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

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.
    • by Andy Prough ( 2730467 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:14PM (#41479507)
      Why would you ask that here? What would slashdotters know about being jerks?
      • 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.

        • 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.

          Agreed. It's like asking someone if they think they're stupid or a below average driver or lover.

    • by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:55PM (#41480057)

      as you would have them do unto you.

      There are things some people want done to them that I do not want done to me.

      • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @04:15PM (#41481845) Journal

        There are things some people want done to them that I do not want done to me.

        WARNING: High-Risk-Of-TMI Zone has been reached. Click with caution.

      • by Mandrel ( 765308 )

        as you would have them do unto you.

        There are things some people want done to them that I do not want done to me.

        This is actually quite true. We should treat others according to our best estimate of how they'd like to be treated. The original proverb selfishly judges actions in terms of our own preferences.

    • 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.
    • The Jerk (Score:5, Informative)

      by aaaaaaargh! ( 1150173 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:45PM (#41480843)

      The Jerk must be fed ... with pizza and Coca-Cola.

      It must be kept cool and in the shade during summer days and kept warm and cosy during the harsh storms of the winter.

      Always keep the Jerk dry and away from women.

      Do not talk with the Jerk unless about jerky things.

      The Jerk needs better and faster machines than the others, whom we do not want to mention here.

      That is the way to keep the Jerk ... to increase your wealth and wisdom.

    • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by sa666_666 ( 924613 )

        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:Do unto others (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @06:07PM (#41483119) Journal

        I recall seeing that happen once at a previous job. Four of us, and one gent who acted as leader/purchaser/fill-in-admin/etc, basically built an entire IT infrastructure from the ground up. Then the PTB hired this reject VP from a huge F500 corp as the new IT Director. Everything immediately goes to shit as he starts slinging around acronyms and demands that were workable for huge orgs like the one he just left, but were impossible for a tiny IT department to implement properly in the deadlines he wanted. To top that off, he whips out the microscope, looking for something - anything - to hold over each of our heads as a threat and as a consolidation of power. It just got uglier from there. It took a development admin suffering a stroke, and a sysadmin getting a heart attack before this jackass would get a clue and hire some help to fulfill his ever-increasing list of demands. Given the economy at the time, other jobs were impossible to find, so we were stuck for awhile.

        There's only one person out of the original crew left, and she's likely to be gone once her degree is complete. The rest of us said 'fuck it' and pulled the D-Ring on his ass at the first graceful opportunity (and some even sooner). Last I heard their expenses went way up since most of us left (having to hire consultants all the time to fix even minor breaks is a bitch, I guess).

        Eventually shit hits the fan for such people. OTOH, even if it doesn't, no skin offa mine - the job I left them for came with a huge raise, a mere 30% of the workload, and telecommuting. First 3 months felt like an effing vacation to me.

        But yeah, the corp was shifting from start-up (of sorts) to full-blown. Thing is, unless someone takes control of the situation, it'll eventually crash - either figuratively (budget) or literally (as systems crap out).

      • 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.

        Removing an adjective from a sentence can change its meaning by a non-trivial amount.

        So while what you say is true, I don't see what [non-obvious] point you're trying to make.

    • 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.

  • 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 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 dywolf ( 2673597 )

      The correct answer is: GET HIM LAID.

      Seriously though. If he's brilliant, he's valuable. No one is perfect, and this concept of we must all get along is nonsense. Never seen a place advocate firing people as much as /. over the dumbest trash.

      People will have conflicts. Some people really really suck at "inter-personal skills", buzzspeak for they dont get along well with other people. Some people make your company tons and tons of money. Sometimes these two people are the same person. That's why the Tom Smyko

  • by Maximum Prophet ( 716608 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:07PM (#41479437)
    Worked for Apple Computer Inc.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • RFTA. The jerk in question sure wasn't introverted.

      • 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 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.

    • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:20PM (#41479613)

      Sometimes the best tactic is to let the creative-if-blustering types do what they do well: create and bluster, but in the back room. Serial entrepreneurs often do well because they have the ego needed to push thru ideas into really profitable businesses, with a few dead ones along the way. No one is perfect.

