The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating story this morning about about "Fabulous Fab" Tourre, the young Goldman Sachs banker who is at the center of their latest public relations nightmare. Writer Dennis Berman argues that Fab may be A Hero in Villain's Garb because, if you look at the emails he sent to friends, he is often questioning his "place in an-ever absurd realm of CDs, CDOs, and CDO-squareds." Berman notes that Tourre "expresses deep doubts about some of the very things that got Wall Street in such a mess." The inspired part of Berman's analysis is that, although Goldman called the Fab's emails "immature and embarrassing to the firm," he suggests that we consider that the Fab's:
"[D]oubts and concerns reflect the virtues of newcomers in organizations -- when they first arrive, they can see the virtues, flaws, and quirks of an organizational culture. But as they become more deeply socialized, they begin to accept it all as "normal," and do not question -- or even notice --what they are doing or why the are doing it."
Building on Berman's lovely point, the young and under-socialized are often those who see the world for what it is, and speak up about it. Of course, it is a child who speaks the truth in the "The Emperor's New Clothes," the classic the tale by 'Hans Christian Andersen about two weavers who promise an Emperor a new suit of clothes invisible to those unfit for their positions or incompetent. When the Emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"
The Goldman case aside (I am not ready to call The Fab a hero), there is a crucial lesson here for every boss and every organization. Awareness -- and innovation too-- depend on listening to the young and naive, to those who are not yet brainwashed and unable to see what is odd, wrong, and what might be done differently. As I argued in Weird Ideas That Work, if you are an expert, seek and listen to novices, as their fresh eyes can provide insights that you are unable to see. Or as Diego puts it over at Metacool, seeing old things in new ways, depends on finding ways to adopt "the beginners mind" or "the mind of a child." In some organization's I have worked with, senior executives accomplish this with "reverse mentoring" programs, where they are assigned to listen to and be coached by newcomers. This is an effective strategy if the veterans actually make it safe for the rookies to speak their minds.
Along these lines, one of my favorite stories (as told by Firefox's Asa Dotzler) was when Netscape hired a 15 year-old kid named Blake Ross as a summer intern. Blake apparently stood-up at a company meeting and explained why the website had become so crappy and was doomed to fail. This is the same 15 year-old kid who had been working for free on the Netscape open source project that eventually led to the development of the Firefox browser -- and had spent hundreds of hours stripping-out lousy Netscape code, so he knew what he was talking about. And his prediction about the demise of Netscape was on target.