitor, so? He poached employees? He started legal battles? Competitors do do that, as we've seen with Apple, Samsung, Google, and countless smaller companies.

    How many "business people" do you need? Someone's got to treat patients or develop products or otherwise provide some goods and services for the salesmen to sell and the marketeers to market. And if everyone says "yes, let's do it" to everything, you'll do everything without even thinking about it.

    If an employee just doesn't fit in anymore and everyone's unhappy about it, then sure, end the relationship as quickly and amicably as possible. But why label someone a "jerk" just because the business changed? If you now need a hammer but keep trying to drive nails with the saw, that's your fault. Blaming the saw for being a saw makes you the poor workman who blames his tools.

  • Brilliant Jerks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:42PM (#41479857)

    The truth of the matter is Brilliant Jerks are what run your company in the background. It's not necessarily that they are "jerks" but that they don't have that "political jargon" speech a lot of managers have. For instance, they say "no" instead of "I think there is a better way we can do this." Yes, you can fire all of them, however keep in mind if they truly are "brilliant" they will be bringing more to your company than your "regular" people.

  • Re:Wait, What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tilante (2547392) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:43PM (#41479867)

    Just because your mom carried you for nine months, then spent huge amounts of time and effort raising you doesn't mean you owe her any loyalty; once her usefulness has passed, kick her out the door.

    But seriously -- I hope you're being extremely metaphorical with "kick them out the door." If they did that much for the company, they at least deserve some stock or a good severance package, and a glowing recommendation.

  • by WaffleMonster (969671) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:46PM (#41479937)

    TFA read like a breakup with one side telling their story while the other side was not allowed to speak.

    What is most telling to me is the authors willingness to judge and place blaim on others while demonstrating his own lack of leadership.

  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:53PM (#41480031)

    Except for the jerk part, your assertion is accurate. Woz was and is brilliant.... Jobs OTOH was a narcissistic panty-boy with sociopathic tendencies (lying, conning, getting others to do his work then claiming it) who's "contribution" lives on in its pure, distilled form in Apple's lawsuit against Samsung.

    Fuck Apple.

  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:54PM (#41480045)

    I got mine about 3 years ago, it is part of my transition from technical 'jerk' to affable manager

    A 'good' businessman is part PT Barnum and part Blackbeard the pirate, it takes a lot of puffery and cut throat decision making to get a business afloat and frankly, 20 odd years of writing code and jockeying servers really had not prepared me for it.

    As a technical person I was looked at as essential to the success of the company, but it was a bit of a risk to bring me into business meetings since I might quote something out of Alice in Wonderland, identify the immediate failings of our business plan or rant about the need to spend a bunch of money to shore up security before doing anything else... stuff that business-people would rather ignore once that they are in PT Barnum mode

    My solution is a technical one... put your technical jerks in a DMZ, control your ports of access in and out of the DMZ, give them the resources that they need and (if you really want to trot them out in public) invest a few years in preparing them to be 'seen' by non-techies

    BTW, if you really think that all of the 'jerks' are technical and not the business people, then you are missing out on the other half of the story

  • Re:The Jerk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeng (926980) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:57PM (#41480079)

    Agreed. Jerk has always been a way to call someone an asshole without swearing.

  • by Minwee (522556) <dcr@neverwhen.org> on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:57PM (#41480083) Homepage

    How about if you stop calling the people who built the company "jerks" and plotting how to get rid of them behind their backs?

    Just a thought. It might lead to fewer people realizing that they don't like working with you, leaving the company, becoming competitors, poaching employees and starting legal battles over stupid things that could easily have been sorted out between people who aren't jerks.

    But what would I know? I'm probably a jerk too.

  • by LordZardoz (155141) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:00PM (#41480135)

    I think that the situation as described is incomplete or missing part of the picture.

    What he is describing is what happens when you have a highly valuable and contributing team member who has a vision for the company that differs from what everyone else wants.

    Assume we have 10 employees.
    Lets say Employee X has a value of 1000, and the rest have a value of 100 each. The company has a value of 1900. Clearly Employee X is valuable and to get where you need to be, you need to accommodate his views. He is basically more than half the company

    Now you grow to 40 employees. Employee X is still worth 1000, but the rest of the group is worth 3900. Employee X should not be dictating where the entire group wants to go, even if he carries so much influence.

