After reading the article referenced in the editorial, I don't really know what its auther wants to tell me. Does he/she think agree we we should trust systems instead of genius, or is the message that this may have worked for the Roman army and during the Industrial Revolution, but is not applicable in the modern world?
Anyway, I do have some critical side notes.
First, to base the idea to "trust systems not genius" on the Roman army disregards one important thing - that the idea
to reform the army from a bunch of individual warriors with different levels of talent into a well-oiled (figuratively speaking, of course) machine was one heck of a stroke of genius. If the Romans had decided to trust systems instead of genius before the reform of their army, said reform would never have happened.
Second, while it is true that the rigid systems of the Roman army allowed average soldiers to fight lots better than they did individuallly, it equally hampered those who were above average. I think that if the Romans had not defeated themselves by lead poisoning, they would still eventually have lost. Because the rigid system that allowed their army to defeat all other armies at that time, also prevented the adaptability required to cope with new challenges. Because the rigid system allowed the average soldier to bloom, but failed to enable the genius to work at his own level, geniuses would leave the army, keeping only the average soldiers enlisted. And eventuallly, some opponent would have crafted an even better organization for their army, or a new kind of weapon that the Romans had no answer to - and no genius left in the army to adapt to the new challenge.
I have been in jobs where the procedures were too strict for me. Way too often, I knew exactly how a program had to be written - but I could not, because there were rules, regulations, procedures, standards, and whatever in the way. This enabled average and even below-average programmers to create acceptable work, but it also prevented me from creating the much better work I am able to create. Guess what? Everyone working there was either (below) average, or leaving as soon as they found a better job. There were too little above-average people left on the workforce. If it had been a commercial company, it would probably have been broke by now. But since it's a government institution, it instead makes the headlines due to failed IT projects a few times per year, and continues to blunder its way to the next headline.
I think that the ideal company employs people on three levels - with the actual challenge being to find the right people for each layer, to move them to the next layer only when they are really up to the task, and to keep them all happy even if they have no prospect from ever changing layers.
These layers are:
* Management - the smallest layer. These people don't have to do the actual work, and if they are good at their job, they don't need experience doing the actual work either. Their task is to make decisions that affect the entire company or a large part of it. They decide based on information coming from the lower layers.
* High-skilled layer. People here should be highly skilled (note that I write skilled, not educated - though education can be a measure of skill). The right people for this layer are motivated by success (*). That means they WANT to do what's best for the company. They feel hampered by too strict rules and procedures, and they are intelligent enough to be able to improvise.
* Low-skilled layer. In many companies, this will be the largest layer. But there are exception. In a consulting company, the high-skilled layer will be the largest. People in the low-skilled layer are usually motivated by other factors (*) - like feedback from boss and co-workers, or monetary incentives. They often don't feel at ease when left to improvise (and often mess up when they have to) and thrive on procedures that allow them to do what they are good at, without having to improvise.
(*) I am not making this up. There have been studies about motivational factors, and they show that there is a relationship between education (as a measure of skill) and motivation - people with higher education generally are motivated most by seeing how their actions contribute to the companies' success, and people with lower education are generally motivated more by financial incentives. Both categories are motivated by feedback from management and co-workers.
Hugo Kornelis, SQL Server MVP
Visit my SQL Server blog: http://sqlblog.com/blogs/hugo_kornelis