Empires of the Mind

Last October, The Economist published a piece titled “The Battle for Brainpower.” Based on my experiences, tales of friends, and even what I read in major publications, business is scrambling for capable, talented people. I’ve seen firsthand how HR and department heads have rushed to fill a position, settling for any warm body out of fear someone else won’t come along

“[An] international poll of senior human-resources managers, three-quarters of them said that “attracting and retaining” talent was their number one priority. The article highlighted the words of Winston Churchill from an address he gave at Harvard in 1943:

…the empires of the future will be empires of the mind.

It takes brains to make our technology based lives work, so why do we still pick on the geek, the egghead, the dork? I for one am tired of the grief I get if I show my brain cells do more than sit around taking it easy. I’ve watched with dismay as my fellow citizens have shown preference for political candidates that don’t show their intellect but make good beer-drinking buddies. I may not personally care for Barack Obama, but are people really willing to say they won’t vote for the man because he’s “too smart?”

Elite is often substituted for smart, somehow implying that by wanting more or acting differently than the majority, you can no longer mingle with the group. The business world can work this way, too. How many people do you know that are in their positions because they played toadie to the right individual, not necessarily because they can do the job? It isn’t enough for people to be smart and talented. I’ve seen firsthand how people have to play the game if they want to get ahead. I know some will say, “That’s just the way it is,” but I say why is that the way?

Why are we threatened by people being smarter or more talented than ourselves? I’m not innocent of this trait. Depending on the person I sometimes struggle being fair to an individual who is clearly smarter than myself. What I’ve found, however, is that I usually learn so much by being open to these individuals and swallowing some pride. I don’t know everything. Do you?

Our world demands that we produce people with the brainpower to keep things running. When will we stop punishing people for having brains and wanting to use those brains?


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May 2008
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