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How to manage brainiacs & brainy ideas

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Sure, it’s risky to hire defiant outsiders and give them the authority to challenge the “trolls,” “traditionalists” or “sacred cow protectors” sustaining your ingrained practices. But weigh that risk against the possibility of slowly losing your edge, your revenues, your power and your organization.

Here are some of the rules:
  • Don’t teach newcomers old procedures. Tell them what needs to be accomplished, and let them establish new procedures.

  • Allow outsiders to act quickly, in a matter of days and weeks, before the veterans can brain wash them about the “right” ways to think and act.

  • Let your underlings defy, ignore or even mislead the top dogs. Example: In the late 1970s, Atari software designers and their bosses pretended to work on practical programs while actually designing video games. Top managers rebuked them, saying, “A game in which you fly around in space and shoot up other space ships? That’s the stupidest idea we’ve ever heard … Kill the project.” The Star Raiders game, completed in secrecy, went on to become what was then the biggest-selling home electronics product of all time.

  • Encourage employees to spend time on pet projects that don’t require managers’ approval.

  • Don’t punish employees who go ahead—without permission—and ask for forgiveness later.

  • Get out of the way. Don’t ask too many questions or give too much advice, especially in highly technical fields where your employees have more advanced knowledge than you do.
—Adapted from Weird Ideas That Work, Robert I. Sutton, Free Press.

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