One of the simplest and frequently referenced pieces of the Netflix culture deck refers to “brilliant jerks.” As stated in the company’s literature, “Some companies tolerate them; for us the cost to teamwork is too high.”
“Brilliant jerk” is a terrific term for a culture deck because it resonates clearly with just about anyone who has ever manned a cubicle, or even a corner office. A brilliant jerk is someone who is immensely talented but rubs people the wrong way. They don’t respect co-workers or believe the “rules” apply to them. Their arrogance provokes people. Quite simply, they are the “me first” players on the team.
Unfortunately, brilliant jerks aren’t mythical unicorns. They exist, and eventually you will encounter one.
When you meet brilliant jerks their intelligence and stellar credentials immediately catch your attention. While the temptation to bring them into your organization will be strong, there are six reasons to steer clear of them:
1. Eventually, things will go badly.
Having a brilliant jerk on your team is like a steady diet of junk food and alcohol. For a short time, you and your team will do great, but inevitably you will feel awful. As the Netflix culture deck references, “the cost to teamwork is too high.”
People won’t work long for a brilliant jerk boss or alongside a similar co-worker. Although the team may give jerks a second or third chance because they often are proficient in a range of areas, the deficiencies of a “me, not we” approach will eventually cause good people to leave your organization.
Related: 5 Secrets of a Jerk-Free Workplace
2. Jerks create other jerks.
If you bring a brilliant jerk into your organization, their tremendous talents may tempt you to consider him or her for a leadership position. This is a very dangerous move. A brilliant jerk leader is likely to hire and develop a like-minded team, unintentionally creating an entire division, or in the worst–case scenario, a whole company of jerks. Because of their skill levels, you may even create a leadership structure that “hides” a brilliant jerk – a telltale sign that you’ve got the wrong person riding the bus.
3. They make everyone around them worse.
There’s no such thing as a static business culture. It constantly evolves with every new hire or promotion. Brilliant jerks don’t by definition fit in. They are high-profile team members for both the best and worst reasons: prodigious talent and an inability to co-exist peacefully with others. They can thrive and continue to produce, but their inability to gel with co-workers will take a toll. Other team members will look for ways to work around the brilliant jerk, rather than with them or for them. This is bound to affect productivity.
4. They will drain morale and time.
Leaders often justify placing a brilliant jerk in a prominent role by doing a simple math formula. If their productivity, X, is greater than the cost to teamwork, Y, then hire or promote. In reality, this math can leave a path of destruction for you to clean up.
5. What happens when the brilliance dims?
When brilliant jerks are right, some may choose to gloss over their shortcomings. However, all of us are wrong at some juncture, no matter how intelligent. When your brilliant jerk errs, watch your team turn on that individual in a snap – leaving you to manage the chaos.
6. No one’s forcing you to work with the brilliant jerk.
When a brilliant jerk isn’t promoted or hired, most people on your team will immediately know why. They will breathe a sigh of relief at dodging that bullet. But why bring on a brilliant jerk at all? You have alternatives. The business community is full of talented, skilled people who put the team above themselves. Hold out for these stars every single time; it will be worth the wait.
For any company seeking to grow, the personnel decisions and health of your office culture will be more predictive of success than perhaps anything else. Many a leader has regretted rolling the dice on a brilliant jerk. Think twice about the ramifications to your team before making that gamble.