Operationalizing Greatness

My friend Jason Thompson posted on Facebook earlier today, “You can’t operationalize greatness”. 

For whatever reason this sentence has been stuck in my head all day and I have developed some thoughts on the subject.

GreatnessI am going to make a few assumptions about what Jason meant, including his definition of greatness.  I am going to assume that greatness is synonymous with genius.  I have been fortunate to know people in my lifetime that I consider one, the other or both. 

One of the things that they have in common is the singularity of their genius.  They are usually great at some thing… not all things.  To use a well-worn cliché, people that are math, music or technical geniuses are usually lacking in “right brain” assets that are more emotional or intuitive… and vice versa.

I will assume that we are discussing this in a professional context.  I will also assume that the motive behind operationalizing an individual or a group’s greatness is to achieve scale in a business. 

If you want a business to grow beyond the great people, you have two options: 

  1. Get more great people
  2. Operationalize

Since there are very few great analytics professionals, I would suggest a balance between the two. 

A few words about genius:  Genius pushes back on structure.  It wants to roam free and do its thing.  It doesn’t want to be told to follow a process.  Process stifles genius.

I think that I am a great recruiter (certainly not a genius).  I have never been able to work for another company for very long for this exact reason.  They have rules.  They have people whose job it is to get you to follow their processes.  “You have to color inside the lines,” they would tell me. 

“But you hired me to be a great artist,” I would argue.

“Yes,” they would snap, “But you are only working on this little corner of the portrait and we need it to be painted in the same style as the rest.  Otherwise the whole thing will fail.” 

Sculpting Greatness“But that is stupid,” I would insist.  “Look at all of the great art I made for you.  You should celebrate my genius!” 

“Listen Corry, here’s the bottom line: there is nothing great about your work if is not repeatable.  When you leave the company we will not be able to pick up where you left off.  We need people that can work as part of a team.  We need people that can execute their processes the same way the last guy did, and the same way the next guy will.”

I maintain that this is stupid.  It is a failing of the leadership of the company if they cannot RE-operationalize to suit their talent.  Especially if their talent is great.  Like me.  J

They should figure out what I am great at, good at and bad at.  The guy that is responsible for enforcing process should switch his job to CREATING process… and  HE SHOULD BE GREAT AT THAT.  He should figure out how to support and supplement my greatness to create scale.  He should hire people that can take care of the stuff that takes up my day and he should be very efficient about streamlining all of that.

There are people that are GREAT at operationalizing.  The day I find someone that is as great at operationalizing as I am at recruiting is the day that my company will start to achieve scale.  Until then we will be a great boutique.

In short, I agree with Jason.  You can NOT operationalize greatness.  But you can and should operationalize everything around it. 


0 thoughts on “Operationalizing Greatness

  1. You want to elevate your best employees at what they’re great at because it’s going to help your business. Do you need to completely rewrite the rule book every time someone new comes in? No, but you don’t want the process to be so strict that it limits your employee’s abilities.

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