      High collaboration and creativity is very productive, and productivity is helpful for rapid growth. Then move the blusterers out into new ideas, where they can regenerate. Some people are really good at cash-cow business, while others know how to start low and do rapid business building. Some will grow with a business, others need new challenges. It's not a talent easily given to aphorisms. And sometimes, it's not pretty.

    • 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 DocSavage64109 ( 799754 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:34PM (#41479769)

        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."

        +1 on that thought. Especially if what that person proposes involves me doing all the implementation.

      • by nharmon ( 97591 )

        I was sort of getting that vibe from the article as well. Maybe the doctor in question had legitimate reasons for "why the group couldnâ(TM)t do some things and shouldnâ(TM)t do others". But the non-doctors, like the author for example, do not understand the reasons and as a result see this as being a jerk.

      • by Jeng ( 926980 )

        Intelligence and knowledge are two different things.

        Just because someone is smart, that doesn't mean they are right.

    • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:24PM (#41479671) Homepage

      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.

      I'm sure it's not true in every case, but I've definitely seen cases of this.

      Had a co-worker years ago who could crank out huge volumes of code, so management loved him.

      The problem was, his code was absolutely un-maintainable crap, and he didn't like to go back and fix things. So first you needed to cajole him for a long time to even do it, and then he would do a half-assed job and go back to whatever he was finding fun at the moment.

      He didn't follow any procedures, didn't bother with testing, documentation, or sometimes even putting his code in the the version control stuff -- which meant he didn't always even had the version he was trying to fix as it had long since been updated in place. In some cases, he created more work for the people around him than the value of his code.

      In a lot of ways, I always found him to be a liability, since he refused to adhere to even the most basic standards we had.

      But, to the best of my knowledge, he's still there writing large volumes of lousy code, and I'm not there any more. So clearly how I perceived things had nothing to do with how management did.

      • by garyisabusyguy ( 732330 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:04PM (#41480191)

        I have been the jerk and karma has certainly made me pay

        About 20 years ago I was working on GIS for a local government. The challenge was to present our Pavement Management System data (from a beloved DG Mini) on our spiffy new GIS system. I proposed using dynamic segmentation (new concept in ArcInfo 6) and set about learning what needed to be done. My boss assigned his bestest buddy to ride along on this and even split the coding responsibilities down the middle... The bestest buddy decided to work in awk and sed instead of the software tools that were part of ArcInfo... Pissed me off so much that I kept all documentation in my head and set about finding another job. When I left, it took them about three years to get back on track...

        As luck would have it, I walked into a new job where people had been pulling the same stunt for the last decade. Every day of my life was debugging undocumented code and re-creating wheels. These days I invest a lot of time into cross training, documentation and making certain that my developers are happy

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      Not just that....

      I have a friend who was telling me about an issue at his workplace. They brought in a jerk... possibly not a "brilliant one" hardly matters....

      Because his being a jerk actually prompted the two really brilliant researchers who did the core development of their product line leave....

      I don't care how brilliant this guy is.... I have a hard time swallowing that he could be so brilliant as to be worth the damage caused by pushing key people out the door.... unless pushing them out the

    • by Kijori ( 897770 )

      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.

      What you say is perfectly reasonable, but actually the 'Brilliant Jerk' in the article is described as being brilliant. In fact, as far as I can see, he's only described as being brilliant - I'm not really sure where the 'jerk' part comes from at all. The author labels as a jerk the doctor who put more than anyone else into the startup, generated the most revenue and was always the first to help out the others, and why? Apparently because he said that there were things that the company shouldn't do.

      The arti

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

  • 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.

    • If he is a jerk to the extent that the article is talking about (causing problems within the organization meeting its goals) then he is not brilliant. If he is simply cut throat with competitors and vendors, he would not meet the definition of jerk being used in the article.

