Great People Are Overrated

Last month, in an article in the New York Times on the ever-escalating “war for talent” in Silicon Valley, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a passing comment that has become the entrepreneurial equivalent of a verbal tick — something that’s said all the time, almost without thinking.

“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” he argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. “They are 100 times better.”

Source: Great People Are Overrated


That’s nice and all, but in the real world the people writing the paychecks get to decide that. I’d argue this is as much psychological as anything else.

  • If you are being massively overpaid, then you probably think you deserve it.
  • If you deserve to be compensated like a demigod, then obviously you are special (since most people barely get compensated as human labor).
  • If you are so special as to be worth wads of cash, then there may exist other such special people who are also worth wads of cash (though less than yourself, of course).

On the flip side, if you are mediocre (or believe that society at large sees you as mediocre, as measured by your paycheck), then you may well see the great mass of humanity more similar to you and are more likely to see those with standout paychecks as undeserving of them.

In short, the star earner is more likely to see their personal effort as the driver of their paycheck whereas a commoner is more likely to see the lucky breaks as the driver, IMHO.