The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts

Digging into the data

Years ago, Google decided to study its working force to determine what success is made of within Google.

With Project Oxygen they analyzed their hiring practice to discover that the hiring principles they had been using until then didn’t seem to align with the description of managers perceived as successful within Google. Building on that same data they also uncovered the characteristics that seemed to make these managers successful.

Later Google also wanted to study what it is that makes teams successful. This time it was Project Aristotle that led to a description of core skills making teams successful. One of the skills found itself connected with Amy Edmonson’s work at Harvard making it nowadays a topic widely found on the internet.

What’s most interesting about these studies is how they’ve been taken up on the web. Simplifying things, one could say, that they’ve led to masses of headlines taking the studies as truths that can be copied blindly. The soft skills that have been highlighted seemed to relegate technical skills to a less important position.

It’s a shortcut.

It’s assuming that applying and developing these skills allows to copy Google’s success. What worked for Google, so the interpretation, will work for others in the same way. It’s forgetting how unique Google’s setting is. That they had to learn that focusing on technical skills is not enough for example, or that management is supportive of their success. Or that they’ve developed in a world where Google didn’t exist and had to be created by them.

It might be easy to see how much of a shortcut it is, given this setting. But it might be difficult to believe that it is a shortcut given how much has been written about it. Much of what has been written cemented these ideas in the general idea of how things need to be. Everyday experience will also seem to confirm it, as most of these soft skills will indeed be useful and are to be appreciated.

It is the fact that the ideas are taken out of context and described as applicable universally, that makes it a shortcut.

The studies are valuable but to understand what of it is repeatable requires quite a lot of work. Little of this can be found in most of the articles promoting the study results as the solutions to being successful.


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