Skip to main content

Divergent Talent: recognizing the value of those that aren't like the others

This post has a backstory, and needs a little bit of setup so bear with me. :-)

I recently found out that an acquaintance was leaving the company. Let's call him PersonA. I met PersonA just twice, saw a couple of emails from him to some common email lists and had exactly one long conversation with him about product strategy. PersonA was young and I suspect this was his first job though he was here for a couple of years when we had this chatI saw his goodbye email and I could tell there was some angst there - he seemed to leave because he thought he didn't quite fit. I remember thinking, when I had my one long conversation with him, that he was exactly like a good friend of mine - let's call this person PersonB.

PersonB I know well from before both of us joined this company. PersonB didn't quite fit the template of a Google PM, but did well here for a while and enjoyed himself... until a change of managers and circumstances meant that he didn't. He decided to leave quite few years ago.

PersonA reminded me of PersonB so strongly for a few reasons. They were both outspoken, sharp and - this is the word that stuck in my head - divergent. They didn't quite do the things or say the things that you would expect from a Google product manager. Their nature and skillsets meant they did the job very differently, and most importantly, in spite of trying hard to conform they were simply unable to fit the norms of what was expected of a Google PM. Their DNA was different and eventually they had to leave because it wasn't compatible with that of the host they were in.

We as a company lost out. These were both talented and passionate individuals that really wanted to work and succeed here. I think if they had been shepherded differently and managed differently their contributions and careers here could have been a lot more significant.

Dealing with divergent talent is hard in a large company. Org design and performance management practices can help, but systems don't naturally work well with divergent talent. Systems and processes reward what's predictable and easily measurable. It needs understanding, confident and compassionate managers to shepherd these people through, and so it needs a system to train people to be such managers.


Popular posts from this blog

Measure f-ing everything, and assume f-ing nothing!! - Or how mentoring ruined lives :-(

I've been really enjoying the Freakonomics podcast of late. This episode and the lesson we should take a away from it, was a stark reminder of one of the most important things we should be doing - but often don't - in building products or making any decisions: measuring the impact of absolutely everything we do, including the things that seem obviously good.

I recommend listening to the podcast if you have the time, but here's the summary. Stephen Dubner describes the Cambridge Sommerville Youth Study. The impact of social intervention programs in general is hard to measure and so they seldom are. This was the first attempt at measuring the impact over a long period of time.

It's a great story and there are a few good take-aways, but here's the main one: troubled or at-risk youth that received mentoring (good mentoring!) had worse life outcomes across every dimension than the kids that were left alone. Despite the recipients saying that the mentoring was incredibl…

Yup - humans still lack humanity

Every once in a while, I'm reminded that humans can be completely lacking in humanity.

My wife had the following experience yesterday on her ride back home. She got on the train and found a seat. The train was unusually crowded and it looked a lot of people had to stand for a long ride. An elderly Asian gentleman carrying a few things in both hands, was looking for spot, started to complain smilingly about the train being so full and stood in the aisle at the back of the carriage some seats away from her.

She expected someone closer to gentleman in the aisle (lots of younger people on the train) to give him their seat.

No one did.

The train started, and it was clear the man was having a lot of trouble standing up. Then at the next stop there was actually an announcement saying the train was full so please give up your seats to people who needed them.

Still nobody moved.

My wife got up walked to the end of the train and asked the gentleman to go over to her seat. She still couldn&#…

Whimsy when I changed my profile picture...

I changed by profile picture at work.

Later in the day, two people on my team had changed their profile pictures to these.. :-)

It made my day!

I changed my profile pic again today. Let's see how fast anyone catches on this time. :-)