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Do individuals matter?

by on March 10, 2010

I read an article from Harvard Business Review, which is called “When individuals don’t matter”. In this article, the author stated that

Executives make three common mistakes that show they don’t really grasp how such systems work.

First, managers extrapolate individual behavior to explain collective behavior.

Second, executives often fail to recognize that changes in one component of a complex system may have unintended consequences for the whole.

Third, there is a tendency to prize a few standout individuals while ignoring how much they draw on their surrounding systems for support.

I admit that the author’s points are reasonable; however, in most cases, individuals do matter.
We have heard a lot of stories that a good CEO saved a company; we also went to cinemas to watch a poor movie just because our favorite actor was casting in that movie. Often, some individuals are the key factors for the success of one organization. Even if there is a tendency to give up authority and develop flat structures in organizations, leadership and star effects are still needed.
Yes, there is a tendency to prize a few standout individuals while ignoring how much support they get from surrounding systems, but it is one important reason why the standouts are standouts. Those who can make the most of surrounding resources can take the lead.

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From → Good to Know

2 Comments
  1. I think both two views are valid in certain conditions. How each individual was estimated and rewarded is related to the kind of works he undertakes. If collaboration plays a vital role in the work and others also contribute a lot to the result, then individual as well as co-workers should be rewarded. On the other hand, if the work mainly dependes on individual initiatives and creativity, then it is important to recognize the importance of the individual person.

  2. I think the author of that article doesn’t mean that the individuals don’t matter. He/she just points out that managers should have an overall point of view in some circumstances. Managers should balance the collaboration and individual creativity in the team or in the organization. Usually, every team has a core person who is trusted by co-workers and leads the team work towards the goal. This key figure definitely matters and he is vital to the organization. Many business articles discuss how to keep talent in the organizations and optimize their skills and experience. I believe that managers understand the importance of those individuals. However, when we prize those individuals, we can’t ignore their surrounding support and the whole team. The success of a movie not only relies on the leading actors/actresses, but is also closely related to the corporation between the supporting actors/actresses and the cast.

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