You don't have to be a jerk to get the right thing done but sometimes out-of-the-box thinking requires some angry evangelism. Yet even legendary jerks like
Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison
knew you can't use the belligerence strategy too often or the next brilliant idea you have could fall on deaf ears.
Samuel Hunter of Pennsylvania State University and Lily Cushenbery of Stony Brook University, writing in the Journal of Business and Psychology, say jerks that are disagreeable by nature, overly confident, dominant, argumentative, egotistic, headstrong or sometimes even hostile are lauded, like Jobs, if they are innovative and succeed and happen to be CEO of the company, but for most people it can backfire.
Hunter and Cushenbery wanted to test whether people with disagreeable personalities are more innovative, and if it helps them down the line to get their fresh ideas accepted and used. In their first study, 201 students from a large Northeastern university in the US completed personality tests before strategizing together in groups of three to develop a marketing campaign. In the second study, involving 291 people, Hunter and Cushenbery used an online chat environment to investigate how being in the presence of other creative and supportive colleagues helped people to share their ideas more freely.
The first study showed that people do not need to be jerks to have fresh ideas. However, such an attitude helps when you want to steamroll your ideas so that others will accept them. Findings from the second study highlighted how important the social context is in which new ideas are being shared. Hunter and Cushenbery established that being disagreeable helps when you want to push your new ideas ahead or when you find yourself in a situation that is not necessarily open to original thoughts or changes. This obnoxious attitude can, however, backfire if you are working within a supportive, creative group in which ideas are shared freely.
"It seems that being a 'jerk' may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas, but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others," says Hunter in summarizing the results.
"Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical," elaborates Cushenbery. "In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared."