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Kevin Rutkowski

Unfortunately, most of the examples coming to mind are related to interactions with the government.

Recently, my aunt died leaving my dad as the sole beneficiary under law. She had no estate, so we did not go through probate.

Several months later, my dad realized that there was some money held with HUD that my aunt was entitled to. He called HUD to find what he needed to do to collect the money. They told him several documents that he needed to send in, and he sent them in.

Several weeks later, HUD called to say that my dad needed to send additional information to prove that he was the sole beneficiary. He sent in the additional information.

Several weeks later, HUD called to say that my dad needed to send additional information to prove that he was the sole beneficiary. He sent in the additional information.

Several weeks later,... you get the picture.

Perhaps HUD's process reads like the back of a shampoo bottle. It ends with the step "repeat" but has no specific instructions on how to get out of the endless loop.

Karine

I remember, back when promotional CDs were all the rage, a software tool that made the auto-run part of the CD. The only problem was, for the CD to actually auto-run, the person needed to have administration rights on the computer!

They had made a tool easy to develop, but hard, if not impossible, to use.

Wally Bock

I must disagree with you Andrew. It is true that genius can bring wonderful things to life. But there is an interplay between the genius and the system. It's not likely that the success Steve Jobs has brought to Apple will outlast him, since it is based on his genius. But it is quite likely the Semco will continue to be a marvelous and innovative workplace after Ricardo Semler is gone from the earth because he created a system that "makes ordinary people capable of what only near-genius could accomplish before."

Edison invented the electric light, but he was dead wrong on the distribution of electricity, championing direct current long after it was obvious that AC was more efficient. But consider two organizations that consistently produced excellent results, one ancient and one modern.

I blogged about this in "Put your trust in systems, not in genius" (http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2007/09/16/put-your-trust-in-systems-not-in-genius.aspx). The two organizations are the Roman Army and the Toyota Motor Company. Each of them created a host of simple systems that enable stellar performance. Consider when Toyota took over running the NUMMI plant in Fremont CA. When GM ran the plant is was among the worst in the auto industry. When Toyota took over, staffing the plant almost entirely with the same workers, it became one of the best in the industry.

There is no doubt for me that Steve Jobs is a genius. But he is an exalted form of individual contributor who at best can have an organization that succeeds with a "king and court" culture. Ricardo Semler may not be the individual genius that Jobs is, but he sure has shaped an organization that continues to do well when he isn't around and will probably outlast him.

Andrew Meyer

Bob,

I always enjoy reading your blog and I'd like to thank you for reminding me of a great insight that I'm sure you're familiar with:

Fools ignore complexity; pragmatists suffer it; experts avoid it; geniuses remove it.

-- Alan Perlis

There are many examples of this. The browser invented by Mosaic/Netscape, internet payment by Paypal, eBay, Edison with the delivery of electricity, etc. There are innumerable examples of where genius has made the impossible common place. The difficulty is that people don't recognize it for being as extraordinary as it is.

Let me offer another example, which is actually near and dear to my heart. Jim Henson with the muppets. There have been puppeteers since the dawn of time and there will be until history stops being written, but there was one Jim Henson.

What was his genius for taking green socks, ping-pong balls and funny voices and creating one of the most endearing TV shows, movie series and multiple adaptations of movies? He could create an entire world where people identified with characters that didn't exist. He made it look so flawless and simple, that a whole generation of kids talked to their socks. Even with his example, training and company, no one's managed to follow him. He was a genius. A unique, visionary individual who could create an entire organization around him that created unbelievable success. While I suppose it still exists, no one has heard of it since.

Why does Apple's stock price plunge on rumors that Steve Jobs is ill? It is certainly not because people enjoy working with him, but when Steve Jobs leaves, Apple becomes a second rate assembler of products other people build.

Organizations do not make things simple. If you think about the structure and the internal divisions which are intentionally created in organizations, they are not designed to be simple.

Exceptional people make the impossible ordinary. Ricardo Semler, Dale Chihuly, Gordon Moore, J. K. Rowling, Phillip Roth and many others who are not recognized; make the extraordinary, mundane. That is genius if you are looking for examples.

Andy

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