There’s a concept in The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker about how a person should be placed rather than have them fit a job. The idea being that the most people are “single-purpose tools”, a person with one or two exceptional skills that can be put to use to produce results.
What he doesn’t advocate is trying to get people who are “good at a lot of things”, as in reality no-one is good at a lot of things. All this does is breed mediocrity in his opinion; it doesn’t promote excellence.
What I found interesting about this is that the idea of “a single purpose” is also a common theme if you are trying to define your one really great skill. And then develop a business around it.
Everyone has one…and it’s important to find out what it is, as your current job may not be using this to your best advantage. It might be something you have never thought of before and it could be the reason that you don’t feel like your talents are being used…
But that aside, I was also struck by a counter-argument in that single-purpose tools can often become “single-point failures”…as in your whole project team has no back up for various activites.
There might be one person who is the software guy, another who is the integration girl, another who is the contracts man…the list can go on and you can see that all your best single-purpose tools, if they fall ill, can suddenly derail a project.
I suspect that this is a common fear manager’s: a lack of good resources.
So what is the solution?
Perhaps a balance in that someone else with a second skill can overlap another with a primary skill. There may be a drop in productivity but it won’t be a complete stop.
Essentially this is redundancy. Most engineering hardware systems have at least some redundancy: isn’t is ironic that often the very engineers who make the hardware (or software) are often not managed to allow redundancy!
I agree with Drucker about the idea of mediocrity and having people who are allegedly multi-skilled working on many things as a solution. It is very hard to be effective and multi-task.
As I have learned in my own experience and from reading Drucker and others, focusing on one task at a time and allocating a certain amount of time a day to tasks of importance is the real skill in being effective…and in being that single-purpose tool!
There is a myth about mulit-tasking that exists in people’s heads, not in reality. And it often hides panic management and fire-fighting.
Where does this all fit into space or aerospace engineering?
Well, finding or using the idea of single-purpose tools with redundancy is often overlooked for piling in bodies to get a job done. This is different argument but the principle is similiar.
A better way to get things done is to have effective people in your team who are productive and deliver results. And to let them do just that.
And as Drucker points out…sometimes this means allowing for their idiosyncrasies and sometimes blunt or rude nature…as long as they produce the goods.