    Employee X did not become less valuable, he did become less important. The only time Employee X becomes a Jerk is if Employee X allows his ego to think he is still more than half the value of the company.

    The solution is that Employee X needs to be treated as a consultant or contract. Let him be the rock star that saves every ones ass. But as good as he is, he cannot lead if no one wants to follow him, and he should not lead if the place he wants to lead is not the place the team wants to go. And Employee X should not be allowed to prevent someone else from leading if his plans do not add as much to the group as the other guy.

    A good leader is not the guy who is worth 1000 to everyone else's 100. A good leader is the guy who can get a value of 120 from people with a base value of 100.

    END COMMUNICATION

  • Re:Isolate them (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dubbreak (623656) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:01PM (#41480145)

    There are smart people who aren't jerks. Get them instead.

    This. There are plenty of great people out there if you look hard enough (though often you have to poach them).

    Of course you have to look at both sides. The brilliant jerk may not actually be a jerk, he just is willing to speak out about managements failings where others are unwilling, "Oh yes master, whatever you say master, you are always so right master.."

    Personally in my business I want people that are willing to call me on my bullshit. If I'm doing something stupid don't just hang on for the ride, I honestly may not see the mistake I'm making because I have horse blinders on or similar. Maybe I have a fuller view of what is going on, and the concerns are unwarranted, but then I should be clearly explaining why those concerns are unwarranted not just some brush off, "Trust me." Which is the biggest bullshit line ever. If you've put sweat equity into our product I owe it to you to explain I'm not driving it into the ground when from your perspective that's what the situation appears to be.

  • by Zalbik (308903) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:01PM (#41480147)

    Yes, rather than actually doing some "management", and figuring out how to best fit this person within the company, let's just terminate him.

    Who cares if they were (from the article):
    - Respected by their co-workers
    - Producing twice the revenue of some of the other founders
    - First to volunteer to work on holidays.
    - First to get new training and share it with others one-on-one
    - etc.
    As well, article seems to define a "jerk" as: "anyone who doesn't agree with management"), just fire them. I'm certain their co-workers find firing these people very inspiring. At least their inspired to shut up & not criticize any bad ideas management may have.

    Who's the clown that wrote this anyways? All I can find about him is he got a bit lucky with a single startup (STI Knowledege), sold it for around $12mil, and now is going to be the host of the reality show "The Next Tycoon". Not exactly stellar credentials.

  • by tragedy (27079) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:01PM (#41480149)

    Right. Based on reading the article, the author's definition of a "jerk" is someone who doesn't understand that they were just a resource to be used during the founding of the company and then thrown away. Pretty much the worst thing the author lists as something the "brilliant jerk" does is bothering management by assuming they will deign to talk to him. The author is assuming that we all share his implicit understanding that the people who built the company will stay down at the bottom while the company grows and the managers will grow with the company adding more and more layers between them.

  • by TheSync (5291) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:05PM (#41480207) Journal

    I was in a situation where we had a very bright and capable college intern, and we hired him when he graduated. The kid was the kind of person you could throw an amorphous ill-stated problem at and he'd work out a solution. He also had mad Linux and OSS skills which was sadly lacking at the company I was working for.

    However, he was a bit odd, like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory (but a bit nicer). He was nervous with strangers. He had a certain way of living his life, and did not like change.

    So (after he was moved out of my group) the company came along and put him on the road by himself to visit customer sites across the country and meet new people in unfamiliar cities. He melted down and was let go after a few months of that.

    Some people were not meant to work with customers. Some people were not meant to work on amorphous technical problems. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. A good manager will recognize that, and maximize the performance of their reports (along the lines of the theorem of comparative advantage).

    I'm not saying you should never challenge your reports or encourage them to push their limits, but you should recognize that pushing them too far may break them.

  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SilentStaid (1474575) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:08PM (#41480269)
    Not that I'm trying to exonerate the PHBs of the world, but having a good leader who is able to focus a team towards a goal, and more specificially a financially worth while goal all while maintaining motiviation and finishing with a polished execution is so very far from trying to exert the least amount of energy.

