I liked this quote from Hugh MacLeod the other day:
Idea-Driven People come up with Ideas (and Results), more often than Results-Driven People come up with Results (and Ideas).
His quote brings up two related fallacies.
- People who are good at one thing must be bad at something else.
- People who specialize in something must be good at it.
Neither of these is necessarily true. It’s wrong to assume that because someone is good at coming up with ideas, they must be bad at implementing them. It’s also wrong to assume that someone produces results just because they call themselves results-driven.
The first fallacy comes up all the time in hiring. Job seekers may leave credentials off their résumé to keep employers from assuming that strength in one area implies weakness in another area. When I was looking for my first programming job, some companies assumed I must be a bad programmer because I had a PhD in math. One recruiter suggested I take my degree off my résumé. I didn’t do that, and fortunately I found a job with a company that needed a programmer who could do signal processing.
Andrew Gelman addressed the second fallacy in what he calls the Pinch-Hitter Syndrome:
People whose job it is to do just one thing are not always so good at that one thing.
As he explains here,
The pinch-hitter is the guy who sits on the bench and then comes up to bat, often in a key moment of a close game. When I was a kid, I always thought that pinch hitters must be the best sluggers in baseball, because all they do (well, almost all) is hit. But … pinch hitters are generally not the best hitters.
This makes sense in light of the economic principle of comparative advantage. You shouldn’t necessarily do something just because you’re good at it. You might be able to do something else more valuable. When people in some area don’t do their job particularly well, it may be because those who can to the job better have moved on to something else.
Related post: Self-sufficiency is the road to poverty