The Battle For Brainpower has an interesting article about the battle for brainpower.

IN A speech at Harvard University in 1943 Winston Churchill observed that "the empires of the future will be empires of the mind." He might have added that the battles of the future will be battles for talent. To be sure, the old battles for natural resources are still with us. But they are being supplemented by new ones for talent-not just among companies (which are competing for "human resources") but also among countries (which fret about the "balance of brains" as well as the "balance of power").

The war for talent is at its fiercest in high-tech industries. The arrival of an aggressive new superpower-Google-has made it bloodier still. 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. Other tech giants have responded by supercharging their own talent machines (Yahoo! has hired a constellation of academic stars) and suing people who suddenly leave.

Hiring talent is important, but I think some companies are overlooking the value of the steady contributor. Everyone can't be a superstar genius.

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Have you ever seen the movie "Miracle"? At the Olympic tryouts, Herb Brooks, the guy hired to coach the USA hockey team, gives his boss a list of the players he has chosen for the team. The guy protests, saying that many of the best college players didn't make it. Brooks responds by saying that he isn't looking for the best players, he is looking for the best team. Business is the same way.

  • People seem to assume that the importance of knowledge and talent are something new. When was the era when these things were *not* important? For example, the US textile industry was founded on equipment designs smuggled out of Britain–intellectual property, to use today’s phrase.

  • “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, that’s what my grandmother would have said.

    Just like a car needs horsepower, an organization needs brainpower to move forward. Unfortunately, just like a car with more horsepower than traction ends up spinning its wheels, only so much that brainpower can be applied to an organization’s challenges before the situation becomes unbalanced.

    Google’s recent flurry of unfocused product development is a perfect example too many smart people leading too many smart projects with too little focus on their core value adding processes. Their obsession with “Smart” is another example of the Leadership Epidemic at work.

    This unbalanced, single-attribute focus has lead to an organization with too many leaders and not enough players to move the organization forward. Too many smart people working on too many smart projects resulted in a failure to deliver a solid product beyond “Search”.

    I think my grandmother would have referred to that as the stupid-is-as-stupid-does syndrome.

  • Half the time I’ve heard someone say there are “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, they were lobbying to be named the “unquestioned” chief. They were sure the problem in business was a lack of people doing as “they” told them to do.

    The other times I’ve heard people say “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, they wanted leaders to get off their duff, stop pointing their fingers, stop big picture strategizing, and lead from the front and by example.

    If a leader is a coach, mentor, and gets their hands dirty doing it’s very hard for me to see how you could have “too many.” Bosses yeah… who needs another pontificating blowhard. But leadership is something else… I don’t see how you can have too much.

  • Bob McCarthy

    To bring the implications of The Economist article closer to home, the Nellie Mae Educational Foundation ( earlier this year published the results of a study that raises important questions about the skill level of New England’s work force which, I might add, has implications for other sections of the country as well. The publication is available for reading on their web site. Click the “New England 2020” link and read “Young College-Educated Workers Predicted to Decline in New England.” The entire report is available as a PDF