Assholery is not a prerequisite in order to excel in innovation, nor are great innovators intrinsically assholes (see this terrific and extremely amusing write up comparing the remarkable and extremely nice Nikola Tesla and "douchebag" Thomas Edison: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/tesla ) though it does seem that the two can go together. In fact, assholes can exist anywhere with companies. So, should companies hire and retain them?
In 2007, Stanford Professor Robert I. Sutton published a provocative book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, in which he discussed the massive Total Cost of Assholes within corporations. He covered jerks of all stripes, not just brilliant and intellectually arrogant individuals.
Herein lies a persistent corporate dilemma: companies like to hire people who represent a good "fit" and who can successfully work with and collaborate with their colleagues. However, while companies need their employees to work well together, they may also want to retain exceptional talents that may also come with some negative personality "baggage".
The folks that I interact with at corporations are typically nice and decent people. That said, I know there are also folks that the company keeps from dealing with outside parties. I know this because sometimes they "escape" from their laboratories and can cause trouble with those who aren't attuned to their idiosyncrasies. This necessitates apologies from colleagues who say amusing but authentic things like, "We don't usually let him deal with people".
After all of this is said, what is my point? I'm guessing that each of us reading this (and me writing it) wouldn't consider ourselves to be jerks. Yet, I am guessing that some of us may be. At a minimum, we all have our moments when we are not at our best.
A little self-awareness can be very valuable as a means of helping us to understand our behaviors and how others interact with us. Knowing that poor interpersonal behavior can be costly, both personally and professionally, should provide the impetus for each of us to strive to be better versions of ourselves. This may actually help set a good example for others.
I will close by inviting you to read Guy Kawasaki's wonderful summary of Sutton's book, which includes some great tips for recognizing assholes, how to avoid acting like one and how to deal effectively with them. Enjoy.
"Connecting You With The Right Solutions" BFS Innovations, Inc.