Tech & Work

Geeks make better adults

A new book by Alexandra Robbins explores the potential of so-called "weirdos."

According to a book called the Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth, by reporter Alexandra Robbins, what makes you a "weirdo" in high school is the very thing that could ensure your future success.

Robbins maintains that the main characteristic that make the in-crowd popular--the willingness to conform --doesn't mean much when those people leave high school. She maintains that some of the most forward-thinking companies including Yahoo!—prioritize hiring quirky individuals who shun conventional thinking and don't conform.

It's interesting when Robbins talks about what's behind the hierarchical structures of high schools. She thinks schools indirectly encourage this way of thinking with the use of standardized testing. Students are rewarded more for regurgitating information back as it is fed to them more than forming opinions of their own. Creativity and innovation is rarely rewarded.

So to be a "weirdo" in high school -- to risk, or not care about, alienation simply because you think differently -- shows a great strength of character. And that is much more valuable in the real world than whether you follow the status quo.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

34 comments
ecb8252000
ecb8252000

I know some freaks who were born that way and it's sad to see how people who are normal are "posers" and act like geeks, or freaks. I have done it myself at times until I actually got to know some people who were born without some things I have always taken for granted such as good vision, hearing, speech, logic, and dexterity. I thank god every day for those blessings, and I don't need to work at a big company to be satisfied with my life.

Interactive Communication
Interactive Communication

To see and have an oppionin diffrent than others is an excellent use full persecti e to owners wich here bs from brown noser staff members. Learn think out side the boxand work strengthening the perciseness of timing. Think diffrent is priceless. Working on your timing will always gain you respect any were u go. Trust your insinct and sharpen your speed to be come succsefull.

marathoner
marathoner

Fails to produce a concise definition of "geek" or "better." All it says is that what's valued is not the same in all subcultures. Duh.

LallY08
LallY08

While true, that your skills for original thinking and finding unique solutions and different perspectives, will more than likely lead you to greater success later in life, it cannot be blanket applied. A distinction must be made between, simply non-conformance for the sake of non-conformance and original critical thinking. Show me the great majority of highschool kids who have succeeded today, but did not do well or even average academically, and I will review my perspective. While we should most definitely be encouraging original perspectives, we should not be encouraging blanket non-conformance to academia. It has its place. How do we appreciate the maverick in Richard Branson, if there was no comparison being made on some level of standard? How do you know you???re geek, beyond the gadgets, comic book heroes, playstations etc??? is some of it not because you academically achieve on those very standardised tests, despite your otherwise non-conformance? From my own personal experience, I would not say academic achievement has hurt me in any way. Instead, it has helped my non-conformist nature succeed ??? for the duration of highschool in particular, I had to make the best of the constrained situation I was in, which also requires originally thinking, to still keep it fun. Most geeks, like me, are actually intelligent beings, and if we have chosen our battles carefully, will achieve academically (within the constraints we bound for a short while), and yet remain true to our own unique personalities and quirks, which have largely made for better long term success. And, yes, I do agree, that most school systems do require a change in their approach and how we are educating future generations. I am glad to say, that I have noticed some changes, with SA schools already adjusting assignments and work projects to reward original and innovative perspectives???.

l_e_cox
l_e_cox

This article was a very short treatment of this subject. But the basic concept has a lot of validity. The winning combination includes both the ability to think creatively - which I do not doubt the average high school experience suppresses - AND the guts to act on one's dreams and to create new realities in the face of all the social limitations. So, what about college? Doesn't the basic culture of conformity just continue at that level? I know that no matter how "creative" you are, you'll have a hard time getting a job at Yahoo, Google or any other high-tech company if you don't at least have a BS in IT or the sciences. I am told, though I haven't looked into it carefully, that some of the greatest positive creative movers-and-shakers of history skipped college entirely or never bothered to get a degree. Food for thought.

landen99
landen99

As much as people say that they want innovative employees, they don't like it when anyone rocks the boat. Conformity is highly prized today as much as ever, and making friends by telling and showing people what they already want to hear and see will always be a strength which geeks find difficult to develop. After you have established a reputation for success, being dependable, and being liked, then people become open to your innovative thinking. Success as an adult is without a doubt about who you know and who likes and trusts you. I agree that innovation should be the critical key to adult success, but as far as I have seen, it is not that important at all (unless you create your own company like Gates did). Conformity, popularity, and networks are and always have been the standard of adult success (even in IT). I have yet to see the interview which tests and rewards the ability to innovative and answer contrary to accepted SOP.

mbrown
mbrown

The term geek implies technological proficiency and interest in all things science, so of course they make more interesting adults. But don't confuse geeks with sociopaths, who also don't conform, although they might appear normal. Geeks I know are fun-loving and empathic, not the cold stereotypes portrayed by the media (more Leonard than Sheldon). Just my opinion here...

sboverie
sboverie

The article reminded me of an oldish movie "Revenge of the Nerds". The movie was about a group of awkward geeks and nerds starting college. The nerds were excluded by all the fraternities because they did not fit the stereotypes of jocks or popular pretty folks. It was a funny movie that ends with the nerds winning a series of contests against the other fraternities. The idea that geeks make better adults is interesting. The article's take on the book seems to be that geeks are more intelligent and creative than the other groups. It may be that non-conventional thinking helps to come up with solutions to difficult problems that stymies conventional thinking. The world and society are complicated things and to move into the future we will need many points of view to adjust to changes that are both expected and unexpected. Another bit of geek think; Asimov's Foundation series was about a galaxy wide empire on the brink of collapsing into a dark age. The solution was to create a foundation to preserve information for the future while at the same time laying out a path to get to the other side of the looming dark ages. The path was marked with a series of crisis, the advice was to wait until there was only one solution that could solve the crisis. The next crisis was caused by relying on the previous solution more than needed.

whitehound
whitehound

"Students are rewarded more for regurgitating information back as it is fed to them more than forming opinions of their own. Creativity and innovation is rarely rewarded." Remember this is American schools she's talking about - in British schools students are usually expected to form and argue their own opinions, and regurgitating a set text is poorly regarded. This is why some American Harry Potter fen thing Snape is unreasonable to criticise Hermione for quoting the textbook, but this is a normal reaction from a good British teacher who would expect her to demonstrate understanding and original thought.

