How to know if you're 'surrounded by idiots' – Biz & Books review

Every day of the week, you want to pound your head against your desk.

What is wrong with the people you work with? One thinks he's always right, one is an unrealistic optimist, another actually lines up his paper clips.

Argh, you can barely stand it, but read the new book “Surrounded by Idiots” by Thomas Erikson and you'll see that the situation is not so black and white.

Five days a week, you grit your teeth and deep-breathe. That's thousands of hours per year, spent with co-workers who really bug you.

So how can you get along with them?

Says Erikson, the first thing to know is that the listener controls communication. You can talk until you're crimson-faced, but it's all up to he who hears it. Furthermore, though you may think your co-workers are downright weird, “every kind of behavior is normal.” Knowing that makes it easier to move forward and to understand.

Next, using a method of communication called DISA (or DISC), which stands for Dominance, Inducement, Submission, and Analytic ability (or Compliance), you can categorize people in your mind by colors correlating to “primary personality types.” This helps you see why people act as they do.

Reds, for instance, are the quick-reacting folks who are dominant and decisive and not always good in making relationships. Greens, who make up the biggest subset of people, are calm, supportive, and they generally hate change.

Yellows are the sunniest of people and try to always look on the bright side. Organized blues are the Sheldons of the world, and require complete knowledge on issues before committing.

To build your best staff and to foster cooperation, says Erikson, awareness of these personality types is key. Having an office full of Reds, for instance, may be a recipe for disaster.

Putting a Blue in the wrong position won't make anyone happy. Locking a Yellow in a corner office is a terrible idea, and making big changes before preparing Greens is likewise not good. Recognizing these things – and knowing where you are on the DISA — will help your office achieve balance, diversity, and success.

The first thing astute readers may notice is that this book seems similar to the MMDI and Myer Briggs tests. It's not identical, but alike enough to see parallels.

The second thing you may notice is that, while author Thomas Erikson admits that no one is purely one “color” or other, there are a lot of overgeneralizations inside “Surrounded by Idiots.”

So why seek this book out, then?

Like other tests, Erikson uses science to back up his methods of personality assessment, but his presentation here applies that directly to businesses, particularly in staffing and team-building issues. This book is more casual in its approach, more anecdote-based, and more on the lighthearted side, too, which makes it fun to read.

That should also make it more fun to share with your team, especially if you're all suffering from oversniping and lack of motivation. Get “Surrounded by Idiots” and put your business in the pink.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is the reviewer behind “The Bookworm Sez,” a self-syndicated book review column published in more than 260 newspapers and magazines in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean. She can be reached for feedback, ideas and links to reviews of books on a broad range topics at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment