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June 19, 2012

A Few Good King-Hell Eccentrics: Do you think rank-and-file employees are boring? Well, we do, too, Jack.

And is there a market, too, for the well-rounded geek? Is that coming? We all love employees, payroll soldiers and others from our multi-colored galaxy of white-collar dorks. They are essential. They execute and implement. They get stuff done. Certainly, no one could survive without them. But what kinds of personalities make businesses, make money and make our day? See this one by Schumpeter at The Economist earlier this month we almost missed, "In Praise of Misfits: Why business needs people with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder and dyslexia". It starts out wonderfully, and somewhat wistfully, particularly if you came of age in the three decades following WWII:

In 1956 William Whyte argued in his bestseller, “The Organisation Man”, that companies were so in love with “well-rounded” executives that they fought a “fight against genius”. Today many suffer from the opposite prejudice. Software firms gobble up anti-social geeks. Hedge funds hoover up equally oddball quants. Hollywood bends over backwards to accommodate the whims of creatives. And policymakers look to rule-breaking entrepreneurs to create jobs. Unlike the school playground, the marketplace is kind to misfits.

Recruiters have noticed that the mental qualities that make a good computer programmer resemble those that might get you diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome: an obsessive interest in narrow subjects; a passion for numbers, patterns and machines; an addiction to repetitive tasks; and a lack of sensitivity to social cues. Some joke that the internet was invented by and for people who are “on the spectrum”, as they put it in the Valley. Online, you can communicate without the ordeal of meeting people.

Wired magazine once called it “the Geek Syndrome”. Speaking of internet firms founded in the past decade, Peter Thiel, an early Facebook investor, told the New Yorker that: “The people who run them are sort of autistic.” Yishan Wong, an ex-Facebooker, wrote that Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, has “a touch of Asperger’s”, in that “he does not provide much active feedback or confirmation that he is listening to you.” Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist, says he finds the symptoms of Asperger’s “uncomfortably familiar” when he hears them listed.

Robert Edward Ted Turner, circa 1953.

Posted by Holden Oliver (Kitzbühel Desk) at June 19, 2012 11:59 PM


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