Hiring the Best and Brightest


Companies have been proudly proclaiming that they hire only the best and brightest. Ignoring the fact that this is a bogus claim – personal experience at a dozen different companies has demonstrated otherwise – a firm would find it all but impossible to function with the best and brightest.

Back in 1994 Dr Russell Ackoff shared an example that elegantly explains why.

I read in the New York Times recently that 457 different automobiles are available in the United States. Let’s buy one of each and bring them into a large garage.

Let’s then hire 200 of the best automotive engineers in the world and ask them to determine which car has the best engine. Suppose they come back and say Rolls Royce has the best engine. Make a note of it.

“Which one has the best transmission?”, we ask them and they go run tests and come back and say the Mercedes does.

“Which one has the best battery?” [They] come back and say the Buick does.

And one by one, for every part required for an automobile, they tell us which is the best one available.

Now we take that list and give it back to them and say “Remove those parts from those cars. Put them together into the best possible automobile,” because now we’ll have an automobile consisting of all the best parts.

What do we get? You don’t even get an automobile, for the obvious reason that the parts don’t fit!

The performance of the system depends on how the parts fit, not how they act taken separately.

A significant portion of organizational excellence depends on how employees interact with one another i.e. how they fit together, not how they act individually.

Dr. Ackoff’s entire talk titled “Beyond Continual Improvement” is worth listening to.

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