March 23, 2008

A Company of Apprentices

"Always two there are; no more, no less: a master and an apprentice" -- this is a Yoda line from Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace. In the Star Wars universe, each Jedi Knight is taught by a Master over many years. In my career I've learned from many role models...or "Masters". They taught, coached and advised me at key moments.

But what if you're in a corporate culture where everyone is new like you? Late last year I read that over fifty percent of Google's employees had less than one year of tenure in the company. This didn't surprise me, as I am accustomed to working in such scenarios. It forces pro-activity, imagination, adaptability and accelerated productivity curves.

Still, in my experience, mistakes by new staff are made. I think that a strong product innovation strategy hides them all. The company's products drive significant growth. So much growth that no matter how many mistakes the mass of apprentices make, the momentum absorbs their low producing learning curve.

There's a twist. In these go-go environments apprentices become masters faster, as the need for team leaders escalates. I wonder what it will be like when these organizations reach scale, combined with headcount stability. Will the staff continue to strive to adapt or will they cease productivity gains? It should be an interesting thing to watch.

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