The “Better People” Fallacy

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It’s easy enough to convince your own staff that better people will prevail, even against the odds. It’s what they want to hear. And surely in a marketing war quality is a factor as well as quantity.

It is, but superiority of force is such an overwhelming advantage that it overcomes most quality differences.

We have no doubt that the poorest team in the National Football League could consistently beat the best team in the NFL if it could field 12 men against the opposition’s 11.

In business, where the teams are much larger, your ability to amass a quality difference is much more difficult.

The clear-thinking marketing manager won’t confuse the pep talk at a sales rally with the reality of the marketing area. A good general never makes military strategy based on having better personnel. Nor should a marketing general. (“Our army,” said Wellington “is composed of the scum of the earth, the mere scum of the earth.”)

Obviously you’d be in deep trouble inside your company if you used Wellington’s words to describe your own army. Tell your people how terrific they are, but don’t plan on winning the battle with superior personnel.

Count on winning the battle with a superior strategy.

Yet many companies cling deeply to the better people strategy. They’re convinced they can recruit and hire substantially better training programs can help them keep their “people” edge.

Any student of statistics would laugh at this belief. Sure, it’s possible to put together a small cadre of superior people. But the larger the company, the more likely the average employee will be average.

And when it comes to the mega companies, the possibility of assembling an intellectually superior team becomes statistically almost zero.

At last count, IBM had 369,545 employees, a number which is growing rapidly. On a one-to-one basic, there may be more white shirts at IBM but not more gray matter.

IBM is winning the computer war the Eisenhower way. Where the competition has 2, IBM has 4. Where the competition has 4, IBM has 8.



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