A Curious Similarity Between Google and Enron

What the Dog Saw I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures“. This book is a compilation of his best columns from the New Yorker.

One of those columns, “The Talent Myth“, tickled my noggin. It was this excerpt in particular:

[Former Enron president Jeffrey Skilling says]: “If lots of [employees] are flocking to a new business unit, that’s a good sign that the opportunity is a good one… If a business unit can’t attract people very easily, that’s a good sign that it’s a business Enron shouldn’t be in.”

In other words, star employees are valued above all else and get to work on whatever they want.

Now a quote from Google (GOOG) CEO Eric Scmidt:

We don’t really have a five-year plan… We really focus on what’s new, what’s exciting and how can you win quickly with your new idea.

It’s much easier to have an employee base in which case everybody is doing exactly what they want every day. They’re much easier to manage because they never have any problems. They’re always excited, they’re always working on whatever they care about.

In other words, star employees are valued above all else and get to work on whatever they want.

Gladwell’s article goes on to assert that smart, star employees don’t necessarily make an organization smart. Instead, it’s just the opposite – smart organizations and processes make the collective whole smarter and more successful.

This strikes me as sound advice. As an entrepreneur, I want to ultimately build an organization that will outlast me. Jim Collins’ book Built to Last goes into detail about this concept as well. It’s organizations with smart processes that last, not organizations with smart people and poor processes. You still need smart people, but smart processes are probably more important.

However, I don’t think this applies to small start-ups. If your organization has only a handful of people, than each and every one of them will have an exponential impact on your company. Therefore, it makes sense to hire rock stars. But as your organization grows, the focus should shift to building smart processes.

Back to Google and Enron. I just found this to be an interesting comparison. Doesn’t mean I think Google will go the way of Enron though. Take it for what it is.

Author: Mike Lee

An idealistic realist, humanistic technologist & constant student.