Orchids and Dandelions

There’s a very interesting article in The Atlantic this month about research into the genetic component of success and failure. It’s very early days, but the suggestion is that genes that had previously been seen as causing weakness to disorders like depression when a person has a difficult childhood, can also be linked with much higher performance when the child grows up in favourable circumstances:

The Swedes […] have long spoken of “dandelion” children. These dandelion children—equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes—do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.

It would be foolish to base decisions on this before more research has been developed further. But I wondered whether this model might offer some lessons to the software industry. Many companies set out to hire the most capable, intelligent people. Perhaps those that do so would do well to bear in mind that they will have a greater proportion of “orchids”: people who are capable of great things, but need the right environment to bring it about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *