The War of the Brains

BrainWhat language does your company use to describe you? For example, I was a Senior Copywriter III (I think) at one of my jobs and a Sales Promotion Manager (I think) at another. The titles captured maybe 10% of my actual job function. When people left, HR filled the position or the post. What a bunch of boring, sterile words to describe the people who inhabit the working world.

Seth Godin’s post yesterday about Marketing HR reminded me of a survey series I saw in The Economist a couple years ago. Titled The Battle for Brainpower*, the first article starts with the very prescient words of Winston Churchill:

“…the empires of the future will be the empires of the mind.”

The New Superpowers

Google, Microsoft, Sun, etc., are the new superpowers of the world, and there’s an ongoing battle for position in the global marketplace. The key to winning this particular war will require that companies stop viewing people as “natural resources,” but instead, as Seth puts it, as “talent.” Companies like Google seem to get it:

The company has assembled a formidable hiring machine to help it find the people it needs. It has also experimented with clever new recruiting tools, such as billboards featuring complicated mathematical problems.

Appreciating and seeking talent isn’t the only necessity for long-term success. However, the company who chooses to undervalue talent, runs the risk of failing in the future.

Talent is too smart to stay long at a company that wants it to be a cog in a machine. Great companies want and need talent, but they have to work for it. (link)

The Individual

Personally, I believe there’s a difference between being respected by the company you work for and believing they “owe” you something. When I worked with the younger, newly graduated peeps in my past corporate jobs, I saw something amazing: many of them felt they were owed something. I’m not sure where they got that idea, but the attitude made it incredibly difficult to work with these bright and talented individuals. And the untalented ones were just unbearable.

In this sense, talent becomes dispensable when the attitude outweighs the ability. As of last summer, there’s over 6.5 billion people in the world. Do you really think there isn’t someone out that who is as good, if not better, than you? As the search for talent stays on a global scale, I believe the smart companies will look for people with individual, global microbrands.

Global Microbrands

Hugh MacLeod at gapingvoid.com turned me on to this thinking. I believe this is the original post on the topic. From a follow up post on the same subject, I found this:

It seems to me a lot of people of my generation are locked into this high-priced corporate, urban treadmill. Sure, they get paid a lot, but their overheads are also off the scale. The minute they stop tapdancing as fast as they can is the minute they are crushed under the wheels of commerce.

You know what? It’s not sustainable.

However, the Global Microbrand is sustainable. With it you are not beholden to one boss, one company, one customer, one local economy or even one industry. Your brand develops relationships in enough different places to where your permanent address becomes almost irrelavant. (link)

Talent is power, but only insofar as it’s not outweighed by aggravation. You may be a genius, but if no one can stand to be with or to listen to you, the world becomes a lonely place. I’m reminded of the playground when I think about balancing talent and corporate respect: nobody likes a bully, but the whiners are avoided, too.

What are you doing to build your global microbrand?


(Image courtesy of Gaetan Lee. Some rights reserved.)

(Because it’s an archived article, you have to be a paid subscriber to view it. If you’re interested, it’s in the October 7, 2006, edition)


2 Responses to “The War of the Brains”

  1. 1 Fred
    February 21, 2008 at 6:04 pm

    Google only partly gets it right. Be as smart as you want, but you’d better have gone to the right school or you won’t get past the first HR cut. Google will soon learn that the Ivy League doesn’t have a monopoly on talent.

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