If you've talked to a recruiter lately or had someone else pitch the value and character of a company to you, you've no doubt heard something like this: "The people at this company are SO smart...!"
You're told this because the person doing the telling/selling believes it's the sincerest form of validation. The collective IQ of the founders, executive team and/or entire company virtually guarantees it will be a well-run operation steaming toward a series of successful outcome. With this much brainpower firing away, how could it be otherwise?
The only problem is that 'smart' is rarely the problem.
The internet and its assorted digital interfaces and services have had more than two full decades of being the belle of the hiring and funding ball. We've attracted big IQs and degree-holders from prestigious colleges like a bug light draws moths on a dark country night. Let's face it: It's the internet… everybody is smart. All these algorithms and complicated business plans would never see the light of day if it weren't so. Even the sixth-place company in a five company space would look like a MENSA class to the average civilian.
So next time you're being wooed by a company - or considering a candidate - and "the S word" comes up, look harder. Instead of smart, see if the people on the other side of the desk have these qualities:
Experience. Have the people involved seen both success and adversity in the past? Sometimes just the few extra laps can make you a better driver. This is where you watch out for those managers and leaders whose entire background is theoretical or financial. A little operating experience goes a long way.
Grit. My favorite word. Is this a team that finds ways to overcome? A lack of grit, at best, makes a company feel soft. At worst it feels like perpetual panic and angst.
Morality. This may sound old fashioned, but values matter. Can the leadership of this company be counted on to do the right thing when things go wrong? What are the third rails they won't touch? What are the core principles and business rules that everybody in the company understands?
Purpose. You had to know this was coming. Why does the company exist? What do its leaders believe in? Sometimes the purpose is nothing more than flipping the company and making a profitable exit. But if there's not much more there, then this is a company that will shed people and value as soon as the winds change.
Now that's smart!