Many companies and businesses are owned or run by people who were formally identified as gifted during their school years. These people are a breed unto themselves. I should know because I’ve worked with gifted children and adults for over 30 years as a teacher, consultant, and tutor.
To keep employee sanity intact, it is worth knowing more about these nerds, geeks, gifties, brainers, smarty-pants, egg-heads and other such names they are called. It is good to know how to think about and deal with some of their quirkiness and social, intellectual, and behavioural eccentricities that they quite often show.
Prevalence in society
about 3-5% of the population is considered gifted. Some estimates go as high as 20%.
Levels of Giftedness
Underachieving Gifted – They often don’t reach their potential because they may be turned off to education and authority. They tune out, disconnect, drop out, and may end up doing interesting but unproductive things in their self-concerned, hurt lives. They may be goalless and drift without care or worry. They may not care about money and try to be happy in their own way despite the advice of and frustrations exhibited by people around them. They may be highly philosophical, theoretical and altruistic. They may not be material-minded and may need little to survive. They can be happy-go-lucky, satisfied with what they have, and don’t care about what others think.
Some underachievers are seriously or potentially dangerous people. Studies show that prison populations often have a large percentage of people with high IQ’s. Just what we need – highly intelligent criminals and masterminds of crime and destruction sharing time together.
Underachieving gifted people may also be suicidal, very frustrated ticking time bombs, arrogant, painfully rude, misfits, highly critical, lackadaisical, lazy, slovenly, unkempt, irresponsible. They find decisions difficult to make because they talk and think themselves into confusion. Almost everything must be questioned within many dimensions. All talk – some at very sophisticated levels – but often with no action. They may see themselves as legends in their own minds.
Achievements/Accomplishments: few. Motivation to do well and/or contribute to society: little. Delusional about own power and status: high. Don’t care: often. Brushes with the law: quite possibly, especially as teenagers. You wouldn’t want this kind of person as a boss.
Implications for the work world: There is a good chance that these gifted people are not working for your company. If they are, they may be plotting to beat your system for kicks, take advantage of weaknesses to see how far they can take things down, or possibly test to see how much they can get away with. They will laugh all along the way as they play with the establishment or lie, cheat and steal while harboring great resentment and anger against the company and all those past and present who are perceived to have “conspired” to make their lives so intolerable.
On the other hand, they may take on simple and dead-end jobs to get enough money to make ends meet and don’t expect promotions or special consideration of any kind. They just do their jobs and mind their own business – so to speak. They will not be in management if there is a good enough screening process and therefore will not become the “dead wood” found in some companies. If they did take on a high-pressure job, they probably wouldn’t last long because they wouldn’t be able to handle the responsibility, the perceived inflexibility of the bureaucracy/leadership, the daily regimen, and stress of doing things on time for others and especially being on the job on time.
Average Gifted – They are really frustrating people because everybody knows how smart they are – including themselves – however, they just don’t show it and are happy to work along at a “normal” pace and never seem to show any kind of “gifted” brilliance of any kind. They seem confident and happy but just don’t do things at the expected gifted level. Quite often they know how to play the game and do just enough to get what they want or need – e.g. good grades/test results. They often get work done easily and quickly to find time for their own pet projects and interests – which is where their time and energy really goes.
A look behind the scenes often shows they are engaged in many activities. They fulfill their needs themselves without others prying, advising and butting it to tell them what they should be doing. They are independent, self-directed learners who don’t need others to teach them or give them advice or approval. They may run their own businesses on the side, invent, and/or become highly knowledgeable experts or specialists in many fields. They don’t need outside praise as they are quite solid in their self-concept, self-esteem and confidence levels.
Implications for the work world: These people do their jobs and probably do them very well. They are responsible, reliable, diligent, rise to the occasion and can be brilliant when needed – if they want to be. They won’t take much of the credit and probably won’t get overly proud or excited about what they accomplish. It’s just part of their day.
Above-average Gifted – These people show brilliance quite often. They may stand out in the workforce but not with great radiance. People will not express great awe and wonder compared to the next level of giftedness. They are good solid workers and show themselves as avid learners, producers of new learning and not just consumers, confident and in the frame of mind to do their best.
Implications for the work world: These people are solid and strong leaders and followers. They are the take-command types and will do things with success and fairness in mind. To do well for the company, self and others will be paramount.
