Friday, November 25, 2005

The Talent Myth

Here is an interesting article from the New Yorker back in July 2002. It discusses the "Talent Myth" propagated by McKinsey & Company and suggests that companies might error in recruiting smart, talented, and reckless employees rather than making a well functioning organizational structure. Gladwell considers this error to have contributed to the downfall of Enron. The brief article is full of many observations on varying corporate cultures, psychological studies, and historical events. One particularly interesting analogy compares the British success to American troubles defending against German U-Boats in World War II:

"Throughout most of 1942, the Navy kept trying to act smart by relying on technical know-how, and stubbornly refused to take operational lessons from the British. The Navy also lacked the organizational structure necessary to apply the technical knowledge it did have to the field. Only when the Navy set up the Tenth Fleet--a single unit to coördinate all anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic--did the situation change. In the year and a half before the Tenth Fleet was formed, in May of 1943, the Navy sank thirty-six U-boats. In the six months afterward, it sank seventy-five. "The creation of the Tenth Fleet did not bring more talented individuals into the field of ASW"--anti-submarine warfare--"than had previous organizations," Cohen writes. "What Tenth Fleet did allow, by virtue of its organization and mandate, was for these individuals to become far more effective than previously." The talent myth assumes that people make organizations smart. More often than not, it's the other way around."

By the way, the link has the New Yorker print version available as a free pdf download. I found the article more readable in that format.


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