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The Cult of the Tech Genius

  • August 06, 2020

But we should all pause and look deeper at the fallout created by the singular genius myth.

Tejal Rao, the California restaurant critic for The New York Times, wrote this week about the phenomenon of the genius chef. It sounded familiar to me.

She wrote that the reimagining of chefs as auteurs gave them license for creativity that improved food and dining, but it also justified systemic deficiencies and abusive work cultures and ignored the contributions of almost everyone else.

In technology, we can see the good done by singular individuals like Bezos, who created Amazon, and Jobs, who co-founded Apple. But we can’t tally the full cost of the genius myth.

How many Levandowskis are there rotting companies from the inside? What new ideas never got off the ground because a lone genius obscured everyone else’s contributions? Who got pushed out of the industry because they didn’t fit the mold?

Some iconic tech companies — Google, Apple, Microsoft, Uber and Oracle — are now run by hired hands, not the singular geniuses that they’re associated with. This may be natural turnover as companies mature. But I hope it’s also a sign that the industry is rethinking whether singular geniuses are the best path to success.

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The history of the technology industry is littered with evidence that having a great idea is no guarantee of success. Someone can take the same idea and improve it, or outright steal it.

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