Saturday, November 16, 2013

Don't Try to Replicate a Prodigy

Steve Jobs.  An icon, a prodigy, a leader, an innovator and an enigma.  You probably have several of your own adjectives to add.   I saw an interesting CBS Moneywatch article

If you click through to the article, you'll find 7 "inspirational life lessons" gleaned by that author.   Yet the title of this article adds an 8th lesson.   

Actually, I believe it's the only lesson most of us can learn from Steve Jobs:  

Don't try to replicate a prodigy
They broke the mold after they made Steve Jobs.  Others in the same league include Richard Branson, Warren Buffett, Mozart, Beethoven, et al. These people are outliers - uniquely gifted and talented people who managed to find exactly the right career for themselves (in some cases after multiple tries).

Sure, they do a lot of things right and a lot of things well.  Don't, however, think for a moment that if you do exactly those same things you're going to get a similar out-of-the-park home run result.  Not gonna happen.

Yet prodigies exist in many of our businesses.  Some are founders or owners.  Others are key technical, operations or sales contributors.  What do you do with such people?   Value them.  Recognize, first, that you have a prodigy on your hands.  Apply the principle of Highest and Best Use -- don't ask such people to spend time on, improve on or work on anything else.   That's like trying to teach a pig to sing (if you don't know that Southernism, click here for a laugh).

Rather, treat a prodigy as a prodigy.  Let them do what they're good at, and keep other things (and people) out of their way.  It's sometimes not a bad idea to articulate why you're doing that -- why you've assigned someone to get Mike's expense vouchers filled out for him or why he might be exempted from "rules" that apply to others.   The point is, for the good of all concerned we have Mike do what's best for the company and that might be different than the way most other employees work.   It's not that you can't impose any discipline on a prodigy - you can.  Just make sure it's discipline that makes sense in the context of what you're trying to accomplish with him.

If you can get your maximum benefit from a prodigy by recognizing who and what he is, your company may be all the better for it.
Have you managed to make the most out of a prodigy on your staff?  Click "Comments" below and share that experience with others.   

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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