Humbition – Not Just for Washington Interns Anymore

Sometimes the headline writes itself.

Can you remember the dark days before voice mail? I can. I worked at070-331 the company that introduced it. We had a naming contest for something we could trademark. My canada goose outlet suggestion was VOMEX (short for VOice MEssage eXchange). It rightfully took last place.

Some combinations of letters and syllables just don’t belong together, through no fault of their own. It’s the context in which theyŕe used that causes the problem.

And so it is with the program that spawned the term humbition, IBM’s Extreme Blue internship program.

¨Think MTV’s Real World meets the Manhattan Project—groups of smart, young, ambitious people, living and working in close quarters, under intense pressure, focused on projects
EX300 exam with huge potential.¨

Of course, as with any elite program (EB had 4,500 applicants for roughly 100 spotś in the U.S. last year), the interns come in with a swagger. To their credit, Jane Harper and
canada goose jakke the leaders of the Extreme Blue program stress throughout the 12-week program that arrogance will get the participants nowhere, and:

“I always urge new people not to worry about ‘getting credit or taking credit’ for great work,” she says. “If they’re making bold moves, and developing good relationships, they will get more opportunities to grow and succeed. Don’t waste energy on worrying about whether everything you do gets noticed. It does.”

Whoa, Nelly! This is sounding Workerś Paradise-ish, and we all know how that worked out in practice for the Soviets, et al [¨Look, Joe. Lavrenty made a nice punch tart. Have some!¨]. My problem is that the program focuses on the wrong end of the org chart. IBM has about 126,000 employees. If every Extreme Blue participant ever is still with the company, thatś less than 2,000 people, or less than 1.5% of the total. The other 98.5% may be getting the same advice I got twenty years ago as a Systems Engineering Manager from my Account Executive, who said ¨any manager at IBM who doesn´t spend at least half his or her time politicking for their next job is an incompetent idiot!¨ I´m sure a lot has changed since then, but that sort of mindset dwells in every large organization, and the only way to break it is from the top – and the middle – and at the entry level.

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It was a pleasant surprise to see that the first comment on the column was from Michael Stallard, author of Fired Up or Burned Out, a book which shows leaders how to build organizations with shared organizational ambition from top to bottom, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Leading by example generally works better than ¨Do as I say, not as I do¨.

The awesome cartoon at the top of the post, from Hugh McLeod’s fabulous Gaping Void screams HUMBITION to me. What about you? And am I wrong about the Extreme Blue approach? Let’s hear it in the comments section!

  • Betsy Wuebker

    Well, I can tell you what spawned much of the need for programs like this. Told that healthy self-esteem was essential for proper child development, boomer parents and teachers over-praised, manipulated situations in sports and academics so that “everyone is a winner” and said “good job!” every 30 seconds or so. We swallowed this bill of goods from a preponderance of media-fueled expertise, much like we drank the having-it-all koolaid and then proceeded to practically kill ourselves trying to make that happen.

    The results? New grads in entry level or one promotion positions who freak out without a certain level of recognition, which often just isn’t forthcoming enough to their tastes. We’ve been advised that this generation truly isn’t able to self-congratulate, and that we should implement programs and generally alter our behavior to accommodate this neediness. Otherwise, the horror! The little narcissists will jump ship and we’ll have to start all over again with a carbon copy.

    These kids should visit It’s ridiculously simple to stand out in their crowd. Forget about getting noticed and focus on superlative work. Aim for quality in relationships and output, without thinking “what’s in it for me.” It’s hilarious that IBM thinks it needs to follow the reality show model to actually get what used to be rather a norm in terms of attitude and production.

  • mike


    I hadn´t thought about it in quite that way, but what you says makes sense in context. The ¨everybody gets a trophy¨ mindset certainly contributes to employee expectations. That’s one of the reasons I like Michael Stallard´s (and others´) concept of building shared aspirations, so that people who need to feel recognition constantly can benefit from each team win.