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Posted by Steve Hughes on May 9, 2011

…. helps artists die young, miserable and penniless so their art can have meaning to the old, satisfied and obscenely rich.

So says my Demotivators Calendar for the merry month of May.

For organisations, creativity as a “one-man show” is a harmful myth according to this recent article in People Management, the monthly journal of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) – Organisational Learning: The Social Network

“HR has been obsessed with high-performing individuals for too long. The real engine of creativity and organisational success is to be found in internal networks of friendship and collaboration …

… countless examples demonstrate that the generation of creative ideas is mainly a collaborative process rather than merely an intrapersonal one …

… numerous empirical studies have also demonstrated that social network ties are of crucial importance for the generation of creative ideas and other key knowledge-related activities…”

The article advocates putting emphasis in the management of creativity primarily on collaborative relationships between creative individuals. Why is this important to HR professionals? Creativity contributes to new products and services and therefore helps the organisation achieve sustainable competitive advantage, and  creativity is genuinely a people business. In short, HR can demonstrate the value of nurturing an organisational climate in which peer-to-peer relationships can flourish.

Looks like my calendar needs a new tag line.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

The Persistence of Memory

Posted by Steve Hughes on May 6, 2011

I recently completed reading “Moonwalking with Einstein” by Joshua Foer, an entertaining and thought provoking book that mixes a history of memory with an adventure story. Foer sets out to discover if he can improve his poor memory, and embarks on a journey that leads him to compete in the 2006 US Memory Championship. Along the way he discusses the “art and science” of remembering.

And whilst I don’t entirely agree with his assertion that if you “strip away the emotions, the philosophising, the neuroses and the dreams” then our brains “are fundamentally prediction and planning machines”, it represents a good description of an organisation’s “brain” , tasked with predicting, planning and deciding what and how to do or not do business.

And a reliable “organisational memory” is vital to avoid continually repeating the same mistakes and relearning “know how”. Remembering enables past practices and solutions to be used in new situations for competitive advantage and reduces the dependency of an organisation on individual “stars”.

Organisational memory is a generic concept that has been around for 20 years or so. Walsh and Ungson defined it in 1991 as “stored information from an organisation’s history that can be brought to bear on present decisions”.  It is the ability of an organisation to acquire, retain, and retrieve knowledge and, crucially, to be able to reflect on and re-contextualise that knowledge to meet current challenges. Retention of tacit knowledge or “know how”  –  the intuitive, hard to define knowledge that is acquired through experience over time – is crucial. “Know how” is a most valuable “in firm” source of competitive advantage as it provides experiential advantage over new rivals. If it can be retained and retrieved.

Unfortunately an organisation’s memory can be as bad as an individual’s, particularly for “know how” as this is commonly stored in individuals heads (collectively the firm’s transactive memory) rather than in knowledge management systems. Every time an individual leaves “know how” melts away from the organisation’s memory like the camembert of time in Dali’s painting.

Are there equivalent techniques to those Joshua Foer uses that can be used to improve an organisation’s memory? Certainly and too many for a single blog – so more on this topic in future. For now, I think knowledge retention is an interesting lens through which to view talent management practice. And a refocussing on the corporate rather than the individual, on “grow your own” rather than “buy and bribe”, and on experiential learning and reflection may be timely.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on the implications of social networking and learning on tacit knowledge retention and welcome any suggestions for further reading (Arnold Kransdorff currently has my attention).

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

The Doctor and The Portability of Talent

Posted by Steve Hughes on March 15, 2011

This weekend the 2011 MotoGP season begins in Qatar and the most fascinating aspect of the racing year for me will be how well Valentino Rossi performs with his new team Ducati. Rossi,  nicknamed “The Doctor” as a mark of respect, is arguably the greatest of all time. He has won nine grand prix world championships, a record seven in the premier class. Rossi won the 500cc World Championship in 2001 and the MotoGP Championships in 2002 and 2003 with Honda. Some commentators suggested that the Honda motorcycle’s superior technology, rather than his talent, was the key factor in his success. Rossi switched to Yamaha, won the opening race of the 2004 season and the championship. Another back to back championship followed in 2005 and he repeated the feat in 2008 and 2009. No one doubts his genius when it comes to riding a motorcycle.

Given his success at Honda and Yamaha, does Valentino Rossi stand in contradiction to the central finding in Boris Groysberg’s fascinating book  “Chasing Stars: The Myth of Talent and the Portability of Performance” (summarized in an excellent article by Chip & Dan Heath )? Groysberg’s study of the portability of the talents of Wall Street research analysts  argues that outstanding individual performance is far more context-dependent than it appears to star performers themselves. In short, the talents of stars are less portable than they think they are, and when they move their performance declines. The reason this happens is that there are crucial “in firm” networks and resources that contribute to the analysts success, but that they don’t necessarily appreciate.

Does The Doctor have perfectly portable talent? Not quite. Whilst Rossi has moved from Honda to Yamaha to Ducati, so has his supremely talented and experienced team. Crew chief Jeremy Burgess has worked with Rossi since he joined Honda, as has mechanic Alex Briggs. Mechanics Bernard Ansiau, Brenth Stephens and Track Engineer Matteo Flamigni also moved to Ducati. Why would the team move? Groysberg gives a comprehensive explanation but Alex Briggs has put it quite succinctly – “… the reason I enjoy my job and laugh every day is because of the close group of people I work with. JB, Gaz, Bernie, Brent & Matteo. I left Honda with most of the guys for Yamaha & will head to Ducati with them to finish the story Valentino started with us in 2000.”

Confirmation that a further observation Groysberg makes regarding star analysts probably holds true for MotoGP stars  – those who change firms along with teammates experience no decline in either short or long term performance. The team clearly has a powerful cohesiveness and loyalty to The Doctor that enables them to all achieve great job satisfaction and success. Something that if he had moved alone Rossi would need to replicate, and would adversely affect his performance.

For their part Ducati provide the third key “in firm” resource for winning – a competitive motorcycle. Or, to put it another way, the technology for winning. Technology is crucial for modern racing motorcycles and this year’s Desmosedici GP11 is brimming with it – carbon fibre chassis, slipper clutch, fly by wire throttle, sophisticated traction control. And it is red. Rossi will be relying on Ducati to outpace the season long technological innovations that will be made to the Honda RC212V and Yamaha YZR-M1 machines.

Perhaps, then, The Doctor’s real genius was the early recognition that his talents alone are not enough to sustain consistent, career long  high performance. Outstanding teamwork and technology are also required in the right blend. Can he, his team and Ducati achieve the synergy that will enable him to win in 2011?

Time will tell.

Photo – MotoGP.com

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