Ask Aubrey: Insanely Simple or Just Insane?

Here's a recent question that came to me via Twitter


  [SIC] What is your take on this quote from the book Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple's Success by Ken Segall?

"Many businesses follow an instinctive but misguided principle: The more critical the project, the more people must be thrown at it. The operative theory is that more brains equal more ideas. That’s hard to argue with—except that only occasionally do more brains mean better ideas. The more people involved in the effort, the more complicated briefings become, the more hand-holding is required to get people up to speed, and the more time must be spent reviewing participants’ work and offering useful feedback. A smaller group offers the most efficient way to succeed—assuming that it also has..."

My Response:

  I have not read this book, but based on this quote, here's what I think. First, brains have very little to do with it; it's about behavior. When people take that into account, it is more about how behavior is reinforced and/or discouraged than it is about how many people are involved. I say that most organizations have the solution to their problems when they create an environment where everybody feels they are an important part of making the organization successful. That necessarily means that they need to continually come up with ideas about how to do things better, faster and cheaper. Organizations shouldn't want to limit the number of ideas their employees generate--the more ideas the better.  When you have many ideas it is the task of management to make sure that idea generating is positively reinforced.  The next task is to sort, prioritize and fund development. 3M Company was the exemplar at this years ago (think Post-It notes). They are trying to recapture what was lost when they began to depend only on the brains (engineers) to come up with good ideas. There was a time when employees were given time and money to pursue what appeared to be wild ideas at the time. I do agree with the money part, where companies think it is a money and resource problem, but that is not my experience (and the science of behavior tells us otherwise).

Additional Resources: PM eZine Rapid Change: Immediate Action for the Impatient Leader

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.