For more than a decade, we’ve been studying dozens of organisations such as this management consultancy, employing people with high IQs and impressive educations. We have spoken with hundreds of people working for engineering firms, government departments, universities, banks, the media and pharmaceutical companies. We started out thinking it is likely to be the smartest who got ahead. But we discovered this wasn’t the case.
Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste. Talented employees quickly learn to use their significant intellectual gifts only in the most narrow and myopic ways.
Those who learn how to switch off their brains are rewarded. By avoiding thinking too much, they are able to focus on getting things done. Escaping the kind of uncomfortable questions that thinking brings to light also allows employees to side-step conflict with co-workers. By toeing the corporate line, thoughtless employees get seen as ‘leadership material’ and promoted. Smart people quickly learn that getting ahead means switching off their brains as soon as they step into the office.
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