creativityDecision MakingInnovationLeadership

Dropping the 80

Earlier this week, my friend @morganm pointed me to this post from TechCrunch that talked about a hypothetical future for the New York Times. Essentially, they propose that the top 20% of the New York Times reporters should walk out and form their own journalism outlet.

I agree – we’d all subscribe (though we’d have to wonder if it would be free), No offense to the other 80% likely-very-competent people, but these 20% are the ones who give the Times that edge that makes it different, better and to many the gold standard of American journalism. The Times might well be just another local paper without them.

So? The same is true of most companies, organizations, or any other entity. And just to be clear, I mean the top 20% of contributors, creators, innovators, performers, not the 20% with the highest ranks.

I felt compelled to ask: What would happen if you (and your fellow “top 20%” colleagues) did just that – walked out and made a more nimble, leaner, focused organization to compete with your now-former organization?

My guess is you’d run circles around your now-former organization and all of its other competitors. You’d be small, fast and expert. You’d have none of the weight of the organization to hold you back. You’d be creative, drive innovation and help your customers – by whatever definition you have them – succeed.

This begs some really difficult organizational questions, like do the top 20% of performers rely on the day-to-day work of the other 80% to allow them to do the things that make them top 20%? The more that’s true, the less likely this idea is to succeed.

Morgan asked me if I thought this applied as well to manufacturing companies as to media. I don’t know, but I suspect not. I suspect this small nimble entity might be really good at sales, marketing and design, but probably needs to other 80% to actually build something (you could outsource to them, but you still need them).

I subscribe to the theory that companies and work units are getting smaller and more nimble and must do so just to continue to survive in the developing new economy.

So I spent the past few days thinking about what it would look like if I took my favorite 20% of people from my organization and went and created something really cool centered around a new kind of relationship with our customers. And I realized we’d do some amazing things.

Then I thought, why can’t I just do that now? Take those same people, recruit them into a project team (this would look very different in a different size or type of organization) and make the same really cool things happen. (I’m proud to say I’ve actually done this more than a few times).

The answer: I can. More importantly, so can you.

I believe that if this becomes the norm, it is part of what will create the new, sustainable economy.

So now I’ll ask: What if you were to take your best 20% of the people you know, work with, etc. What could you do? And how can you make that happen right now?

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