The “jerk genius” (or Insufferable Genius as TVTropes has named it) is such an overused trope in fiction that people take it as true in real life, too.
Have you ever worked with someone who was supposedly AMAZING at their job – a real creative genius – but also a workplace bully or just an unpleasant jerk in general?
They’re everywhere in fiction…
- Dr. House in House
- Don Draper in Mad Men
- Rodney McKay in Stargate
- Q in Star Trek
- Gaius Baltar in Battlestar Galactica
(Yes I’m a big sci-fi nerd :))
The truth is, no one needs to put up with people like this in real life, no matter how smart they are.
No one SHOULD put up with these people, because the cons far outweigh the pros.
2 Jerk Genius Fallacies
1. Jerk Geniuses have a one-of-a-kind brilliance – we have to put up with them if we want the best results.
Not true at all.
There’s this cultural belief that it takes a genius doing all the work to achieve anything of importance, but the truth is that things are accomplished by teams, or by people building off the work of others, or stealing the work of others. Often several people come up with similar ideas simultaneously but only one is credited by the history books.
See a pattern here? There are very, very few lone geniuses achieving greatness in isolation.There are very, very few lone geniuses achieving greatness in isolation. Click To Tweet
Luckily the real truth is, there are a LOT of smart, creative people out there who also work well with others.
2. If you can just be tough and have thick skin, it’s beneficial to have Jerk Geniuses around.
Jerk Genius characters are often depicted as lovably, charmingly arrogant and their egotism as amusing. Because they’re so good at what they do, it’s ok if they hurt some feelings. In fact, if they DO hurt your feelings it’s probably your own fault for being too sensitive, right?
In real life, Jerk Geniuses do more harm than good.
One jerk with a bad attitude can poison an entire workplace.
- Happy workers are 12 percent more productive than the average worker, and unhappy workers are 10 percent less productive.
- Happy workers are also more likely to solve difficult problems faster.
- Jerks have a disproportionately bad effect on the workplace, undermining performance and well-being.
- Workplace bullies adversely affect the mental and physical health of their coworkers.
- More than one in three (36%) people surveyed by the Trade Union Congress leave their job as a result of bullying.
The Jerk Genius trope normalizes abuse, but it’s not normal and not necessary in the least.