Superbureaucrats vs. geniuses

“Superbureaucrat” is an idea I first heard on the Delingpod 3 interview of Dutton and Woodley, starting at around 10 minutes.

It is what it sounds like: A superbureaucrat isn’t so much a great scientist and he is a great manager of scientists. A good modern example is David Reich. He may not be personally brilliant, but he gets the Nobel for the DNA industrial complex he organizes. A good historical example is J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Superbureaucrats are often mistaken for geniuses (and just as often mistake themselves for geniuses) because this designation denotes brilliance and high status, both of which superbureaucrats possess in spades and crave more of. However, they are very different to the trained eye. Where superbureaucrats have extremely high IQs, often in the “scary smart” ranges above 160, geniuses often have surprisingly low IQs and are most often found in the 130-155 range. The sweet spot appears to be +2SD from the native population, possibly due to the tradeoff between the communication addiction of genius and the IQ communication gap. If true, we’d expect Victorian geniuses would average 145 IQ with scientific geniuses around 170. Modern geniuses would then average 120 IQ with scientific geniuses around 145, if such a designation even makes sense in a dark age.

This includes highly g-loaded fields like theoretical physics and electrical engineering. Stanley Terman, in his attempt to stratify genius, famously identified zero actual geniuses in his sample of IQ outliers and missed two geniuses (Shockley and Alvarez) who didn’t make the IQ cut. Feynman is another example that often vexes IQ purists. The world of computer programming gives us an excellent example in contrasts: Richard Stallman vs. Bill Gates. Bill Gates probably has an IQ of 160 or so, and Richard Stallman eats his toe cheese on stage.

Superbureaucrats are typically very high in conscientiousness and are academic superstars, the golden boys of any graduate research department. In contrast, geniuses are moderately low in conscientiousness, exhibit severely impaired executive function (due to addiction, in my theory), and fail at pretty much everything they do in life other than their one thing. (Believe it or not, my working memory and executive function used to be excellent.) And, according to the definition of genius, that one thing will not be well-compensated because no one knows what it is yet (ref. Rene Girard’s memetic theory of value and Ford’s quote about a better horse-drawn carriage).

The easiest way to discern a superbureaucrat from a genius is to ask them their opinions on intellectual property. Geniuses are notoriously antimaterialistic, and would have no qualms about illegally downloading a pdf if they think it has information they need to feed their obsession. Their concern, generally, is not whether they’ll be compensated for their ideas but whether the ideas will be understood, adopted, and used. Money, status, and women tend to be afterthoughts at best, as often as not leading to the genius’s demise.

Superbureaucrats, on the other hand, take the view of creation as an act of synthesis, of conscientiously compiling and mixing a great deal of information together in a big pot. Thus, they will often consider reading an encyclopedia set to be an “ingenius” type of activity rather than a massive waste of time. They consider this compiling and mixing to be “cognitive work”, the act of iteratively micro-innovating a macroinnovation, rather than a personal mission to which all other happiness must be sacrificed. An alchemist’s understanding of creativity is additive and encyclopedic, mistaking 1-to-N recombinations and subversions of stock ideas for “disruption”.

In contrast, a genius’s understanding of creativity is negative, marked by an autistic reductionism. They will be obsessed with removing every detail and feature that isn’t absolutely necessary to the operation of the deeper working principle which is their particular fixation. Where the superbureaucrat’s creations are characterized by smooth edges, usability, and brilliantly integrated features, the genius’s creations have sharp edges, ugly features (purely functional), and generally evince no sense that a little advertising goes a long way in getting your ideas adopted. In general, no one will see the value in a genius’s creation except domain experts, and most people will be actively repulsed by its sharp edges and apparent senselessness.

Though these two types are basically opposed, like Charlton’s duality of shaman vs. head girl, there may in very rare circumstances arise a person who excels in both domains. I believe this is where we get the phenomenon of an epicenter genius. This would combine the rarity of superbureaucrat levels of IQ with the even rarer confluence of opposed traits which produce genius to create perhaps the rarest bird of all.

Though some will disagree with the example, I’ll use the case of Einstein because it’s the easiest to explain. Many have accused him of plagiarism, so I’m merely taking Woodley’s word for it that he was very gracious about giving credit where it was due. Einstein’s early work could be reasonably ascribed to his work as a bureaucrat. Working in a patent office would have exposed him to a lot of developments in physics. Notably, he is given credit in the history books for special relativity but did not receive a Nobel prize for it. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to argue that general relativity was the product of someone else’s mind. Other potential candidates for epicenter genius are Aristotle, Newton, Goethe, and Clausius. If Confucius was a real historical figure, I’d suggest him as well.

About Aeoli Pera

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17 Responses to Superbureaucrats vs. geniuses

  1. kensuimo says:

    “An alchemist’s understanding of creativity is additive and encyclopedic, mistaking 1-to-N recombinations and subversions of stock ideas for “disruption”. ”

    If alchemists = superbureaucrats = spiders (even as only partially overlapping sets) could this team leader SBC thing be the melon version of starchild teambuilding/valueweaving?

  2. William Owlson says:


    I’m trying to ray humble here but I have a feeling a bit of this post was inspired by me at the very least and I take that as the biggest compliment…

    So thank you, Aeoli. You, sir, are quite the master of proper flattery.

    • William Owlson says:


      Even autocorrect is affirming the truths about those pesky geniuses in your boast roast coast poast.

    • Aeoli Pera says:

      >I’m trying to ray humble here but I have a feeling a bit of this post was inspired by me at the very least and I take that as the biggest compliment…

      The last bit came up in a conversation, but I don’t remember if it was you or Ken.

  3. WW says:

    Confucius say-

    Man with hand in pants feel cocky all day

    (2000 IQ)

  4. Dominic Cummings basically covering how to superbureaucrat in his “Unrecognised Simplicities of Effective Action” series (himself probably being a superbureaucrat).

    The article on Mueller (NASA Apollo project manager) ( shows how a superbureaucrat works.

    Others he oft mentions in the series like Thiel, Buffet/Munger also fit the superbureaucrat archetype well.

    Full series is under “Unrecognised Simplicities of Effective Action” header here:

  5. Pingback: Edison and Tesla as archetypal comparison and contrast between superbureaucrat and genius | Aeoli Pera

  6. Pingback: Example of the genius’s attitude toward intellectual property | Aeoli Pera

  7. Pingback: Two more anecdotes on the superbureaucrat’s ridiculous delusions of where genius comes from | Aeoli Pera

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