A Different Kind of Con – My Time at Mensa-Con

So, let me get this part out of the way first…I’m kinda smart – like 98th percentile smart and am a member of Mensa. Mensa is a worldwide high IQ organization. I have been a member off and on since I was about 12, when my Mom thought it would be cool if I qualified and joined. I recently became more active in the organization and started attending local events. My best friend became a member in the fall.  When we found out that this year’s Mensa Annual Gathering (i.e. annual convention) was going to be in San Diego and it lined up with the days she already had off, we saw a joint vacation opportunity.

The Annual Gathering (AG) was dubbed Mensa-Con, a play on the much more well-known convention held in San Diego annually (San Diego Comic-Con). It had serious nerd cred – the keynote speaker was Wil Wheaton.  That was another big draw.  So we planned our second joint vacation this year.

An Annual Gathering is much like any other standard convention.  There were a variety of sessions covering all sorts of topics.  There were some planned social events, like a gala dinner and a brunch.  There was a lounge available every evening and a hospitality suite open 24/7 with drinks and snacks.  Mensa also had several planned tour groups for those wanting to take in the local sights.  No convention is without commercial aspects, so of course various vendors also had booths, but those were a small part of the overall event.

My best friend’s favorite event was Wil Wheaton’s keynote speech at the gala dinner.  It wasn’t anything she hadn’t heard before from him, but it was her first opportunity to see him in person.  Wil spoke to us about anxiety, which tends to affect a greater percentage of smart people than it does the general population.  Wil is an engaging speaker, so this was definitely a highlight of our trip.

That said, my favorite session was Walter O’Brien talking about his company, Scorpion Computer Services.  As a fan of the TV show “Scorpion”, I really enjoyed hearing how Scorpion Computer Services got started and how it operates.  There are a lot of unique aspects in how the company is run, largely because generally low EQ (emotional intelligence) accompanies high IQ.  Walter had to overcome several characteristics of his genius staff in order to be successful: they don’t usually work well together, they bore easily, their sense of fair play is very quantitative and so on.

First he hired high EQ people, such as certified project managers, to play a role he calls the “supernanny”, which is essentially the Paige character from the TV show.  These supernannies are the bridge between the geniuses and the clients or other “normal” people.  They don’t just act as that bridge – they also coach the geniuses on how to better interact.  They provide very specific feedback such as “tell this other joke, because the one you told is offensive”, “use this word instead of that one”, and “don’t talk for 20 minutes straight, people don’t like that”.  The 30% of geniuses that can’t or won’t take that coaching are sent back into the wild – they’re not Scorpion material.  Second, he ensures that his geniuses are working on more than one project at once (usually three), so they don’t get bored.  Third, he employs a fairness algorithm to ensure that they all feel they’re being treated equitably.  I won’t try to explain the fairness algorithm because I won’t do it justice.  The video below isn’t from the AG, but it’s essentially the same presentation, so you can hear it straight from Walter’s mouth (starts around 7:45).  He also spoke about his other business, ConciergeUp, where anyone can hire the geniuses at Scorpion to solve a problem.

One of the coolest things I learned is that the show “Scorpion” was essentially created as a recruiting tool.  It’s working – they’re getting 20 new genius résumés a week.  Between the show and this session, let’s just say that working at Scorpion is now my dream job.

All in all, it was a successful trip.  Next year is in Hollywood, FL, in July.  No thanks, I’ll stay home.  I will likely go again when the venue is right.  Here’s why: Toward the end of our trip, my Mom remarked that even though there was a wide variety of attendees, all the Mensans we encountered (including my friend and I) were just a little “askew”.  I laughed out loud, mostly because she’s right.  As different as we all were, for the most part we all clicked, much like when I attend comic cons.





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