The Way We Work
November 8, 2013 by Guest Blogger

By Holly Regan, Managing Editor at Software Advice

A highly functioning workplace team is made up of many different, but complementary, personality types. At Software Advice, we decided to find out what makes some of our workplace’s top performers tick—so we enlisted a workforce psychologist to help us understand what makes these employees great, what they struggle with and how they perform in certain roles. By better understanding your current and future team members, you too can assemble a “dream team” of top performers, placed in the roles they perform best. Here, we’ll discuss one important member of your lineup: the Savant.

Who are they?

While they have the ability to become talented in many areas, Savants have developed a particularly exceptional skill in one particular field. In other words: they know what they’re good at, and they do it really well.

Famous savants: Sergey Brin of Google

Sergey Brin, Google

They are smart, creative and independent. They are also introverted, and sometimes struggle with social skills. It’s often difficult for Savants to find the right friends and the right job—but once they do, they are extremely committed.

Savants are also very attached to habit: they follow a specific working routine, and are thrown off by outside disturbances like noise and temperature extremes. However, once they settle in, they can work with extreme focus for hours at a time. They excel in creative fields as well as writing, research and engineering. Savants in these fields may also be great candidates for working from home, as they will be less impacted by interruptions than if they were in the office.

Famous Savants: Sergey Brin, Woody Allen, Bobby Fischer and Henry David Thoreau.

What are their strengths?

Key strengths of the Savant include:

  • Focus and determination. When free to follow their routine, Savants can focus in on a project that utilizes their talent for hours on end. They tend to turn projects around quickly, and have an eagle eye for detail.
  • A thirst for knowledge. Savants have a curious nature and are extremely perceptive. They love to learn new things, and do so easily. They tend to enjoy literature and, as long as they enjoy the subject material, are good students.
  • Perfectionism. Savants expect only the best out of themselves and others. They are highly motivated by the goal of producing a perfect product, accept great responsibility for the quality of their work and want to be successful in their field of specialty.

What are their weaknesses?

savants as perfectionistsAmong the challenges Savants face are:

  • Questioning authority. Savants tend not to accept things at face value; while this has an upside, it can also result in conflicts with management when they question workplace rules and norms. The deep convictions Savants hold can lead to difficulties in the corporate environment or with a rule-following supervisor.
  • Social discomfort. Savants tend to live up in their heads, which often results in social anxiety. They may have trouble expressing themselves effectively to others, and thus are often misunderstood. They may “call people out” at inappropriate times, and in extreme cases, become alienated and isolate themselves from others.
  • Perfectionism. The drive to be the best that motivates Savants can also be their worst enemy. Sometimes, they’re so focused on perfection that, if they can’t achieve it, nothing is produced at all. They tend to value themselves based on what they produce, which can lead to depression and self-loathing when they fall short of their own high standards.

Which roles should you hire them for?

Here’s a glance at which roles Savants perform well in, and which they should avoid:

What They’re Good At        What They’re Not So Good At
Research & Analysis Sales
Engineering Management
Creative Customer Service
Writing & Editing Executive Support
Marketing Support CEO / COO


How should you manage them?

There are certain things managers should keep in mind when they have Savants on their team, such as:

  • Keep them focused on their specialty. Remember that just because Savants are highly skilled at one thing doesn’t mean they can do everything. A talented engineer, for instance, is not necessarily a skilled writer as well. Keep their daily work focused within their area of specialty.
  • Have a hands-off management style. Savants don’t do well when they’re micromanaged. While other members of your team may require a rigid structure to stay on task, Savants do their best work when they’re free to operate in their own environment and follow their own routine. Their intrinsic motivation means you won’t have to worry about them slacking off.
  • Give them regular approval. Savants tend to be very critical of themselves. While they are generally uncomfortable being in the spotlight, they will become discouraged without approval, so make sure you recognize them for a job well done. They will be very appreciative.

If you give Savants the freedom to follow their own routine and pursue their passion, they can be some of the highest-performing members of your workplace “dream team.” And of course, make sure you also hire other personality types to round out your team, including Givers, Champs, and Matrix Thinkers. To read the full profile of the Savant, including tips for identifying them during an interview, click here.

Do you fit the description of a Savant? If so, we’d love to hear what you look for in a work environment. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Holly Regan, Software AdviceHolly Regan is a Managing Editor at Software Advice, where she blogs on a variety of topics related to small business and software products. Born and raised in Seattle, she has a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Political Science from the University of Washington. She moved to Austin, Texas in 2009, and is here to stay. When she isn’t churning out content for Software Advice, she can be found cycling, cooking, putzing around town with her boyfriend Marc or relaxing poolside with a book. Her writing has appeared online in The New York Times and The Huffington Post.