    Business people and bosses aren't inherently lazy by nature - you've just got a bad one.
  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:09PM (#41480283)
    I have seen these fights before and it usually comes down to shares. Often the Brilliant Jerk has a founder's fraction of the shares 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 and the new MBA types that have been hired (usually mostly in a sales capacity) are envious that when the big sale comes along that those few founders are going to get all the cheese. So they convince them to dilute but the so called jerk will say good for you, dilute your shares, mine stay as they are. He knows that the new MBA types are very replaceable now that they can just offer them a salary.

    The other variation of the brilliant jerk is that they have again a founder's share and the other founders are business types. The brilliant jerk did the programming of 10 to earn his share but now they have hired 20 programmers and the business people suddenly decide that the original programmer isn't carrying his weight anymore while they do all the big deals. So as the really big sellout comes they resent that while they "made it rain" that the brilliant jerk will get just as much as them. They rationalize that even if he is worth 10 programmers that they can now just hire 10 programmers for far less.

    Rarely, if ever, have I seen where the original founders were causing a problem for anyone except for getting in the way of self-entitled jerks.
  • Re:Hire us instead (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tragedy (27079) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:17PM (#41480417)

    The author of the article will only consider you not to be a jerk if you know your place. Which, by the way, is way down at the bottom of the org chart. You have to remember that, no matter how reliant on your skills the company is, and how interchangeable the MBA-types are, you are always less important than anyone with an MBA.

  • by Maximum Prophet (716608) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:21PM (#41480471)

    I've seen projects at many places where once the sales guys have cleared their cheque, nobody keeps tabs on what it really cost to deliver what was sold. And I know for a fact that in many places, it ended up costing more in the long run than the revenue.

    Most places are like this, but even if they put in a control like "Check Clearance + 90 days", the salespeople can adjust things so that they don't go south for 90 days. Remember, good sales people are master manipulators. Sales will always maximize its own benefits, if you try to rein them in, great sales people will just leave for another company that pays better. (If we follow the article's author's advice, we'd just fire all those pesky sales people, since they're in it for themselves, not the good of the company)

  • by Instine (963303) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:23PM (#41480505)
    what should a brilliant jerk do with a start up might be the real question. If they're brilliant, it will probably be up to them in reallity.
  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Medievalist (16032) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:25PM (#41480517)

    Being a brilliant business person is identifying market trends and acting on them. Which means finding out what people want and delivering it to them at prices they can afford. To do this you need to get people with the right skills together on a voluntary basis by offering them compensation that they need to agree with.

    Nope, you can torture and enslave people, extort them, kidnap their families and be widely hailed as a brilliant business person. There's really no requirement at all that participation be "voluntary". Plenty of existing businesses, and even more historically, are or were based on exploitation of workers and/or customers.

    In other words, it's up to the business person to get people together in such a way that everyone involved is benefiting and is better of than they would have been otherwise.

    No, same mistake. You're confusing "worthwhile human being" or maybe "brilliant statesman" with "brilliant business person". Have you ever heard a first person account of how Steve Jobs interacted with Andy Herzfeld? Jobs was brutally verbally abusive, and used his ability to intimidate and dominate Herzfeld to create key components of the system that enriched Jobs (and, to a much lesser extent, Herzfeld) without any consideration for how this might harm anyone. Yet everyone considers Jobs a brilliant business person!

    There are thousands more examples, from the New England slave trade to modern Chinese labor practices. I wish you were right, but you've added some things (like, basic human decency) that are not a part of this generation's definition of a brilliant business person.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:49PM (#41480895) Homepage

    The point of the article was a person who was the lynchpin in starting a business out of nothing and turning it into a rising star is often not well suited for steering a growing corporation, that is, managing a team that's grown large enough that not every decision is made by consensus of all the participants. When the business moves to this state, arrogance and stubbornness--the very qualities that made the "brilliant jerk" indispensible during the incubation of the company--make them jerks to the company trying to go mainstream.

    True enough.

    The correct way to deal with this is to divert them away from the corporate leadership structure and into a new start-up venture, where being brilliant and pig-headed once again becomes an asset. A good "brilliant jerk" can probably spark four or five new companies before the rough edges get worn off. Look at Steve Jobs, for example.

