Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Good ideas and bad ideas

Are you sitting down? Be grateful.

I was going to blog about the extensive April 25 New York Times story (reprinted in the Seattle P-I today) exposing plans hatched by Airbus and various client airlines to replace chair-type seating with "standing seats" (in essence, tilted body boards) enabling airlines to cram lots of additional people onto the new Airbus planes. Of course, Airbus is already busy denying it.

Instead, I'll blog about today's Wall Street Journal op-ed piece by business professor Gary Hamel. In "Management a la Google," Hamel describes four characteristics he believes will lead to continuing success for the online hydra:
  • An expansive sense of purpose

  • An organization that is flat, transparent, and non-hierarchical

  • A company-wide rule that allows developers to devote 20% of their time to any project they choose

  • Keep the bozos out and reward people who make a difference

  • The first characteristic, an expansive sense of purpose, is hardly unique to Google. But the other characteristics are rare to find in practice, particularly the final one (keep the bozos out). Most expanding organizations collect dead weight the way a black velvet jacket collects pet hair.

    Hamel explains that Google "understands that companies begin to slide into mediocrity when they start to hire mediocre people. A-level people want to work with A-level people. B-level people are threatened by class-A talent. So if you let a B-lister in the door, he or she will hire equally unremarkable colleagues."

    He's hit on a key dynamic that I've seen take teams, groups, and companies right down the drain. While individual B-listers are merely deadweight, as a group, they're poison. They actively squash, hush up, or sabotage the A-listers' work and will eventually drive the A-listers out of the company. At the end of this process, some outside analyst turns up to say wistfully "What happened?" Do you think the B-listers will tell him?

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