Bill Taylor recently posted a piece on www.hbr.org titled “Great People are Overrated.” He uses a comment from Mark Zuckerberg as his starting point: "Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good…They are 100 times better." Of course, Taylor goes on to show numerous examples of why this is not the case. (On a personal note, I am thrilled to see the Dallas Mavericks and F.C. Barcelona as two of them.) Taylor ponders whether one would rather have 100 pretty good people or a single exceptional person. Here’s the real kicker, from another Harvard Business School professor, Boris Groysberg:
After examining the careers of more than 1,000 star analysts at Wall Street investment banks, and conducting more than two hundred frank interviews, Groysberg comes to a striking conclusion: star analysts who change firms suffer an immediate and lasting decline in performance. Their earlier excellence appears to have depended heavily on their former firms' general and proprietary resources, organizational cultures, networks, and colleagues. There are a few exceptions, such as stars that move with their teams and stars that switch to better firms. Female stars also perform better after changing jobs than their male counterparts do. But most stars who switch firms turn out to be meteors, quickly losing luster in their new settings.
While I have some initial reactions, I haven’t quite figured out the implications of this for education. They strike me as vast. Yet I can’t crystallize them in an articulate fashion. Thoughts?