The Talent Myth

I read an interesting old article in the New Yorker, the “Talent Myth” by Malcolm Gladwell, yesterday (why do I feel like a snob when I read articles in that magazine??).

The article talked about how the famous consulting group McKinsey spent the latter half of the 90s teaching corporations that the difference between successful and unsuccessful organizations is that the successful ones hire “talent”. The idea being that any organization filled with smart people would be guaranteed success. Enron took this to heart the most and, judging by the article, made a complete mess of itself by promoting by talent rather than accomplishments or skills. We know what happened to them. It also discusses the US Navy and its initial failures during WWII and how better management turned it around for them.

This idea that the system is important is curiously similar to computer science (or do I just think everything relates to computer science?). The key to computer science is that you need the right algorithm, or system of doing things, and the rest just works well — things like faster computers, smarter developers, newer technology, etc. are of little or no consequence.

It also fits well in nature… for example, if you create a system where people like to have sex, the species will perpetuate itself — there’s no need to educate each generation on the virtues of perpetuating the species.

The American form of government follows this pattern. The founding fathers created a smart system, one that even dumb politicians can’t screw up (terribly bad, anyway).

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