One Superstar is Better Than Any Team, Says Tuck Professor

Steven Jobs is an anomaly.  And that’s why he’s been able to take Apple from near-bankruptcy to one of the [...]

September 22 2011 by

Steven Jobs is an anomaly.  And that’s why he’s been able to take Apple from near-bankruptcy to one of the largest companies in the world.  He’s exceptional.  And, according to Professor Alva Taylor from Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, having a superstar employee is more valuable than having a superstar team.

When asked whether or not a company would be better off with an individual who is an innovative genius or a team that works together well to come up with new ideas, Taylor replied, “You definitely want one great innovator.” While this may seem to go against general convention, Taylor emphasizes the need for companies to recognize exceptionally talented employees and to nurture their skills.

But, relying on exceptional employees working along isn’t realistic.  And the chances that your company currently employs the next Steven Jobs is slim.  So, Taylor smartly proposes this: foster the superstar.  Give the superstar the resources to develop their skills and ideas. That being said, these superstars need to be surrounded by teams who can challenge what they say – no one should have complete autonomy. Give the genius time and space to work, but make sure that they have to check in with teams sometimes.

And while cohesive teams are important for challenging the superstars and for challenging each other, those challenges, and the consequent decisions that are made, should not only be made by consensus.  Experts are experts for a reason, and they should be able to use their knowledge. As Taylor states, “When you do things by consensus, you get average outcomes that no one loves and include items that should never share the same space.” Average isn’t innovative.

So, you need to foster your innovative superstars, but use teams to keep them on task.  Checks and balances are necessary to make sure that your company is on the right path, but to some degree experts also need executive power to make innovative decisions and keep your company ahead of the curve.


Read: Different Roads to Innovation