Are You Smarter Than Your Boss?

There’s no shortage of managers claiming to hire people smarter than themselves.

Thinking of this, I was recently reminded of this little gem of a Dilbert cartoon about a manager proclaiming to hire people smarter than himself. Hilarity ensues, of course.

So: are you smarter than your boss?

Here’s a tale of two engineers It’s a simple tale, but you could probably make a very similar story if you replaced the names with those of people you know. Imagine two co-workers: Bob and Joe. Bob thinks he’s smarter than Joe because he knows Technology X, and Joe thinks he’s smarter than Bob because he knows Technology Y. And Bob and Joe BOTH think they are smarter than their boss who doesn’t know ANY technology. They joke with each other, “Our boss couldn’t code his way out of a paper bag! He just goes to meetings all day!” Who do you think is smarter?

Before we can answer that, we have to answer another question: what does smarter even mean? As engineers, we tend to focus on a very particular definition of smart. True to our analytic nature, we analyze, score, and rank one thing that we highly value: our intelligence as applied to specific technologies. And if, as engineers, we fail to recognize non-technological intelligences, we could be led into a false sense of superiority about our skills as related to others. Everyone is smart about some things but not others. Smart always has a context, a facility within a domain of expertise (or at the very least, the ability to learn quickly in closely related domains). And if you don’t recognize the particular things that somebody else is smart about, you might think they are not smart at all!

In a tautological way, you are smarter than your boss about the things you are smarter about – the things that define your job. And in the same way, your boss is smarter than you about the things he or she needs to be smart about – the things that define his or her job.

You are not generally smarter than your boss. Your boss is not generally smarter than you. You are both smarter in the specific ways that you need to be, to do your jobs the best that you can.

In conclusion: You are not smarter than your boss. 🙂

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