The Idiot Ratio

Every organization has a ratio of idiots to non-idiots. This is the idiot ratio.

This is a harsh, shallow, unfair way of looking at people, but everyone, no matter how offended they are by the premise, can come up with a number in their mind quickly. It’s an easy way to measure the talent pool in any organization. If for every 10 people you work with 3 are incompetent, your ratio is 3:10. Maybe you work somewhere that hires well, and it’s 9:10.

How to use it:  when two people meet to compare their workplaces, both parties think through the people they have to work with regularly and assess how many are incompetent or ineffective. The resulting ratio, 1 in 5, or 1 in 20, is the idiot ratio. Or more optimistically, the talent ratio. With the ratio two people can quickly compare their assessments of their teams.

As mean as this ratio sounds, it might be more honest than when executives say “we have the smartest people in the world”, which is likely self-serving politeness. There is no executive that would ever openly say “our talent sucks” or “we are mostly idiots” even if they believed that.


  • Of course low performers aren’t necessarily idiots. Idiocy is about the person, incompetence is about the job. Calling it the Incompetence Ratio would be more accurate, as the person might be a bad fit for the job but possibly good fits for other jobs, but that’s a less fun phrase to say.
  • Intelligence doesn’t guarantee chemistry. A collaborative team of good people can run circles around a dysfunctional team of geniuses. (See Teams and Stars)
  • You might be the idiot. If you are, your ratio won’t be accurate unless you are humble enough to count yourself.

[This idea is from Rachelle Uberecken, a Senior Software Developer at a place with a pleasantly low idiot ratio]

If you think everyone you work with is an idiot, then the idiot might be you.

10 Responses to “The Idiot Ratio”

  1. Flo Ledermann

    This would only work on a single level of the hierarchy. I once worked in a company where all 20 employees were competent and smart, but the boss was a complete moron – I would choose a job with an idiot ratio of 5:10 and a competent boss over that one any time. Maybe an “authority correction factor” has to be introduced in the formula?

    1. Theo

      I know what you mean but i think that a competent boss would never allow a 5:10 ratio.

  2. Mark Gould

    Are you familiar with Cipolla’s Basic Laws of Human Stupidity ( The first two chime with your insights:

    Always and inevitably everyone underestimates the number of stupid individuals in circulation.


    The probability that a certain person will be stupid is independent of any other characteristic of that person.

  3. Ian Tyrrell

    None of the other people I work with is an idiot, which leads me to believe that our 21 person company must have a ratio of 1:20… Leaving me as the 1 :(

      1. Ian Tyrrell

        It’s definitely an awesome company to work for. Fully distributed too (we just had our annual meet up, now I’m flying back to Australia, while others are headed to Switzerland, Italy, and various US states). if you feel like checking it out.

  4. thomas

    my idiot ratio is calculated in following way:
    0 points for people, which are bad at what they do or are not willing to do those good
    1 point, if they do their things mediocre
    3 points, if they’re good at what they do
    in management positions i double the points. the ratio then is calculated by summarising all points and dividing them by the number of people.


Leave a Reply

* Required