Young Geniuses and Old Masters – more cognitive diversity

by Edward Henkler on September 17, 2013

The concept of young geniuses and old masters dates back to the ancient art world, but has equal application in the business world.  The best teams exhibit cognitive diversity.  Aside from choosing team members with superficially different backgrounds (physical diversity), including at least one young genius and one old master may be key to establishing a rich discourse.  The young genius isn’t bound by preconceptions and a lifetime of experiences.  Revolutionary insights may be the norm but consistency is only likely if procedures are established and followed.  The old master has a more strategic perspective and is willing to take longer to identify and implement a solution.  “Gut feeling” sounds unregulated and poorly quantified but is more likely to represent a lifetime of experiences and an intuitive sense of the right approach.

Old Masters

The world of cooking presents an easy way to understand how to manage a young genius vs. an old master.  Someone who is new to cooking must follow a recipe or they’ll make many mistakes.  Their potential for innovation is high though, as they will always be asking why and experimenting.  An experienced cook might be offended if they were asked to follow a recipe as they just “know what to do”.  Their product will be consistently good and may be refined in subsequent versions, but they will seldom ask why or innovate (don’t fix it if it’s not broken).  When I put the two cooks together, if they can work together well, I end up with the best of both….a consistently good product and an occasional game-changing innovation.

The bottom line is that the best teams exhibit considerable cognitive diversity.  Assemble a team of individuals who are different from you; an introvert and an extrovert, an engineer and HR professional, a PhD Molecular Biology and BA English, an innovative recent college grad and deeply experienced manager.  There is clear value in assembling a superficially diverse team (gender, race, nationality, religion) but the true richness arises from different thinking styles.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie September 17, 2013 at 4:37 pm

As an art enthusiast, I like your analogy.
How would Michelangelo have worked with Picasso? Would they have needed a mediator?


Edward Henkler September 17, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Thanks for the comment, Leslie – in the absence of social media, perhaps they would have found a way to talk things out…..


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