Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks

For my blog post this week, I decided to read the article about competent jerks and lovable fools that Jordi discussed in class last Thursday.  Competent Jerks, Lovable Fools, and the Formation of Social Networks, by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo, discusses the importance of informal social networks in the work place.  The article categorizes all employees by competence and likability which determines four work place archetypes: “the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with; the lovable fool, who doesn’t know much but is a delight to have around; the lovable star, who’s both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk…well, that’s self-explanatory”.

When given the choice of who members of the work force want to work with, they will always pick the lovable star.  However, the decision gets trickier if the choice is exclusively between the competent jerk and the lovable fool.  The article goes on to explain that when given a group project, most people in the work force will claim that they would pick the competent jerk to work with.  Studies, however, prove that most people actually pick the lovable fool as their team members.  Most agree it looks unprofessional to pick the person with less skills because work is about progress rather than friendships.

Despite all this, is it really unprofessional to pick the lovable fool?  Casciaro and Lobo say no.  Working with a competent jerk may be difficult because the arrogant jerk may not want to share information or communicate his work with the team.  It can be impossible to work with someone who isn’t interested in working with you.  The lovable fool, on the other hand, provides  benefits that often go unnoticed in business.  The lovable fool is willing to work hard to please and is eager to share information in a group.  More competent team members are also willing to look for every ounce of competency from the lovable fool in order to keep him/her on their team.

Lovable fools are also charismatic figures in the work place.  Lovable fools tie people together and help create a commonground for everyone to get along.  Casciaro and Lobo suggest that managers carefully maintain their very own lovable fools and strategically place them within the business and the office.  Firing a lovable fool often has an effect on a workplace dynamic that can not be forseen.

I find this article to be very interesting.  I have always found that I would much rather work with a lovable fool than a competent jerk because I am willing to pick up some slack if I like the person.  It seems like this is also the way that most other people in work places think.  Companies should pay attention to informal social networks when selecting employees.  The lovable fool has a lot to offer a company.

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4 Responses

  1. I agree whole heartedly, while it might mean that I sometimes have to do a little bit more work, I would much rather work with the lovable fool. In my experience, having a charismatic figure, that can bridge tensions between other group members and help maintain the smooth operation of the group, is often more beneficial than a having a talented individual who creates conflict. Talent only goes so far; intelligence and skill can only do so much if a group of individuals cannot work together. The lovable fool can make an otherwise tedious exercise entertaining and fun. Resulting in a enjoyable experience that makes working together in a group easy and productive.

  2. I agree with Kelly, I would also choose the lovable fool over the competent jerk. I can understand why it appears better to say that you would choose the more qualified person over the more likable person, but in actuality, it might be counterproductive to have the competent jerk. Many organizations are currently putting a large emphasis on team projects and I would prefer to work in a group with a lovable fool than a competent jerk. The lovable fool may not be as knowledgeable as the competent jerk, but chances are they will work better in a group setting. The competent jerk is very likely to alienate others in the group and negatively affect the group dynamic. When people feel the competent jerk is not listening to their suggestions or does not take them as seriously they can start to feel unappreciated and less invested in the project. Even though the lovable fool may not be as competent, they can add to the group dynamic for the better.

  3. I also agree! I think it is much better to work with someone you feel comfortable with. Sometimes I feel that by working with a competent jerk my work is not being truly valuable and my suggestions are not being heard. On the other hand the lovable fool sets a nice group environment were everyone’s opinion is heard. Although he might not the best knowledge on the subject, the lovable fool might surprise you with great ideas.

  4. The lovable fool seems to be the popular pick, but when it comes down to the make or break decision for a company, I would much rather consult with the competant jerk. When presented with a decision, most likely the lovable fool will side with whatever side you want, for better or worse. At least the competent jerk will offer counter arguments that may open your eyes to possibilities you may have overlooked.

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