I recently read this article and I was astounded.
“Someone who is exceptional in their role is not just a little better than someone who is pretty good,” he argued when asked why he was willing to pay $47 million to acquire FriendFeed, a price that translated to about $4 million per employee. “They are 100 times better.”
Zuckerberg’s casual calculation reminded me of a conversation with Marc Andreessen, the legendary cofounder of Netscape, and now one of Silicon Valley’s most high-profile venture capitalists. “The gap between what a highly productive person can do and what an average person can do is getting bigger and bigger,” he told Polly LaBarre and me for our book, Mavericks at Work. “Five great programmers can completely outperform 1,000 mediocre programmers.”
Now, I admire what Mark Zuckerberg has built, and I consider Marc Andreessen without peer as an entrepreneur and a thinker, but do we take seriously what these two Silicon Valley giants claim about talent?
Author Bill Taylor pretty much gets eviscerated in the comments and for good reason. In his slapdash article, he poo-poos individuals contributors (AKA superstars) and although it’s been widely noted that we are in the age of human capital, builds analogies from…well pretty much just two sport teams.
I get that teamwork is super important but I would not assume that just because someone is a superstar they are incapable of working on a team. In his questioning of “acqhiring” I don’t hold Taylor’s feet to the fire. Like every acquisition, the true value of the purchase needs to be scrutinized and that includes casual calculations like Zuckerberg’s (to use Taylor’s terminology). But to insist that 100 average folks are better than one superstar (or to even label that as a premise in an article about purchasing a very fine team, some great code, and a wealth of experience in the social networking field) is a junior high debate tactic and an oversimplification of the sophisticated knowledge economy in which we find ourselves. While it’s true there are a lot of things in Silicon Valley that are overvalued, I think humans are not one of them.
Now he finishes off the article by saying that most business choices aren’t between 1 and 100. He’s right, so I’m not sure why he wrote the article about that. As mentioned in the comments, Zuckerberg’s (and Andreesen’s) comments weren’t about hiring “character over credentials” but about getting a great team in addition to a great service and business. If Taylor has an issue with “casual calculations” why does he use his own to translate the $47 million pricetag on Friendfeed into a $4 mil-per-employee acquisition, discounting everything in the acquisition BUT the employees and then complaining that they’re overpriced?
I don’t appreciate it. I get it’s an opinion piece but I think it’s one that everyone should read and perhaps form their own opinion on, particularly in the world of HR. It is NOT my opinion that companies should continue to plod along at a snail’s pace and throw more people at a problem. Management issues increase the more folks that show up and that’s the truth, as one very astute commentor notes. I wish I had more time to rant and rave about this but I don’t. Feel free to rip me up in the comments. I think it’s an important conversation to have both from an HR perspective and from the vantage point that I’m a startup employee in the talent sector. Let’s do this.
PS- Can I just say quickly that not every talented performer is created equally? Some are built to shine bright and fast, while others are in it for the long-haul, building less successful but more sustainable projects. Companies should look at the simple trajectory they want to fulfill and hire for that, rather than hiring superstars when they need team players or vice-versa.