Lessons Learned from the Big Bang Theory


One of my favorite television shows is the Big Bang Theory.  It makes me laugh.  For those of you not familiar with it, one of the main protagonists is Sheldon Cooper.  The writers have beautifully crafted a character who is an eccentric young genius with a photographic memory.  He sees the world through physics and String Theory. He also suffers a myriad of social anxieties including obsessive compulsive disorder and well, a complete lack of basic social skills.  As if that weren’t enough, the character embraces every geek stereotype from Doctor Who to Star Trek and is sprinkled with Dungeons and Dragons for good measure.

Sheldon doesn’t understand why others cannot understand what seems simple to him.  His friends and colleagues cannot understand why he can’t be a little more human.  Underneath the sarcastic humor is a good message – as we travel down the road of life we need each other to expand our knowledge base and become better humans. Sometimes our teachers stand in front of a class and sometimes they stand by our side.

Though I am far from a genius I have come to realize that I’m a bit like Sheldon. Really, everyone is a little bit like Sheldon, minus, of course, the plethora of neuroses. My mind works in numbers via budgets, cost analysis and efficiencies; a law enforcement officer’s mind works in situational analysis and safety; a mechanic thinks in gears, ratios and structural integrity.  You get the point.  We are all different and sometimes we don’t understand why what is second nature to us, doesn’t make sense to someone else.

It’s easy to dwell on our frustrations when we feel misunderstood. But, if we instead choose to embrace differences, well, that is when remarkable things happen. Something else happens along the way – we learn, we teach, and we become better humans.  As much as Sheldon makes me laugh, the thought of a team full of Sheldon’s makes me cry.  Here are a few ideas of how to build a diverse group that result in a cohesive and well performing team:

  1. The right team starts with the right people. Make sure you have all bases covered by including a group that includes all positions. A team comprised entirely of short-stops doesn’t stand much of a chance against a team who has people that are efficient each position. If the mission is creating a social media plan, don’t compile a team of marketing folks.  Include all the positions — finance, IT, and management, etc.  A group of Sheldons will accomplish nothing.
  1. Create a common goal and get buy-in from all. The goals of creating a social media campaign designed to educate and engage 80% of constituents with contact once per week are better than saying you would like a larger social media presence.  The latter could mean 1,000 hits to one person, 10,000 to another and higher bandwidth and increased expenses to someone else.  Come to an agreement and be specific.
  1. Avoid ‘Group Think’ like the plague. Harmony is nice but to create something amazing you need different viewpoints and opinions. As group leader you need to make sure that an atmosphere of fear in expressing ideas and opinions is avoided.
  1. Speaking of conflict, encourage healthy discussions but avoid in-fighting and finger pointing. This will kill your team in a second.
  1. Build trust and respect. A team that learns from each as well as respects others is the foundation for a team that trusts each other. Look out for amazing things to happen here.
  1. Be a good leader. Nothing can squash a team’s passion and motivation worse than an ineffective leader. This is a whole other topic, but in short, be cool.  Don’t belittle any individual or your team as a whole.

Wendy Dutenhoeffer is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Sonia Chakrabarty

I’ve never watched The Big Bang Theory, but maybe I should start! It’s really amazing how much we can learn from unexpected sources. Thank you for this post!

Wendy Dutenhoeffer

Hi Sonia — I’m not sure how much longer the show will be on but you can always catch repeats on TBS 🙂 There are so many unexpected places to learn lessons. One of my all time favorites is Apollo 13 — Lots of organizational behavior and leadership going on there 🙂

Katarina Hong

This show is always a good laugh! I’ve never thought how everyone is actually like Sheldon and how you could build a diverse, well preforming team by embracing differences. Thanks for sharing!

Deborah E

I’m not sure why you don’t mention it but Sheldon is autistic (specifically he has Aspergers). The show is a reasonably good model of Autism Acceptance. So many people want to change or “cure” autistics but autistics have many wonderful characteristics and can make very productive members of a team. We just have to learn how to interact with them (just as they have to develop some degree of ability to deal with neurotypicals). I say that as a mom of two “Sheldons” and a paraprofessional at a charter school where autism (or more specifically Aspergers) is our “thing”.


Thanks for your article. I have had 2 Sheldons in my family. I totally understand that piece. What I would like to know is how do people recover after they have been belittled or shamed harshly by their boss? I have a boss who hires people much of the same ilk and all from the same sort of background. I was there before the boss and am not of that same background as most of the newer people. Thanks!


I’ve never watched the Big Bang Theory but, it sounds a lot experiences I’ve had over the years. Teams which have lot’s of buy in to the goals agreed upon by everyone involved, generally out perform dysfunctional groups. Especially when there is a solid leader.
Thanks for sharing.