Too interesting

I have a talented friend who is having an experience that I think is typical.

He’s looking for a new job. His career to date has been a reasonably good one: positions on good magazines, an editorship, freelance work for both good corporate clients and leading business magazines and newspapers. But he’s getting the bum’s rush from the headhunters he sees.

His problem? He’s too interesting. Of course, that’s not what any of them say. But I think it’s the reality. My friend’s problem is that, in addition to his work accomplishments, he’s a published translator of decadent Latin poetry and prose (his book was almost too embarrassing for me to read), he’s published a biography of a Roman emperor and he’s now diversified his interests into obscure nineteenth century Viennese composers. I think there’s a reasonable chance that he’d like to make his next intellectual forays into Sumerian and Akkadian.

Interviewers push him on his range of interests. If they knew the word, they’d accuse him of dilettantism.

I think the world, and not least the business world, needs more dilettantes. Not in the pejorative sense of someone who has superficial knowledge. But in the sense of someone who ranges widely, who is a connoisseur of many things. In an increasingly complex, puzzling world, we need people who have a talent for making sense of the diverse and the unlikely.

With one or two solitary exceptions, my experience has been that executive search firms are uncomfortable with such people. They don’t fit into neat boxes. They might require extra explanation to the client. So headhunters have become expert at producing the kind of people who companies recognize as just like everyone else. A big mistake. Great minds do not think alike.

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