Monday, 18 July 2011

Should the nice guys win..?

What’s more important; hard-nosed or soft-hearted?

Last night in the UK ten million people watched the final of The Apprentice.  The winner, Tom Pellereau wins £250,000 investment in a new business he will co-own with UK business guru Lord Sugar.  Pellereau, a self-styled inventor and scribbler of ideas seemed an affable chap.  He laughed at everyone’s jokes and in one episode, shock horror, he actually said to the eventual runner up that he ‘liked working for her’.  The fact he hadn’t worked out how to comb his hair or shave was kind of endearing.  He wasn't that good at anything really, his business plan was awful, he was described as an under-dog, even a nodding dog, but as a partner in innovation for Lord Sugar (read Donald Trump in the US) he was a clear and worthy winner. 

Pellereau was lined up against the most brilliantly cast bunch of alpha humans you can imagine.  With relish they told us each week how they’d cheerfully chew the heads off babies to win, that they were one in a million, representatives of an uber race destined to win.  In their desperate desire and increasingly pathetic attempts to win they proved themselves total losers.

There’s a clear parallel with the world of innovation where we need to be hard-nosed, we need to challenge projects that are going nowhere and we need to engage with colleagues who leave us under-whelmed.  Ouch – this stuff really hurts.  Innovation is a tough game, we need a thick skin.  But in large organisations super clever, super ambitious, super ego people crash and burn.   Pellereau is a good choice as winner of The Apprentice because he showed us his soft underbelly and while he did so he laughed a lot.  I think he’s the kind of guy you’d want to work with, he’d make you feel great.  You could give feedback to him, I think you could co-create a better product without fear of his ego getting in the way. 

Innovation is such an exciting management science, it’s the ultimate blend of hard-nosed, commercial judgement and mastery of basic human qualities; listening, appreciating, enthusing and many more.  I haven’t met many people who have this cocktail of skills in equal measure, but I have met teams who do.  Sticking up for our strengths and fessing up to our weaknesses is the fundamental principle behind succeeding at innovation.