  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @03:11PM (#41481147) Journal
    I've worked with Brilliant Jerks. They're good at what they do, and they know it. They get shit done. But they also belittle their coworkers, disrupt the work of others, have to have their finger in every pie, are unwilling to delegate things that they don't need to do any more, etc. They like to be the pilot and at the controls at all times. But as a business grows, they cannot be central to every single last project any more. When they are asked to delegate, or find themselves excluded from even a minor project, they throw a hissy fit. You don't "appreciate" them. You "need" them to be involved. You're an ungrateful git because "they" do all the work around here while you slackasses stand around the water cooler and waste time.

    The reality is that as a business goes from a startup to steady growth over time, you need people who are willing and able to delegate, otherwise they get stretched too thin, whether they want to admit it or not. That doesn't mean everything needs to be delegated, but some things that are essentially following the same steps every time can always be handed to a subordinate with proper training. Brilliant Jerks have a sense that other people cannot be trusted to do the jobs as well as they can, so they are afraid to lose that precious control, and want to do it themselves instead.

    The example in the article was of a doctor who brought in twice as much revenue as some other doctors in the practice. That means he was either 1. seeing twice as many patients as the others in the same amount of time, meaning he was not having as many meaningful patient interactions or more likely 2. ordering unnecessary and expensive tests. Brilliant Jerk doctors like him are the reason healthcare in the US is in a crisis.
  • by Homr Zodyssey (905161) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @04:19PM (#41481893) Journal

    If we remove the adjective "Brilliant", it seems that the original post is saying that people who produce things are jerks and business people aren't. That would be the opposite of my experience.

    It also sounds like he's saying, "We have a guy who did all the work to get us off the ground. He's not as necessary anymore, so the PHBs want to sideline him and reap the benefits of his hard work."

    Perhaps you should think about giving HIM a golden parachute like you would one of your "Brilliant Business People" buddies.

  • Re:easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stiletto (12066) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @04:29PM (#41482005)

    This is just anecdotal, but most start-up owners I've worked with were already quite wealthy and/or had a family cushion to fall back on in the event of failure. Sure, they risked some start-up capital, but orders of magnitude less risky than literally putting your life on the line in a dangerous job. I know a guy whose family is quite well-off, who started and failed about 4 or 5 businesses before one finally happened to take off. He could keep spinning the wheel of fortune because he knew that regardless of what happened he wouldn't starve or be homeless. That sure doesn't sound like risk-taking to me.

    That said, I have met a few who had their personal savings and home equity loans on the line if their start-ups failed. That's, for sure, respect-earning balls-out risk. Those guys definitely deserve their returns.

  • by stephanruby (542433) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:00PM (#41482417)

    The word 'jerk' is just a label we use for others, never ourselves.

    That's what makes this topic so fruitless. Go ask the biggest jerks you know of if they believe they're jerks. Most don't think they are, but they'll probably volunteer a list of many "others" that fit the label.

  • by sa666_666 (924613) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:12PM (#41482559)

    Isn't this how most business people think? IME, I've never in my life encountered a group of people who are so prejudiced toward those that actually do the work. And the further one is removed from actually getting their hands 'dirty' and doing something, the more they're praised. No wonder society is so screwed up.

  • Re:easy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:28PM (#41482731)

    Horatio Alger, is that you?

    Your math sucks. [time.com]

    Investment has always been pretty speculative, so it's easy to pick on. It also involves "real" wealth -- the kind you nor I will ever have. You can look at Taleb as being a dumbed-down version of Mandelbrot (the fractal guy) and his work on market analysis.

    You might also check out what these guys [yale.edu] [pdf] discovered about CEO talent.

    If you could learn how to succeed from reading a book, or listening to a motivational speaker, then everyone would be successful -- meaning no one would be. If it were some innate ability like IQ, then 'success' would follow a similar distribution pattern. This is not observed.

    You live in a world that is chaotic, from top to bottom. It's like weather systems, except the laws aren't immutable. You can't predict weather with any certainty, how can you claim to have a formula for success? What could that be based on, if not sappy-headed romanticism?

    Anonymous because otherwise I might be in danger of reading more of the mental vacuities that you dribble onto your keyboard.

