Recent Trends in Human Resource Management

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why a Great Individual Is Better Than a Good Team

Why a Great Individual Is Better Than a Good Team

Author: Jeff Stibel

Anytime a CEO, quarterback, engineer or author is paid ridiculous amounts of money, dozens of investors, armchair quarterbacks, and scholars jump in to debate the value of individual contributors versus teams. Bill Taylor wrote the most recent of many interesting pieces, where he argued provocatively that "great people are overrated," in response to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's comment that a great engineer is worth 100 average engineers.

I have heard plenty of people argue that no one individual is worth the price of many. But interestingly, I have never heard it from a leader.

As a CEO, I have run public companies, private companies, startups, turnarounds, and divestitures — in each and every case, I have never seen a situation where quantity is better than quality when it comes to people. Never. Great people are both hard to find and worth an infinite number of average people.

And as a brain scientist, I know that great individuals are not only more valuable than legions of mediocrity, they are often more valuable than groups that include great individuals. Here's why:
The truth is, our brains work very well individually but tend to break down in groups. This is why we have individual decision makers in business (and why paradoxically we have group decisions in government). Programmers are exponentially faster when coding as individuals; designers do their best work alone; artists rarely collaborate and when they do, it rarely goes well. There are exceptions to every rule, but in general this holds true.

There is clearly not widespread acknowledgment about the benefits of individual contributors — in many ways, it goes against our inclination towards equality. And thank goodness, because that gives those of us who understand the real value of great people a huge competitive advantage! But for anyone interested in making better decisions about their teams, it is worth spending some time understanding the science behind individual greatness.

In many ways, individual people follow an inverse rule relative to networks of people. Consider the two fundamental laws of networks: both Metcalfe's Law and Reed's Law assume that as a network of people grows, the value of the network increases substantially. (In Metcalfe's Law, the value of the network is proportional to the square of the number of people in the network, whereas Reed's Law demonstrates that the value for any individual within a network grows exponentially with every new member.) But with individuals, the opposite is true: The value of a contributor decreases disproportionately with each additional person contributing to a single project, idea, or innovation.

This is true across all areas but only so far as there are discrete pieces of work to be done. To be sure, there is clear value in having a marketing person work with a programmer on a project or a biologist working with a chemist on a problem. Proper team building is a powerful thing. But when an activity can be performed sufficiently by one person with adequate skills, doing the activity as a group should be avoided.

The concept of declining incremental value is essentially a "power function" or, more technically, a scale invariance — where the greatest impact comes from the smallest proportion of the population. There are numerous examples of power functions, including Stevens' law, Keplar's law, the long tail, Zipf's law, and the Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule). And power laws explain plenty of events in nature (i.e., earthquakes), finance (i.e., income distribution), language (word frequency), and even ecommerce (i.e., book sales on Amazon). Virtually all complex systems follow power laws within the system itself.

Here's how power functions relate to the brain. As described in my book Wired for Thought, the brain is a complex network of neurons. There are around 100 billion neurons connected to one another in the brain and they follow a network law — the value of a neuron is exponentially more valuable as the overall neural network grows. But when the brain becomes highly active, it reverts to a power law where a spike in activity is followed by a lull. Informally called neuronal avalanches, these spikes have been linked to knowledge transfer and storage, communication, and computational power — in short, intelligence.

The same is true when it comes to people. Our intelligence is incredibly complex and as a result, a great individual can far exceed the value of many mediocre minds. This is why it is absurd to ask questions like "how many mediocre people would it take to collectively beat Kasparov in a chess match?"

Mediocre minds can also destroy the value or contribution of a great mind. No matter how good Kasparov is at chess, he would not do well playing doubles with a mediocre chess player against Bobby Fisher alone. Or take Michelangelo's David as an example. A second artist cutting into David would cause massive destruction to the sculpture, even if that artist was Picasso. With each successive stroke of the chisel from additional artists, David's value, beauty, and overall impact would diminish. A perfect — albeit destructive — example of a power function.

Leaders need to make tough decisions all the time. One decision is easy: find the best people and empower them to do great things.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Reinvent Yourself at Workplace

Reinvent Yourself at Workplace

Are you fed up with the job you’re in and want an exciting new career? Are you seeking promotion and hoping for a pay rise or to get noticed at work? Then it’s the right time to reinvent your personal branding.

The concept of personal branding has been going down the wrong road and needs to be reinvented. For many people, reinvention is precisely the thing that needs to happen. People get stuck in jobs which they don’t like, in relationships that aren’t fulfilling and in virtually all areas of life, and often because people believe that they have made their bed and have to lie in it. We need to fulfill our potential and we do this by developing our unique, authentic, distinctive and compelling life-story: and living it!

Today people should assess their personal brand strategy with the same thoroughness that successful companies like Apple, Virgin and others do for their brands. One need to look at what he wants his purpose to be, whether as an employee, an entrepreneur, even as a life partner. The only way to build a powerful personal brand, is to do it profoundly and deeply: to actually reinvent yourself – but authentically!

Here are the 10 tips:

1. Your personal brand isn’t about your qualifications and how smart you are: it’s about making yourself of distinctive recognizable value and traits. Even if you have the lousiest job, if you do it with an absolute commitment to excellence then you will get noticed.

2. The greatest skill in a modern business or organization is to be able to look for solutions to the problems and to create more effective strategies. Please remember that doesn’t mean having to be cleverer than others: sometimes it just means applying a little more attentiveness.

3. The second greatest skill is to be able to communicate your thoughts & ideas with regard for others’ understanding and position. Nobody likes a show-off or stubbornness, least of all managers in organizations. So be clear and make your case with conviction, but never be arrogant or uncompromising.

4. In any small business, or in any team within a big organization, your personal ‘brand’ is best expressed through actions about how and what you contribute. It’s not good to claim to be valuable. That’s like a comedian claiming to be funny. You have to ‘be’ valuable.

5. When your contribution is being noticed, you will find others who try to stop you, create hindrances, trip you up, or trap you. Pay no heed to those, other than to be aware of them. Engaging in inter-staff warfare can only damage your personal brand and will never enhance your career.

6. Great brands are created on authenticity, not on lies. Never, ever invent a better back story for yourself. You will, ultimately, be found out. Instead tell your real story: but tell it better by engaging emotions and imagination.

7. Don’t go for promotion just because you think you should. Don’t follow the career path as though it was pre-determined. It isn’t. Think about your career strategy. What do you really, truly want to be doing in two or five years’ time? If a promotion helps take you there that’s great. But if it doesn’t, consider other approaches. A different company? Working for yourself (own venture or as a freelancer)?

8. Learn to create balance between hope and fear. Anything worth doing like a new job or a big presentation etc will induce fear and anxiety. But you need to step around that fear or your personal ‘brand’ will never progress. But don’t fall into the X-Factor trap of assuming that you will succeed just because you want something badly enough. Never try to wing it! Prepare, prepare, prepare.

9. If you don’t love your job but there appears no prospect of changing it in the near future, don’t despair. Change your attitude to it instead: treat everything you do as ‘training’ for what comes next.

10. If you’ve made an error of judgments, or any other kind of mistake, do not try to hide it. Own up to it and take the flak. Don’t fool yourself and take the responsibility of your actions. Learn something from it, explain what you have learned, show why having been through the experience you are now more valuable than ever, and be the guy who made the famous recovery!