"Sometimes you’ve got to be a jerk."
Conventional wisdom about ‘jerks’ being more creative at work just didn’t square with what psychologist Sam Hunter saw in the real world. At creative hubs like Google and Pixar “they’re super weird and super nice,” says the Penn State associate professor who runs the university’s Leadership and Innovation Lab.
So Hunter and his colleague Lily Cushenbery from Stony Brook tried an experiment. They rounded up 492 people with a broad range of personalities (including jerks), and watched them work together on developing business ideas like marketing campaigns and strategies. The researchers also inserted their own secret agents into the study—some posed as jerks, while others acted more like supportive colleagues.
The study found that the jerky subjects didn’t have more creative juices than anyone else (except for the phony jerks, who were very inventive, indeed). What mattered was that they were confident, independent, and often introverted—able to press on with an idea, even in the face of doubt and criticism.