Thomas Edison was known for the light bulb. Yet, he was an inventing machine holding over 1,000 patents. Historically, he joins Leonardo DaVinci and Johannes Gutenberg as the world’s greatest inventors who changed the world.
More amazing than Edison’s inventions was that he was mostly self-taught. He was born with hearing issues that lasted his entire life. When he first went to school, he struggled greatly providing a horrible learning experience.
Edison’s Mother pulled him out of school and taught him how to read, write, and how to do arithmetic. He was such a curious child he would lose himself in technical books seeking to understand how things worked. By default, he found the right environment to learn in.
Public education has raised the global IQ and advanced mankind. Unfortunately, to achieve this community goal, schools were designed for the average student. Meaning it is not geared to help top students excel. Nor does it raise lower performers up.
A business isn’t a school for the masses, nor should it be treated as such. The easy methodology is to design an organization under the same structure that everyone is used to, the educational system. Compensation, human resources, performance management all resemble modern day education and aim to keep people close to center mass. But you don’t want a company full of average people, you want to design it for maximum productivity.
If you can create an environment that fully utilizes everyone you will have a strong competitive advantage. To bring up the bottom performers and not just ship them out. Creating an environment to let someone stretch outside of the norm. To push a top performer into the stratosphere.
The 21st century has added a new wrinkle to this to raising up an organization. The onset of remote work. For an organization is easier to manage when everyone is doing the same either all remote or all in the office. Yet, that isn’t realistic, and the reality is that it is much harder to juggle some in the office and some remote.
For remote workers to feel included they must participate equally. It can never be an us versus them mentality. The project management company, Trello, has taken a unique approach to this. If one person for the meeting is remote, then the entire meeting is held virtually so that everyone participates in the same way.
Treating those that work in person and those remote is a challenge. The default behavior is recency bias which leads to promoting and rewarding those that are present. Yet, that then drives people back into an office where those individuals don’t perform at their best. Recency bias will sow discontent and must be planned for in a split office setting.
I joined HP Inc. in 2014 to work in business development and to have some extra time to complete my Ph.D. A year into my employment I finally visited the mother ship at the Palo Alto office location. It was just as all the other HP offices were, open environments covered up with cubicles. During the visit I offhandedly said to my division’s Vice President that it was interesting to see that they even had an open office set up. He came back that the open office was for greater innovation. That it opened new lines of communication and collaboration. It wasn’t the first time that I had heard this but instinctively I knew what he was saying wasn’t true, so determined to find out why people kept saying that.
The open office goes back to the 1970’s and 1980’s simply because it was cheaper. Cheaper to put a herd of cattle in a larger area than it was to give them all offices. Yet a myth grew and was reinforced by Steve Jobs that the open office was the key to innovation. That it provided the opportunity to facilitate spontaneous connections. Silicon Valley drank the Kool Aid quickly adopted that philosophy. Later other organizations throughout the United States copied the tech industry because the tech industry was rarely wrong. Thus, the myth of the open office set in.
Repeated studies continued to find that open offices don’t produce desired interactions, but interruptions. They don’t engage the full team. While it opens some team members up, it wrecks others, and that’s not a full utilization of talent.
The number one comment of retired people is that they don’t miss the work, but they miss the people they worked with. Companies inadvertently create a community. With each community though comes different perspectives and opposing personalities.
A groups success however isn’t dependent on everyone liking one another. It helps and hinders equally. A constant opposing opinion always provides balance. But the team liking one another means little if they can work well together in the right conditions.
Opposing peers may have bad blood or simply just don’t work well together. As a leader you control the environment though which can neutralize or exacerbate the issues. You probably don’t want both sitting next to one another, but you don’t want to create a sense of tension that cannot be overcome when they do have to partner together. You’re not here to make them like each other but to effectively work well together.
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