“Severely” Gifted – Every now and then someone in the gifted world will stand out like a sore thumb. “Severely” gifted people are within roughly the top.5 – 1% of those considered gifted. Their thinking is phenomenal to say the least. They can take a little bit of information and guide it through the analytical stages, the application stages, synthesis stages and evaluation stages very quickly – within minutes sometimes. Meanwhile, the rest of us are still trying to figure out the basics of what was just said or presented.
At this level of giftedness, basic, concrete ideas become theoretical and abstract very quickly. The thinking processes are that sophisticated and mature. The big picture materializes almost instantly. They can see things in highly sophisticated ways that are little understood, grasp the relationships of the parts and have solutions almost instantaneously. The rest of us are still mulling things over, discussing and incubating ideas overnight. Meanwhile, this kind of gifted person is frantically waiting to implement the obvious solution.
Implications for the work world: Severely gifted people can get very frustrated and upset because others don’t think and see things as quickly. Boredom may set in because their thinking races miles ahead of everybody else’s. They may be inattentive or have lapses in listening to others. Employees may feel they are working in a dictatorship because so much stays within the hands and responsibility of this one person. This boss may be thinking, ‘Why give it to somebody who does it slowly when I can do it in a nano-second and put it in place my way which is the right way.’ This boss can be overbearing, demanding, go over everybody’s head to get something done quickly and often frustratingly accurately and well.
On the other hand, this person can be extremely generous and help employees to be more creative and reach higher goals and objectives. There may be a highly playful, energetic, fun atmosphere created in which everybody works hard with seemingly little effort. The company will go far with great vision, depth and breadth of expertise.
Typical Behaviour of Gifted Bosses and What to Do in Each Case
Circular Thinking (a spinning hula hoop of ideas on a swing)
This kind of thinking can drive some people crazy. Ideas are verbalized and then repeated over and over again at different times or occasions. It seems that the thought had never been discussed before and the idea is new and fresh each time. The same thing comes up time and again.
If you listen carefully, however, the ideas do change each time and may get better. It is simply a way of processing thoughts. It may also be that by hearing his/her own words the boss’s thoughts become clearer. Add to them if you wish as your ideas will be more food for thought. Don’t get upset because each time the idea is presented, you may learn something new. The boss is not insane, just a circular thinker. Desensitize already! Ideas are being constantly generated. Things are moving forward.
Expert/Specialist (knows everything about everything)
There are some people that read and learn about everything. Gifted bosses may have read more than most of the employees combined. It’s okay. It saves you research time and adds greatly to your own wealth of knowledge, facts, procedures, trivia, understanding, details, and vicarious experiences. This gifted boss is probably not showing off but just has these tools and library of information accumulated over many years of personal study and experience and is willing to share them with you for free. Consider yourself lucky. Don’t get jealous or envious. You can’t compete so don’t try. Think of all the time you will save researching. Just go to the boss.
Disorganization (so much of value but where is it?)
Sometimes the learning is more important than where you put the source. What a mess on the desk or in the office!! You may not think you can find things but the gifted boss can. He/she has learned things and retained them quickly. They are filed in the head and don’t sometimes need to be filed in the office.
This gifted boss will know where EVERYTHING is despite the place looking like a hurricane hit it. The filing and order systems are highly personal but everything is where it should be according to this person’s mind, but unfortunately, not yours. Just ignore. If something is important to you too, ask for a special spot in the office that seems safe and put your stuff there. If the boss takes this stuff too and doesn’t put it back, well, it’s a problem. Think of it as organized chaos.
Super Concentration (locked within a soundproof invisible prison)
Some gifted bosses are able to almost totally tune things out and concentrate on only what they are thinking. People may say things but the words are not heard or acknowledged or not taken in. The person is oblivious to everything and anybody. Inside the person’s head, however, there is super processing of information and decision-making going on. Processing of information is happening in a pure, uninterrupted environment.
Options: Write what you need to say in a memo, talk to the person when he/she comes up for air, catch them after a break and just before they go back into their “zone”.
If you notice the boss is in deep concentration, catch the person’s attention and get them to stop what they are doing and look at you. (just wait for them to make and keep eye contact.) Say what you need to say and get them to double check their understanding and also write it down. Check later to see if the person has dealt with the memo.
Be amused. Accept the eccentricities. Chuckle at the awkwardness. Also realize the incredible opportunity you have to learn from genius. Gifted bosses can be a pain but often their creativity, processing and analytical skills make up for the negatives. Look what Bill Gates accomplished and look at all the people he helped up along the way. Your boss may be taking you along to heights you would never have achieved on your own.