The Talent Myth

In the late '90s at the height of the New Economy many companies became obsessed with "talent" and overpaying their employees. I read about it in magazines like Forbes and Fortune when I still use to subscribe to them and I saw it first hand in friends and class mates who were pulling six figure salaries while barely out of college. This attitude in corporate America is well illustrated in the following quotes from The Talent Myth.
Bet on the natural athletes, the ones with the strongest intrinsic skills," the authors approvingly quote one senior General Electric executive as saying. "Don't be afraid to promote stars without specifically relevant experience, seemingly over their heads." Success in the modern economy, ... requires "the talent mind-set": the "deep-seated belief that having better talent at all levels is how you outperform your competitors."
Richard Foster, a McKinsey partner who celebrated Enron in his 2001 book, "Creative Destruction," "We hire very smart people and we pay them more than they think they are worth."
The author then goes on to skewer this mindsight by examining Enron which from most accounts was the poster child for companies engaging in the War for Talent. Although the author has a lot of insight I think he misses the Big Picture, Enron was a bad implementation of a good idea. The good ideas in the war for talent are threefold
  1. Hire smart people.
  2. Don't promote employees based primarily on experience
  3. Pay your good employees above industry average
From the article it seems that Enron did the first then went overboard on the second and the third. However there are examples of companies that practice the War for Talent that don't seem to suffer the ills of Enron, one of them is General Electric which from the article strongly believes in hiring and promoting talented individuals. Another is my current employer.

The reason I ended up working here is because the company satisfied my initial criteria which is that they practice and believe in the three aspects of the war for talent. I get to work with smart people that I can learn from without worrying [much] about the one hotshot whizkid who the entire team is beholden to or being that person. From what I've seen promotions aren't based on experience but unlike Enron aren't based on "talent" but instead on proven ability. Of course, how to objectively measure proven ability is the tough problem. Based on talking to employees of other companies and even the Talent Myth article, the Borg process seems quite fair and favors objectivity.

Good pay and a decent benefits package including things like Health Club memberships are also nice. Interestingly, the article pulls in the results of a few studies that back up suspicions that I've had that overpaid employees tend to be worse than well paid employees because they begin to get cocky and make horrible mistakes due to hubris.

Towards the end, the article astutely points out that a strong organizational structure is more beneficial to a corporation than having strong key employees.

All in all, the article is a good read both for current and future employees and employers. Definitely bookmark-worthy.


Who Will Buy Slashdot?

I recently stumbled on an article on USS Clueless about the resignation of Larry Augustin which I never saw mentioned on any of my regular tech news haunts. The article is full of the typical 20/20 hindsight-esque comments that litter almost any conversation about VA Software but has a few personal perspectives that make it quite interesting.

The first amusing detail is the gist of an email thread between Larry Augustin and the blog author in which the former CEO ardently claims that the company is doing better until shown that this was only due to [legal] accounting smoke & mirrors. The other amusing anecdote is the fact that someone actually berated the author for wasting his time writing Windows software when clearly Linux companies like Red Hat and VA linux were the future.


Bruce Perens Firing and Professionalism

So it looks like Bruce Perens was canned by HP supposedly for the "Microsoft-baiting" he tends to do. I am very conflicted as to how to react to this occurence. On the one hand I don't believe a person's personal convictions should matter in the work environment unless it affects their productivity but on the other hand having one of your most visible employees constantly bashing a business partner isn't wise either.

A fucked up situation all around. I hope Bruce finds similarly rewarding and challenging work wherever he lands.


Enzyte Gives You Self Respect

I rarely watch TV except for HBO and Comedy Central on select nights but have still managed to notice a veritable avalanche of advertising for some male enhancement *cough*penis expanding*cough* drug called Enzyte. The theme of the ads is what I find quite amusing because it shows this average guy who is has supposedly "regained his self respect" performing day to day activities in a narrative overloaded with sexual innuendo.

There's even an article on Lycos about how popular "Enzyte" is becoming as a search term.


Conversations With Dad

I spoke to my dad this past weekend about the article about his comments on slavery reparations which lead to probably the longest conversation we've had in over a year. The bottom line is that his comments were more directed towards Africans who want reparations for the "devastation to Africa" from the Slave Trade Years than towards African Americans.


Touching Story involving WorldCom CFO

Yahoo! Message Board Post


Disclaimer: The comments in this diary are my opinions and do not reflect the opinions, plans, strategies or intentions of my employer