Highly Intelligent and Gifted Employees – The Key to Innovation?


Do people in the highest region of the IQ spectrum function better than others?Or worse?

Or does it depend on certain factors? Little has been published on this subject. We present our own, wide-ranging experiences with gifted individuals. Giftedness is often accompanied by specific types of behavior or characteristics. The gifted think in a critical way, ‘out of the box’. They do not allow themselves to be put under social pressure, and they dare to engage in debate with authorities. They see problems as challenges and are eager to solve them. We argue that most gifted people are capable of playing an important role in innovation.

How can gifted people perform better and what can organizations do to create a favorable environment for them?

The style of leadership and the prevailing culture within an organization are important factors here. We propose to conduct carefully constructed plots. We believe that gifted people hold the key to innovation.


Stimulating the talents of gifted people can be beneficial for the knowledge economy. Especially where new, smart solutions are required for major problems, where courage is needed to conduct experiments. We have to stop seeing the gifted as irritating know-it-alls, but start taking advantage of what they can offer by encouraging them.


This statement refers on the one hand to the need for a knowledge economy and innovation, and on the other hand to the image of the gifted as irritating know-it-alls. The prevailing notions about giftedness are not very positive. We have heard stories about the IQ club Mensa (people with an IQ higher than 180). It is rare for such people to do well in society, because their brilliant brains also demonstrate a high degree of inappropriateness, sometimes expressed in a high level of social disability.



There is no generally accepted definition of giftedness. Giftedness can be formally defined using a valid IQ test, but the limit of 2% that is generally used is an arbitrary one. Although some very intelligent people with, for example, dyslexia or an extreme fear of failure do not score well on tests, they do have the same cognitive ability as gifted people who do score well on an IQ test.

Behaviors and pitfalls

Jacobsen (1999) identifies three principal ‘umbrella traits’ through which the gifted can be distinguished from the averagely endowed: observing, thinking / combining and responding /acting. These three areas are in line with a physiological basis of high intelligence.

Giftedness can be described in physiological terms as:

  1. Stimuli from the senses are transmitted to the brain quickly and are quickly transferred onward
  2. The thinking processes occur in parallel combined with imagery;
  3. Large amounts of data are efficiently associated and processed.

Depending on one’s attitude to life, the social strategy adopted, and the skills developed, the ‘collapsed’ form (so-called ‘diving behavior’), the ‘exaggerated’ form, or the ‘balanced’ form of behavior can manifest themselves in the three areas specified above. A gifted individual that is in balance often displays the following characteristics:

  • Picks concepts up quickly, thinks and talks quickly.
  • Questioning, intrinsically motivated, keen to solve problems.
  • Creative, many new ideas, opinionated, averse to authorities.
  • Extremely sensitive to all kinds of stimuli.
  • Perfectionism.

A gifted individual that is in balance can therefore be an original, creative, energetic, and constructive employee. However, if that gifted individual dive into his or her pitfall, this leads to dysfunctional behavior. The telltale signs of this include under-performing, becoming depressed, being over-sensitive, communication problems both at work and in relationships. In principle, all gifted individuals are capable of making high-quality contributions to innovation in organizations.

What the working environment notices =  What the employee states:

  1. Many conflicts with management and authorities = I have a great sense of justice
  2. Cannot listen to what others say = My ideas are not understood, but I’m usually right
  3. Difficult to place motives. What’s behind it all? = Apparently I was a threat to my colleagues
  4. Bad timekeeping, for example in meetings = I’m being held back all the time, it all goes so slowly
  5. Strongly fluctuating performance, without any clear cause= I have no idea what I want, I find almost everything interesting
  6. Not clear where the employee’s optimal work position is; concerns him/herself with all kinds of things = I get too little appreciation, people don’t see what  I’m capable of
  7. 7 Lack of perseverance and discipline = I’m easily distracted 
  8. Is difficult to approach, not social = I dislike social talk
  9. Makes all kinds of demands concerning work environment factors = I can’t understand how other people can work in that noise

Gifted individuals who are not functioning properly are often unaware of their own intelligence, which results in them interpreting the other persons’ lack of knowledge as unwillingness. They then become irritated and often start to rush ahead. Additionally, there is a tendency to focus on the content, rather than on issues such as enthusiasm and motivation. They are also often unaware of the effects of their giftedness on their environment. Sometimes, they try to adapt too much, which can result in them becoming dissatisfied generally, and the job profiling is not presented clearly enough to allow them suitable to take on tasks.

The above table makes it clear that if giftedness is not recognized as such (not even by the gifted individual in question), the pitfalls in the functioning of the gifted individual become more dominant, confirming the stereotypical image outlined by professor Vinke. However, it is precisely this creativity and the ability to think ‘out of the box’ that is required for innovation.


Strong points

  • Very high IQ
  • Dominant
  • Introverted
  • Original ideas
  • Original
  • Powerful imagination
  • Independent opinions
  • Provides new solutions to old problems
  • Major source of innovations and ideas in a team
  • Constant source of inspiration

Weak points

  •  Lacking a sense of reality
  • Tendency to be impractical
  • Occasional ‘head in the clouds’ behavior
  • Does not accept criticism easily
  • Feels easily under-valued
  • Vulnerable
  • Withdraws
  • Not very diplomatic or tactful
  • Communicates ineffectively with others


Contributions made to innovations by the gifted individual

  • The gifted individual can easily identify the relationships between goals, missions and assignments
  • The gifted individual has the ability to focus intensely on the content.
  • Arguments based on content are key. Habits, traditions and social pressure are quickly spotted. If these seem to be in conflict with the content, they are discarded as being irrelevant.
  • Thinking ‘out of the box’ is second nature to them.
  • Switching between one’s own professional area and other disciplines is no problem at all.
  • The opinion of a formal authority does not weigh any heavier than the opinion of another party.
  • Information from others is checked against one’s own experience or against other information.
  • The gifted individual has a high degree of commitment and passion.
  • Existing protocols, structures and approaches are only followed if they appear to be effective and are well-founded.
  • A customized solution is sought for each individual situation, often when this has not been requested. ‘Standard problems’ are also approached in this way.



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