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Career Lessons Learned From the Big Bang Theory

Posted June 19, 2013

ALTThe Big Bang Theory is currently topping the charts nationwide with ratings of 19 million viewers per episode. It’s being called ‘the new Friends’ by critics and fans alike.

The show follows the lives of four social-reject geeks named Leonard, Sheldon, Howard and Raj, whose friendship with attractive, bubbly girl-next-door Penny spawns wildly amusing situations when their book-smarts clashes with Penny’s street smarts.

The four boys hold advanced degrees and work at scientists at Caltech, contrasting to great comic effect with Penny’s waitressing job at the Cheesecake Factory. The lessons the show teaches are diverse, and from a career point of view, there are some valuable nuggets of advice to be learned from the show.

Here are some of the best career lessons from The Big Bang Theory:

The Carrot Works Better Than the Stick for Job Motivation

Sheldon Cooper is an overeducated, emotionally stunted and socially inept character who frequently conducts secret experiments on his friends in the name of science, such as feeding his room-mate Leonard ground up bugs in his foods to test his sense of taste.

In one episode, Sheldon becomes annoyed by Leonard’s new girlfriend Penny, as her frequent visits throw Sheldon’s strictly scheduled life into disorder. He retaliates by attempting to train her to do his bidding using a positive reinforcement technique popularized by famed researcher B.F. Skinner, by giving her a chocolate every time she does something he wants. His dastardly plan succeeds, until Leonard gets wise to his ruse and puts an end to the experiment.

The lesson: Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to encourage your co-workers and employees to excel in their jobs. When you reward your employees for a job well done, you encourage them to repeat the behavior. Just don’t let them wise up to your methods!

Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate Work

When nice-guy Leonard decides to join the mobile tech revolution and creates a smartphone app, Sheldon becomes jealous and tries to muscle in on the project. Swiftly taking over the whole operation, Sheldon hogs the limelight and appoints himself as the chief executive, financial and operating officers. He is swiftly fired for being a control freak.

The lesson: Ego can be the biggest danger to any high-profile project. When one person tries to do every part of every job, and refuses outside offers of help, they risk burnout and poor performance, as well as alienating the rest of their team. A manager who doesn’t trust his or her team to make even basic decisions is more of a hindrance than a help to their company.

God is in the Details

As the main characters in the TV show are scientists, the Big Bang Theory writers hired an actual physicist to help them out with the weekly nerd-speak dialogue and the mathematical jokes. Even the scientific formulas the characters scribble on whiteboards are accurate, although nobody knows whether the equations are the long-awaited answer to cold fusion or just the molecular structure of table sugar.

The production crew also pays great attention to that much-overlooked virtue: continuity. For example, every Thursday’s episode ends with the gang eating pizza, as in the show, Thursday nights are pizza nights, according the Sheldon. It’s these tiny, seemingly insignificant details that make the show feel real, providing constancy for its loyal viewers.

The lesson: In business, it’s an ever-present temptation to take shortcuts – to save money, to save time, so we can get out of work early. Yet it is the small details that can make the difference between the success or the failure of a project. There’s an old proverb that goes “For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost. For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost. For the want of the horse – the battle was lost.” The smallest missed detail can bring down an entire company, if overlooked.

Common Sense Usually Beats Book Smarts

Most of the comedy in the Big Bang Theory comes from the supposedly educated lead characters – who hold advanced degrees in science and engineering – time and again having to go to their neighbor Penny for help with their tails between their legs. The boys can build a working rocket that only blows up one elevator, or bounce a laser beam off the moon, but simple everyday world issues like dating, talking to girls and standing up to bullies are a mystery to these four geniuses.

The lesson: When faced with the choice of hiring a candidate with an impressive education yet little on-the-job training, or hiring a lesser educated applicant with a colorful wealth of real-world job experience, hiring the worker who can tackle any issue without having to ask for help is the smart decision. An ounce of experience beats a ton of book smarts any day – and The Big Bang Theory proves that every week it continues to air.

photo of Natasha Rhodes

Natasha Rhodes

Natasha Rhodes is a writer for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Visit CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews and salary information. 

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