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Who Needs Smart People, Anyway?
By: Dwayne W. Waite Jr.
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What happens when you get the brightest people in a room, but can't seem to solve a problem?

Many industries are struggling with the same problem. These recruiters and employers get the "smartest" people; the folks holding terminal degrees in their fields, the ones with the most experience, the "uber-educated" elite, and then those teams, which seem unstoppable with their group intellect, manage to fail. 

How does that happen?

In AdLand, we see it more in terms of writing and creative. Every time a new generation of AdPeople comes out from the schoolyard, the current generation in charge laments over the lack of writing or creativity. The worlds of industry and academia butt heads over what the next leaders of the industry should know, and what skills should be sharpened while being groomed to become AdLand residents. We see the business minds falter, too. Repeated attempts to find sharp business development professionals or operation managers sum to naught because the "smart" ones are no good at practicality.

Or so it seems.

Roger Martin wrote a piece on the Harvard Business Review blog network that revisited an idea championed by Chris Argyris, "Teaching Smart People to Learn." The idea is that our business tendency is to find the smartest people, who should know how to adapt to their environment and business situations, versus finding the people who are exceptional in learning and therefore will understand why such adaptation is necessary. The point the two writers get to is that being smart and knowing how to learn do not coincide.

Argyris describes two types of smart people: single-loop and double-loop. The single-loop are the people who are brilliant at what they do. They have rarely seen their process fail. When they do fail, however, they become lost. Instead of examining their process, the single-loopers blame and inspect everything else. The double-loop are different. That group implements their process, and when it fails, they examine everything. They question what could be done differently based on the environment they are in. They adapt to make sure they don't fail again. 

We're sure you can find examples of both groups in your life.

Here's the question: if AdLand cannot shake the state of flux it is in, can it be deduced that we have more single-loopers in charge than double-loopers? 

Martin, who revisited the earlier article, concluded that Argyris helped him realize that the "too much of a good thing" adage rings true in the business environment. Does it ring true in AdLand? We believe so. If we fill our ranks full of tech people, full of trend chasers and those professionals that feel they can do no wrong, we are guaranteeing ourselves that "wrong" will ultimately occur.

Moderation in all things, it seems, is great advice to follow.

May we all hunt for the best learners.


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About the Author
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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