"Big Bang Theory's" Biggest Lesson - Let Nerds Be Nerds

Oct 20, 2014
7 Min Read

Sometimes we can learn great lessons from fictional characters. What Sheldon, Leonard, Howard and Raj from the “Big Bang Theory” can teach managers about tapping into nerd talent. 

“I am not crazy. My mother had me tested.”—Sheldon Cooper 

Devoted fans of the television show, “The Big Bang Theory,” rejoiced when the sitcom about a bunch of nerdy guys entered its eighth season this year, with some 18 million people tuning in for the season’s opener.

But even though it’s America’s most watched show, critics have not been as enthusiastic. One reviewer recently commented that he not only doesn’t watch the show, but he doesn’t know anyone who does.  The show consistently loses out on an Emmy, even though Jim Parsons has won four Emmy awards for playing Sheldon Cooper.

So what is it about this show that grabs the attention of so many people despite its lack of critical acclaim? Could it be that we love the fact that the nerd culture has gone mainstream? That for once instead of being stuffed inside a locker by a high school bully, the nerd is successful, has friends and is fun to be around?

One thing that cannot be denied by the constant presence of “Big Bang” (it runs in syndication all hours of the day and night), is that is has exposed many people to the true gifts of the geeks and nerds in this world. The show has made it clear that nerds are capable of more than just writing code or solving a complicated math problem – they are also creative, innovative and collaborative.

If managers are smart, they’ll take the show’s message to heart: It’s time to let nerds be nerds.

In other words, stop trying to make them fit in. They’ll never be like other employees – and that’s a good thing. If managers learn to embrace a geek’s geekiness, organizations can become more competitive, and learn to work smarter and more efficiently.

By giving nerds the freedom to be themselves, we all may learn valuable lessons and benefit from these brilliant minds. Here’s how:

Innovation never stops. While some workers may check work emails after hours, nerds are going to do much more than that. They’re going to think about what they’re working on even during their off hours, because they’re happiest when their brains are challenged. Managers shouldn’t watch the clock when they’ve got nerds on their team – these employees are always going to be seeking challenges and striving for solutions. Consider this clip of Howard working on his robot arm even when hanging out with friends:

They’re always engaged.  Nerds don’t turn their brains off. They can’t. They’re always looking for problems, solutions, new ideas, etc. Get a group of them together, and they’ll be even more valuable as they challenge one another. Managers don’t have to worry about coming up with goofy contests or passing out bonuses to get these workers motivated. Nerds are enthusiastic about learning and challenging assumptions – even if it involves how Superman gets his suit cleaned:

Improvement is a way of life.  It’s often difficult for managers to ensure the quality of work remains high for every member of a team, but they never have to worry where nerds are concerned. The brains of geeks are wired to solve problems. They can spot inefficiencies that others miss and come up with solutions. That’s why managers shouldn’t confine nerds only to tech problems – these workers should be allowed to unleash their brain power on different issues whether it’s customer service, sales goals or strategic initiatives. Check out how the “Big Bang” nerds quickly strategize on how to turn Penny’s simple idea into a successful business:

They’re more tolerant. Nerds are used to not fitting into conventional settings. Whether it’s Howard living with his mother well into his 30s, Sheldon’s need to wear superhero t-shirts or Leonard’s lactose intolerance, nerds aren’t going to be judgmental of anyone who doesn’t fit a cookie-cutter mold. As diversity becomes more common with international workforces, nerds can help show others how to be more accepting. Consider how helpful and patient Amy is with Sheldon:

Of course, “Big Bang” isn’t real life, but it does highlight that behind those brilliant, nerdy minds in your workplace are real people who have a lot to contribute. Are you missing the boat with your own Sheldon, Leonard, Howard or Raj?

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