The War for Talent is Getting Bloodier and Dumber

August 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the New York Times, a few weeks ago, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a comment that caused me to throw up just a little bit in my mouth.

“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good, they are 100 times better.”

Just like Jack Welch who still gives high praise for the false notion that his omnipotent process of rating, ranking, and firing the bottom 10% was a key to his success at GE, Zuckerberg has made an arrogant remark that places credit for the incredible success of Facebook on a false premise. By implication he claims he is exceptional and that exceptional people are the main factor for the success of Facebook’s meteoric growth.

Sure talent is important but the quality of the interactions in a system is more important than the quality of the people. Anyone who knows something about systems thinking will know that and will avoid making an arrogant statement like that.

Bill Walsh, one of the very best NFL coaches ever said it best when he explained that “players are only as good as the system that they play in.” You would think after 30 years of books and education about systems thinking that the people as smart as Welch and Zuckerberg would have been more well-read.

Here is an example. Our microwave stopped working. Our family depends upon the microwave in ways I could never have imagined years ago. I started to experience “microwave withdrawal.” I told my wife, Lori, I would look up the best model on the Consumer Reports website. I found the Sears’ Kenmore rated near the top. I suggested we buy one. She said OK. Later that day she informed me that there is a discount “scratch and dent” Sears’ store. She suggested we go there first. I agreed.

I looked up the MapQuest to get the directions. I drove because car is larger and that makes it easier to transport the new oven. Also, it would have been difficult for Lori to inspect the microwave by herself. They are heavy and difficult to handle alone. The “scratch and dent” had an oven we wanted.

I brought a tape measure to be sure the new one would fit in the space. I picked it up so Lori could inspect it on all sides to be sure there were no other blemishes. Everything looked great. I asked the attendant if he could help us bring it to the car. He said he would. He told me where to move the car for the loading dock. Lori paid for the microwave.

So which one of us was exceptional in this project? How could anyone decide fairly who worked harder or who was smarter? Should one of us get a bonus? Which one? Should one of us be promoted? Should one of us be fired? Which one?

It is NOT about “who the exceptional person is” Mark and Jack!  In a system results come from the quality of the interactions between the people not the quality of the people. Anyone who knows systems thinking knows this.


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