      • I think the point is that the Brilliant Jerk is predominantly brilliant in the early stages of the company, but predominantly jerk as the company grows. A startup can really use a few genius employees who can work miracles on a shoestring budget and a tenth the time anyone else would need, but with growth comes more of a need for established procedures and established domains of authority. The Brilliant Jerk does not thrive in such an environment. The writer is simply pointing out that just because someone
        • 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.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            My mom is a cunt bitch who acted like she owned me as a slave and has never recognized a situation where she could have possibly been wrong in her life. I moved out because I was plotting how to get away with stabbing her in the throat and I figured the cost was higher than the return. She's already been hit by a car once and I almost killed her in labor, two good tries but no such luck; world will be better without her.
            • To carry the analogy back, if you have an employee who did a bunch of work, but is also also an asshole, holds the company hostage to get his way, and can't believe he could ever be wrong, and who you're sure any company would be better off without... kick him to the curb.

              Sometimes people are so nasty that there's no way to live with them. Sorry that person had to be your mom, man.

      • Re:Wait, What? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:09PM (#41480281)

        And.. what problems did this particular brilliant jerk cause?

        From TFA: " A growth company needs enablers, not disablers."

        That's really the most damning thing said about him during his employment with TFA's author.

        Basically, the author is complaining that somebody had the audacity to tell management that there were problems and flaws with their brilliant ideas. The Jerk wasn't being a jerk, he was approaching issues from a problems-first perspective. Management *hates* when people hear their wonderful new idea and tell them what's wrong with it, or that the whole thing won't ever accomplish what they want because of this or that, or that it won't work unless this or that is also done or stopped.

        It's been my experience that management only likes to be treated like a 6th grade english class. There are no wrong answers, everyone's right, yippee feel-good-happytime!

        Anecdote: I once worked for a place that spent in the neighborhood of 2.5mil to distribute a procedure across many employees that had previously been centralized. They had 3 people doing that job, and spent all that money so they could eliminate 2 of them. They were making ~40k/year. Even if you assume their total benefits ran the company 80k/year, that's still ~15 years until they hit a break-even point. And that's not taking into account that from the start, their distributed plan was executed poorly (despite employees having pointed out those problems before anything was installed) and the quality was decreased (as the employees who were forced to take on a new task weren't really able to perform it well, it was an industrial environment and there simply wasn't the time for them to dick around with something else and still keep pace with the machinery and other employees). That was also pointed out, and ignored.

        The next year, despite more protestations that the idea wasn't going to work and calm explanations why, another 1.5mil was spent installing more crap that was slower and more unsafe and more prone to failure than the previous procedure.

        Decision makers don't like being told their ideas aren't all brilliant, and when their decisions only affect the jobs done by those below them it's pretty simple to pass off any failure of their idea to work as a failure of the employees, not of the idea. Anyone who points out the problems with the idea is labeled a jerk.

        In my book, it's the dingleberries with the inflated egos who are unable to take criticism of their ideas productively who are the jerks. But hey, what do I know. Wait, no, scratch that. What I know is irrelevant. All that matters is WHO I know, gosh I'm dumb!

    • Seriously, he's never met a brilliant jerk MBA business guy? He needs to get out more.

      Yeah, I thought I'd run into a brilliant jerk MBA recently who said he was running for president. Then he gave a speech and it turned out that guy wasn't brilliant at all.

  • 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".

    • 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 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.

  • I'd say make him a chief engineering officer or chief software architect or some other top R&D title. "Brilliant Jerks" tend not to be people persons (obviously) so they tend to shy away from client/investor/public facing roles like CEO, where they can do real damage. If this person insists on such a role, perhaps let him find out the hard way that if he wants a management role, he has to minimize his role in R&D doing the things he actually loves. I think he will make the decision on his own that h
  • 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.

    • 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.

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

        by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @02:28PM (#41480571) Homepage

        The difference between somebody who disagrees with management and a jerk: When the boss presses the dissenter for more details, the non-jerk can produce information about exactly what's going wrong, why it's hurting the company, and what they propose to fix it. The jerk, when pressed, on the other hand, will announce that the boss is a moron who will never "get it".

        And yes, the greatest managers in history tolerated all sorts of dissent. For instance, Abraham Lincoln dealt regularly with cabinet secretaries (e.g. Samuel Chase) and top generals (particularly George McClellan) who hated both Lincoln and his other top officials.

