Graham Birkenhead, May 10 2022

When does a Square Peg fit perfectly into  a Round Hole?

We often use the term 'a square peg in a round hole' to describe someone that in some way just doesn't fit either in the role, the office, or just the culture.  That interpretation comes from an early 19th-century philosophical treatise* that considered people and their situations as a wide range of shapes - including triangles and oblongs, and noted there was seldom a perfect fit. 

However, a Dutch building method used for joining major pieces of structural timber involved creating round holes into which square pegs were driven.  The corners of the pegs flattened and rounded against the holes, and the holes became a curvy square shape.  Ultimately, there was a very good fit and a very firm joint. 

We are naturally predisposed to avoid putting square peg people into round hole roles, and a lot of the ways we recruit and train are there to sustain and perpetuate this approach.   

Well, what happens if you do the opposite? Exciting and sometimes unique things - that's what.  Sure, there is a bit of a steep learning curve for both parties of the relationship, but significant innovation can ensue as the ideas and approaches from one field or discipline are applied and incorporated into a different one.  This is the stuff of creativity - combining ideas that don't apparently have any connection.  This is another example of embracing diversity - in this case, the diversity of knowledge.  It may seem to be a bit of a risk, but there may be a greater risk in sticking to the safe and known.  In a rapidly changing world, this could give a company the competitive edge. 

So, next time you are hiring, maybe consider looking for someone who may not be an exact fit for the role you need filling, but they can bring an interesting 'what else' to help your company to success. 

Bye for now 


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*Sydney Smith, "On the Conduct of the Understanding", part of a series of lectures on moral philosophy for the Royal Institution, 1804–06 

Written by

Graham Birkenhead


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