Wanna See me Juggle?

Wanna See me Juggle?


“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

~ Arthur C. Clarke, “Profiles of The Future”, 1961

Most of us know this quote. It’s by one of the most highly regarded writers, inventors and futurists of the twentieth century.

And most folks will have heard the aphorism:

“You wouldn’t want to hire a juggler without seeing him juggle.”

The thing is, assessing the skills and talents of a juggler is easy. Just about any sighted person can watch someone juggle and decide if they’re any good or not.

But how to watch a manager “manage”? Or a developer “develop”? Or a Business Analyst “analyse”? Not only are these inside-the-head skills barely discernible to the observer, but they also involve both collaboration and working within a “system”.

Attempting an assessment of a typical knowledge-work candidate would be more like watching a troupe of jugglers cross-juggle whilst in a bus trundling around a ploughed field. Not so easy to mark out the star performer, here.

And to compound it all – and here’s the kicker – even if you could identify the “great juggler”, would that make for a commercially successful juggling show? Even with a great juggler – would the paying audience be truly entertained? In other words, is a given juggler – and the style of their juggling – effective commercial entertainment?

Drawing back from an analogy too far, the question in my mind is, when hiring folks whose key skills are intellectual rather than motor, how can anyone judge candidates effectively? I share Kahneman’s view that it’s next to impossible using e.g. pre-hire observations.

The “Modern Management” Benchmark

“Modern management isn’t just a suite of useful tools and techniques; it is a paradigm, to borrow a sound bite from Thomas Kuhn’s overused argot. A paradigm is more than a way of thinking—it’s a worldview, a broadly and deeply held belief about what types of problems are worth solving, or are even solvable.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

By what benchmark, or yardstick, do folks hiring managers judge the candidates in front of them? By and large, they’ll compare candidates against “established norms”. Even if folks adopted Kahneman’s suggestion for using a list of metrics rather than mythos as the “established norms”, it’s almost inevitable that “modern management” candidates will win out over more effective candidates – i.e. “more of the same”.

The thing is, when hiring for most kinds of position, and management positions in particular, organisations look at where they are, not where they want to be. There is a prevailing, implicit and unconscious assumption that the way things work now are the way things will continue to work. Especially when it comes to how things are managed. Management innovation (and candidates that can contribute thereto) rarely gets a look-in.

And how could it be otherwise, when “any sufficiently advanced management approach is indistinguishable from magic”? Are we hiring jugglers – or magicians, here?

Aside: For those readers already acquainted with the Marshall Model, I have in mind here the Synergistic or Chaordic mindsets when I write “any sufficiently advanced management approach”.

As Professor Gary Hamel says in his recent book “The Future of Management” :

“Today, every CEO claims to be a champion of innovation—so why the barn-sized blind spot when it comes to management innovation? I believe there are three likely explanations:

First, managers don’t see themselves as inventors…
Second, many executives doubt that bold management innovation is actually possible…
And third, most managers see themselves [and thus, candidates in their image] as pragmatic doers, not starry-eyed dreamers.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

It’s no easy thing to get management innovation on any agenda, the hiring agenda not least:

“To get started, you’re going to have to cross swords with innovation’s deadliest foe: the often unarticulated and mostly unexamined beliefs that tether you and your colleagues to the management status quo. All of us are held hostage by our axiomatic beliefs. We are jailbirds incarcerated within the fortress of dogma and precedent. And yet, for the most part, we are oblivious to our own captivity.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

And even if organisations do manage (sic) to get management innovation on the hiring agenda, it’s more than likely that they’ll be looking to hire managers-who-can-innovate, rather than at other forms of organisational-guidance-inspiration-and-direction capability:

“Put bluntly, there is no way to build tomorrow’s essential organizational capabilities atop the scaffolding of 20th-century management precepts. To jump onto a new management S-curve, we’re going to need some new management principles.”

~ Prof Gary Hamel, The Future of Management

So next time you want to see a management candidate – or any other knowledge-work candidate – juggle:

“You got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’
Well do ya, Punk?”

~ Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in the film “Dirty Harry”

– Bob

Further Reading

Using Metrics Over Myths in Hiring ~ Iterative Path blog post
The Future of Management ~ Gary Hamel

1 comment
  1. I love the Jim Collins book “Good to Great” and who it describes “great” management. In those companies that are “great” there are no star-jugglers. The cases described in the book all put the emphasis on creating a team that can do the actual juggling quite well through that bumpy bus ride you describe. There’s no need of a star and the CEO in these companies is more a coach and mentor who shows his team how to perform and innovate. It seems to me that the “trick” is to have a team of jugglers who all prefer to juggle well together and to celebrate the achievements of the team, rather than becoming solo artists.

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