  • by Velex (120469) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:20PM (#41483651) Homepage Journal

    Hi. "Rockstar"/"Brilliant Jerk" programmer here. I'm responsible for maintaining a niche piece of software that's used by call centers, and I'd like to offer another perspective that my current day job has helped me to understand deeply.

    So, this piece of software is closed-source. It's also buggy, wonky, inconsistent, breaks basic Windows UI conventions (like using alt-tab to switch between windows), is inexplicably slow, implements its own widget set (poorly), and is a downright piece of crap. For example, to create a formula, it gives you an interface a lot like Crystal Reports if you've used its formula editor, but instead of allowing you to type on your own, it forces you to use drag-and-drop. Want to do len(myfield)? First, you have to browse through a squinty tree of haphazardly categorized functions and operators to find the len function, drop it in your formula, then you have to find myfield in another squinty, non-alphabetical list of every variable in the system and drop it in place as an argument.

    Now let's put this into perspective before your (or somebody else's) knee jerks and goes "ah ha! a n00b using len and Crystal Reports, this is obviously the Brilliant Jerk in the wild!" (Incidentally I gave up on Crystal a couple years ago in favor of \LaTeX{} and gnuplot.)

    First of all, all but a few of my co-workers (I'll get to those few towards the end) will tell you that I'm the first to admit when I've screwed something up. I screw things up all the time. I'm human, and I'm not perfect. I hold my abilities in high esteem and strive to take pride in my work, but that doesn't mean I think my understanding of programming is the end-all be-all. If somebody points out something I've been doing wrong, I'll correct it and thank them for showing me the light.

    The problem is that when things screw up, it's not always something I've done wrong, and sometimes it's not even something I can do anything about. In case you missed it above, the software I use for my day-to-day tasks is closed-source.

    I have indirectly dealt with the Brilliant Jerk. You see, the vendor who shall remain nameless that sold my company this closed-source turd that was the reason I was promoted (originally my job was to be temporary, to transition accounts to the new software only) seems to employ a lot of Brilliant Jerks and Rockstars. And yes, trust me, there are reasons I haven't just replaced this software with some kind of Ajaxy Vaadin-ish Web 3.4.2 RC1 portal that are beyond the scope of this post. And also, inasmuch as the user-unfriendliness of this software is the reason I now have a new car and a mortgage, there's only so much bad I can say about it.

    The point being, the Brilliant Jerk just about describes, as far as I can tell, the software development staff of this nameless vendor. They're always right, and you're always doing something wrong. If their software can't do something that it needs to do, you're wrong for even wanting it to do that thing! You can't win. For 2 years this software was randomly locking up and losing data, but it took intervention from the owner of the company I work for before they even acknowledged that a day-to-day reality for the folks on the call floor was even happening. Even then, they never really acknowledged it, and they never apologized. It just magically got better release after release until it didn't happen any more.

    The reason I called myself a Brilliant Jerk in the start of this post is because that's how some co-workers perceive me. One of the mottos in the call center world is "perception is reality." My counterpoint is that if I perceive that I should fly if I jump off a building, it's not very functional to blame the concrete that splits my head open at the bottom of my "flight."

    As I mentioned before, my job was meant to be temporary. It turned into a permanent job, because it turns out that the CTO (kind of a software developer, network admin, and graphic artist all rolled into one, quite the talent

  • by mjwx (966435) on Friday September 28, 2012 @01:14AM (#41485241)
    The first thing you do is stop refeing to them as jerks.

    From the article,

    When he spoke, everyone became quiet and listened â" not out of excitement for what he was going to say but out of respect.

    He was always the first to cover for doctors who were on call. He was always the first to volunteer to work on holidays

    This is a jerk?

    I think the "boss" blogger needs to get up and have a big cup of reality.

    This is the complete opposite of a jerk, the kind of person who keeps the business ticking along as usual no matter what is thrown in his way. The kind of person you dont want to piss off into leaving by calling them a jerk behind their back.

    So he hasn't got much business acumen, that's not his job, that's yours (the boss). Chances are you know fsck all about his job and would have a very hard time replacing him.

    You dont find something to "do" with a person like this, you give them something to do. Finding the work is not his problem, making sure the P&L statements look good is not his problem. His problem is doing the work that your clients pay for.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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