On the 23 December 2014 it will be 90 years since the creation of a pivotal economic concept — planned obsolescence. In 1924 the leading manufacturers of light bulbs formed the Phoebus cartel. This cartel came to the conclusion that long-lasting light bulbs were bad for business. By specifically engineering the reduction in lifespan of a light bulb each cartel member would benefit from increased consumer demand — and so they did. In later years, Governments used planned obsolescence to kickstart depressed economies before it later became the foundation of product development strategy the world over. The rest is history.
This cartel came to the conclusion that long-lasting light bulbs were bad for business.
This concept got me to thinking about something kind-of related — the leadership practice of team building. There are endless references to how leaders should build teams. At a basic level though, there is a choice:
A) Recruit people not as good as you, to ensure your ongoing viability in the organisation. Lets call these guys, soloists.
B) Or, recruit people better than you so that your team delivers more. Lets call this, team power.
We have all come across the backstabbers, the leaches and the maliciously obedient at some stage in our career.
I am not sure they would admit to it, but I suspect many leaders hire individuals that are capable, but not necessarily the best candidate for the role. This is because the chosen candidate is not seen as a threat to their current leadership position. Perhaps this has come about from painful experience. We have all come across the backstabbers, the leaches and the maliciously obedient at some stage in our career. It is not hard to see why many leaders put up the barricades and focus on self-preservation as a primary objective.
Personally though, I have always recruited the best I could afford. I didn’t really think about why I have always been comfortable recruiting people better than me. Perhaps it was good mentoring I got in my earlier years. Or, perhaps it was excessive consumption of leadership theory. Today though, as I was walking to the train station, I started to think that it might actually be an attitude that resembles the concept of planned obsolescence.
Think about it. In our professional career we grow or we die. If you do not drive advancement, you stagnate. By orchestrating a working environment that does not stimulate you to grow, then by design the organisation also does not grow. In effect, as a soloist, you are the creator of nothing.
Introduce agents that quickly render your previous achievements obsolete.
As a leader you should be focused on driving growth, driving innovation, driving necessary change. Introduce agents (people) that quickly render your previous achievements obsolete. Why? Because, that in turn will drive you. Plan to continuously improve and make your old-self obsolete.
But, this idea is more than just giving oneself a swift kick up the bum. There are a bunch of other advantages that come from building powerful teams. Some of the peeps you bring into your teams know stuff you don’t. This is a good thing — don’t fear it. Embrace it. Learn from them. Benefit from their experience and let them benefit from yours. Sounds like corporate nirvana perhaps, but it works.
Sounds like corporate nirvana perhaps, but it works.
If you are a closet soloist then take a chance — plan your old self’s obsolescence. Employ the best people you can get your hands on and build some unstoppable team power.
This is one of several musings of mine on all things marketing, product management, leadership or life. I host a product marketing training course with the good folk at Brainmates when I am not doing my bit to better manage the waste of the world at Mandalay. Ironic really, since it was planned obsolescence that kicked the world’s wasteful habits into overdrive.