Your bosses tolerate the workplace jerk because his jerkiness is essential to his creativity.
Being a jerk doesn’t make that guy any more creative any anyone else—it just allows him to push his ideas more.
A study published in the Journal of Business and Pyschology had 201 students take a personality quiz (to establish where they stood on a scale of agreeable/disagreeable, which is how psychologists measure being a jerk) and then develop a marketing plan for an online university. Then, the students were placed in to groups of three and do the same thing. This allowed researchers to see how the students would pitch their individual plan to a group. In this first test, people with lower levels of agreeableness tended to see their ideas utilized more often. Of course, this didn’t mean that the jerks had good ideas—just that they were good at getting their ideas to be used by the rest of the group.
In a second experiment, researchers had 291 participants take the same personality test, told them to come up with a solution to a problem, and then pitch it to two other people in an internet chat room. However, the two other people were just actors following a script. Sometimes, they’d be supportive. Other times, they’d be more confrontational.
This second test is where the real interesting result is: participants who were agreeable but pitching to a supportive group could get an idea through, or even come up with a better idea. But when confronted with a more disagreeable crowd, their idea found no traction. The jerks won the contest every time.
So, jerks aren’t necessarily good at coming up with ideas, but they are good at championing their own ideas. As it turns out, that’s a handy trait when the group they need to convince is a tough crowd—say, a difficult client. Otherwise, steer clear of office jerks—for the sake of creativity.