Five Times The Big Bang Theory Perfectly Nailed Nerd Culture—Lessons for Leading a Team of Quants

The Big Bang Theory is more than just a funny show. Watch closely and you’ll find loads of lessons for normal’s attempting to lead a team of nerds. Among them:

Lesson One: Make sure you get the details right.

Every script for every episode of the show is reviewed by a team of technical advisers, which includes a UCLA astrophysicist. The advisers refine the language, suggests props and fill the whiteboards that decorate Sheldon and Leonard’s apartments. If you want to build rapport by talking shop with your team, you better get the technical stuff right.

Lesson Two: Even geniuses can be clueless.

In an episode called “Bachelor Party Corrosion,” the guys are driving Richard Feynman’s van, when they get a flat tire and attempt to fix it by using a road sign as a lever. When that fails, they try thermal expansion, corrosion and an exothermic reaction—when they set the van on fire. The joke being that, for all their brilliance, they’re not smart at everything. Your brilliant team can accomplish amazing things, but don’t assume they never need instructions or guidance.

Lesson Three: No one is at their best when they’re forced to rely on their weaknesses.

In an episode called “The Pants Alternative,” Sheldon has to give a speech but has stage fright. To help him get over his butterflies, Raj leads him in Indian meditation, Penny takes him clothes shopping, and Leonard examines him like a psychologist. At the ceremony, however, Sheldon gets drunk and bungles the speech anyway. Your team will function best when members play to their strengths.

Lesson Four: Everyone has limitations (but it can be painful to accept them!)

Sheldon uses genetic research to realize he will probably not live long enough to download his consciousness into a robot body (“the Shelbot”) in an episode called “The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification.” He tries to extend his life by never leaving his bed and moving about in a robot-like machine. Smart people are sometimes the most stubborn.

Lesson Five: Change is hard, and not always rewarding.

In “The Werewolf Transformation,” Sheldon needs a haircut but learns that his regular barber is in a coma. He refuses to let anyone else cut his hair. Don’t be surprised if your team doesn’t always embrace your new ideas or applaud the outcomes. Old habits are hard to break.

Of course, the biggest lessons from the series are those that run throughout its episodes: Even geniuses are people, too. And we (and they) do better when we recognize that. When we give them room to make mistakes, and to laugh with them (not at them) along the way.   

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