I just finished reading Clever, leading your smartest, most creative people by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones. These two professors at London Business School have done a great job distilling the talent of exceptional organizations into relevant actionables for the clever economy.
We are going to dive into the details below, but first, what is a clever person?
A highly talented individual with the potential to create disproportionate amounts of value from resources an organization makes available to them
Does that sound like you? Are you clever? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your skills difficult to replace?
- Is having people acknowledge your cleverness important to you?
- Do you know your worth to your organization?
- Do you ask the difficult questions at work?
- Do you know how to get things done?
- Do you hate hierarchy and the corporate ladder?
- If you have an idea, do you want immediate access to resources to act on it?
- Do you want to work with other clever people?
- Do you perform best with someone looking over your shoulder?
Ok, the last one was to make sure you were still reading. If you answered all the others in the affirmative you can officially collect your clever badge.
Utilized effectively, clever people are the brightest spots in an organization. They are the massive redwood trees that stand a hundred feet above the rest of the forrest. A cautionary point as I am sure you have also heard the adage, ‘Big Tree, Fall Hard’. Although a clever or team of clevers can add an astounding amount of value to an organization, they can also destroy at an equally astonishing rate.
Kai-Fu Lee, Former Head (2005-09) of Google’s Operations in China:
Arrogant geniuses always backfire, they become a terror to other engineers. They may be a hundred times cleverer, but an arrogant genius can demoralize a thousand people
How do you nurture a tree to extraordinary heights and still protect the forrest if the tree topples? Better yet, how do you grow other trees to the same height or build an entire organization that eclipses the traditional height of a forest?
Clever identifies a series of guidelines to provide an optimally clever environment:
The most innovative work environments (Google included) have a culture of ‘adhocracy’. Innovation is bred in every part of the company. There is no research team that sits in an ivory tower independent from marketing and finance or ops. In a clever organization, innovation is at the top of every person’s list of responsibilities
Synthesis is the process of combining multiple different ideas, products or processes into one. The example used in Clever is the iPhone. It combines a cell phone, touch screen, MP3 player, internet access, good software and intuitive design. Each of those ideas independently is great, but synthesizing them together has created one of the best consumer products ever. Clever organizations synthesize people and skills sets that create incredible products like the iPhone.
Think to Lead
As the problems that are being solved becoming increasingly complex, it is rapidly becoming more difficult to communicate effectively from within clever teams. As a leader you should think your messages out to ensure they are clear and concise. Once your message has been delivered, you need to trust your team and turn it over to them.
Free to do
The best example of this is Google’s 20% time, where every Google engineer can spend up to 20% of their time working on any project they think will help Google grow. The ’20% time plus acquisition’ model is one reason that Google has been able to maintain an innovation gap over their competition and a topic I discussed in ‘Why Google Wins’. But there is no question that the top organizations of the future will be dominated by self directed time. 100% self-directed time is coming. Once again, bring in the right people, give them what they need to perform and get out of the way.
Clevers work best in an environment that appeals to their internal authority. They will thrive in an organization that is aligned with their moral fiber. In fact, bringing in someone who does not align is disastrous, which is why clever organizations like Google are so rigorous in their hiring process and leave incredible numbers of overly-talented people on the outside looking in.
If you take the time to understand what makes a person tick (what their motivations, goals and aspirations are) you can help align them in a project that encourages personal fulfillment. Only by really caring and taking the time to know a person do you have a shot at achieving this. As a side note, it does not have to be your project. An incredibly rewarding experience is putting two people in touch who really need each other.
One final (repeat) note: Get the F out of the way!
That is the focus of Clever, to point leaders towards an environment where clevers can deliver incredible results. The last line of Clever says it all:
The challenge in the clever economy is unleashing the potential of clevers.
How about you? Have you read clever? Have you worked in a clever environment? Do you wish your current work place was more clever?