JohnMcGrew
JohnMcGrew

...the the primary purpose of public education has never been about producing individuals with true "creativity and innovation", but a pliant citizenry and suitable malleable factory workers. The status quo has never been too thrilled about creating too many "innovative" individuals.

blackepyon01
blackepyon01

If Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are any example...

DesertJim
DesertJim

The Armed Forces for instance, Civil Service, some parts of the IT industry (Perot was a case in point) There is always a need within these organisations for innovative people (by this definition, the non conformist) to rattle a few cages, Patton, Montgomery, Steve Jobs, etc. But they are few and far between. I would put the emphasis on innovation rather than non conforming, however as you mentioned the current schooling system looks after the majority, so in my opinion does not identify the innovative minority.... that's why we had to identify ourselves at school and keep our heads down at work until we were in a position to be different. Others such as Richard Branson just circumvented the conforming bit altogether.

mindilator
mindilator

geeks make better adults? do i take it to mean you think geeks make better people? well aren't we superior. when geeks are stereotypically as healthy, strong, and physically fit as they are mentally, then you might have a case. how about more socially adept, not inept. how about more well rounded and open minded to less structured ways of thought. geeks are just different, not better. there are pros and there are cons. to say geeks are better is to say the cons are negligible and they are not.

CCIE Agent
CCIE Agent

As a kid who wore American flag jeans and sported a dog choke chain in high school my long-haired antics left many thinking I was deranged. Now I look back and wonder what I might have accomplished had I spent more time taking homework seriously. But then I look at my life now and realize I still have not grown up. At 56 I am still having fun with geek toys and see no end in sight for the possibilities. My kids think hanging out mith me is cool so maybe it's the geek thing or just maybe the immature thing. I don't really care which but I will say I am having a lot of fun still!

praetormarching
praetormarching

I was the creepy Goth kid who was into computers and Industrial music in High School. Now? Hmm.... I'm the creepy Goth adult who is into computers and Industrial music. Except now I get paid for it! :D Why ruin a good thing? Fun is driving a black BMW with a massive Feindflug window cling in the back, and blaring Front 242 songs to work. I like being an adult geek.

ToastedPine
ToastedPine

Read the book summary and don't quite understand what makes any of the case studies stand out later in life. It seems like the standing out part comes in after Robbins gives them the challenge. I'm assuming the term "geek" in this case refers to a person who has inherent qualities that ostracize them from their peers. If this assumption is correct, then it's less a book about geeks, and more about some sort of self-help regiment that increases the odds of children to grow into members of society that stand out. I suppose I'll just have to read the book to really find out.

george
george

Ouch, somehow too much of the point was taken from a personal perspective, easy now, baby steps big fella...!

simplebob
simplebob

I completely agreed, but they are but a sample of the geek population. As a whole I think geeks do make better adults. Or atleast more open minded adults. Simple - SEO Consultant

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

... between conformity & discipline. If you want to know just how non-conformist Ross Perot really is, you should read _On Wings of Eagles_ by Ken Follett. http://www.ken-follett.com/bibliography/on_wings_of_eagles.html During my brief time at EDS, I had several non-conforming & innovative ideas and all were listened to, and many were considered. Learning "outside the box" was encouraged; I taught myself CAD on the mainframe workstations, access to all the manuals, printers, plotters were freely granted to me, as long as my work duties were completed. (At the time I was still a tape monkey in the tape library.) A lack of discipline, however... That's another kettle of fish right there...

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Compared to twenty years ago, a lot more employers are specifically looking for innovators and outliers instead of "company men."

RockerGeek!
RockerGeek!

Just get old... messing w/the natural process of life scares me

bjswm
bjswm

Growing old is not mandatory. There is an alternative...

YetAnotherBob
YetAnotherBob

'geeks' are people who don't conform to the majority norm, by whatever standard. the Book looks at those who don't 'fit in' as youth and then at later life. The standard is measured by success in whatever field they go into. The tops in most fields are people who are predominantly 'geeks'. In short, the popular kids and the jocks need to remember the later term for Geek. That term is "Boss".

jck
jck

Is it hard reaching around that far? :^0 I'm not an adult yet (mentally anyways lol) , so I can't comment B-)

Interactive Communication
Interactive Communication

When we get old we go back to being babies. I ask why should we grow up. There are many mature succsecul people young at heart.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But it's the antithesis to "growing".

mindilator
mindilator

so instead of titling this "Geeks make better adults" it should say "Geeks more likely to become more successful." i balk at the notion that someone who isn't as successful as another is inferior in some way.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... that some of my early code bears the scars of a tequila hangover. None of that in recent times, though.

jck
jck

After all, they let you contribute here. If I wrote articles, I'd eventually lose track and somehow tie programming into a trip to New Mexico where I went to a club and blew $300. lol So...geek away. You're all grown up. :D

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