    • Smart people who aren't jerks tend to require an actual good salary ,however.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The guy sounds like a booster rocket. At some point it has to be cut loose or you won't reach orbit. Just one thing: people aren't hardware that you can just let burn up. Make sure he gets a nice severance. The next problem you have might be "they chew people up and spit them out". Who wants a reputation like that?

  • 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.
  • Put him in his own cube with his own projects. Half the job, in any job, is being able to interact with others in a productive and professional way. BJs are constitutionally incapable of doing that and eventually cost you in productivity and morale.

  • Maybe (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:20PM (#41479605)

    Maybe he wouldn't be a jerk if the rest of you weren't all so stupid! Ever think of that?

  • Easy (Score:5, Funny)

    by jbrandv ( 96371 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:23PM (#41479645)

    Promote him! Seems like that's what happens where I work.

  • Let him be... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Zapotek ( 1032314 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (soksal.sosat)> on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:28PM (#41479723)
    Give him his own office, a supply of fast food, sodas, coffee and energy drinks and let him work on the weird stuff that would defeat the others.
    Why did everything get so touchy-feely all of a sudden? Why can't a guy just work in peace without having to tip-toe around the feelings of all the precious little snowflakes?

    Now, if he goes out of his way to piss people off and promote general chaos and destruction then kick his ass out, otherwise suck it up.
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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 wisnoskij ( 1206448 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @01:56PM (#41480069) Homepage

    Do you mean introvert, nerd, slightly autistic?
    Or you you mean backstabbing, businessman.
    If the former, put him in control of your product design, it sounds like he knows how to get things done (and being the most popular man around the water coolers does not help the company one bit). It worked for jobs and Woz.
    If you mean the second. Their is nothing you can really do about the boss. He is not going to resign simply because everyone hates him.

  • by Minwee ( 522556 ) <> 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.
  • by HeckRuler ( 1369601 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @05:59PM (#41483053)

    I define Brilliant Jerks as specialized, high-producing performers.

    "Jerk"? This is one of the many, many, reasons that technical geeks hate business people.

    I have listened to Brilliant Jerks proclaim, “I am the one who is always on call, who drives the most revenue, who is here on weekends and who has the knowledge.” And the Brilliant Jerk speaks the truth. But I have also seen him stick his head in the door and deflate an entire management team. A growth company needs enablers, not disablers.

    Whoa there. Whoa. So... the guy that does the work and who knows where the big problems are, like the code is a horrible mess of spaghetti, shouldn't tell anyone what those problems are because.... it'll make the managers sad?

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

    Hey guys, there's like, one single engineer who knows how all off this stuff works. He said this thing at my last meeting? Really got me down. Let's get rid of him. We're a growing company, I'm sure those highschool grads we hired and a couple entry level engineers who handled their own section before will be up to the task. I mean, it's not like the entire code-base was a one-man spaghetti-code mess right?

  • by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Thursday September 27, 2012 @07:07PM (#41483573)

    Years ago I worked at a place called Divine Interventures in their "Buzz" group. We had a guy - he was the webmaster/developer guy, one of the first employees, etc.

    Guy had ideas for graph design that were better than what the designers came up with, came up with awesome ideas pretty much whenever we had a problem, but was kind of brusque.

    He got laid off in the first wave (and was smart to do it - one of the only people to get a full severance package when the companyimploded, and literally started his new job the next day) and about a month after that we got written up in a magazine as being a great place to work in Chicago. There were several specific things pointed out in the article as why it was so great, and when the CEO was holding an all hands meeting to congratulate us, she asked who came up with idea one, and it was pointed out this guy did. Then idea two and... Same guy. Then idea three and... Same guy. "Well, decisions like laying him off are probably why we're going out of business," the only honest thing I've ever heard from a CEO.

    If they are really brilliant, it's worth keeping them around.

  • by bobbutts ( 927504 ) <> on Thursday September 27, 2012 @09:12PM (#41484353)
    If you let your people do whatever they want, some of them will do things you don't like. Try managing them, if you're not sure how, you can find classes at most colleges.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"