Good People as a Sustainable Competitive Advantage

In my junior year of high school, the offensive co-ordinator of my high school football team, and one of my early mentors, got fired for clashing with administration. While I’m sure faculty getting fired for going against the higher-ups isn’t uncommon in secondary eduction, it was that moment for me where I realized that all the B.S. that I had ben fed growing up about the world being a fair place hit the fan and blew back in my face.

It made me pessimistic going into my senior year of high school. I liked to walk around and point at news stories and say “People suck.” Which is true. But they only suck because of the reference point, which is that some people are amazing and inspiring creatures. In black swan fashion, losing someone important in my life made me realize how many good people I had in my life.

I gave a speech at our high school Baccalaureate ceremony. I closed with a true, albeit super trite and cliche, line:

So do not go out and surround yourself with great things or great accomplishments.  Surround yourselves with great people.  Because when you have people around you that love you and support you not for what you have but for what you are.  You are truly blessed.

I moved to Saigon, Vietnam in March of this year and it was, like my football coach getting fired, a watershed moment for me. It was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by a group of people that weren’t just friends, but closely shared my values, ambitions, and passions.

My social time was no longer fulfilling on just a social level, but also on an intellectual and emotional level.

I liked to wake up early on Saturdays, go to a cafe alone and write for a little while before going to a friend’s apartment for breakfast with a bunch of other entrepreneurs in Saion. I’d meander over to a cafe with whoever was left after breakfast and work the rest of the afternoon.

I realized in those afternoons that there’s a sort of synergy that happens when you’re around people that you’re in alignment with.

In a recent article, Ron Davison referenced Steven Ballmer’s tenure as the CEO at Microsoft.

As CEO, Balmer set up a competitive system where everyone at Microsoft was competing against one another for short term rewards. Davison linked to a chart by Demison showing how internal and external motivation evolve over a person’s life in our society.

deming forces of destruction and intrinsic motivation

Slowly, the power structure in place destroys the intrinsic motivation of most people. And in an industrial economy, that makes sense.

Because all you need is for someone to stand in line and make more widgets.

But that’s increasingly not the case. To do the work required to move the economy to the next level, the creative work, people have to be intrinsically motivated. I believe that intrinsically motivated people working together create a synergistic effect.

What’s exciting is that we’re at the point where accepting the latter isn’t just a nice thing to do, it’s the economically, financially advantagous thing to do.

Gary Vaynerchuck isn’t in to Social Media because he’s a nice guy and he wants everyone to be friendly. He’s into it because he’s a business man and sees the writing on the wall. The same is true of Peter Shankman.

Zig Ziglar liked to compare motivation to bathing.  – “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

And being around a group of people that embody your values and are striving towards freely chosen goal is easily the most effective way I’ve found to refresh my motivation. There’s an ethos that’s created when you’re surrounded by people that are committed to doing the work because they truly believe it’s the work that’s needed to move their lives forward.

It is entirely possible within a company or corporation that 1+1=3 or 4 or 5.

If you get a lot of really smart, intrinsically motivated people together and get them working towards common goal, I think you can create a synergistic reaction that creates an absurd amount of wealth.

I was listening to a guy in the Venture Capital scene a couple of weeks telling stories about good ideas not getting funding, but good founders getting funding with ideas that aren’t that good.

There’s a lot of guys on the front edge of the new economy that would rather invest in a good person than a good idea.

There’s definitely a bunch of people I’ve met over the past year that I would gladly buy stock in.

People are realizing that as markets become more and more dynamic, a good team increasingly becomes the most sustainable competitive advantage. 

When a market shifts, you could lose your distribution network or your manufacturing advantages. But if you have a good team, you’re in a robust position. Everyone is dealing with the same increase in market volatility and a good team of intrincically motivated people is going to be far more robust than a lot of more classic business advantages.

What’s so inspiring to me about this new 4th economy or Imagination economy is that I believe we are moving towards a world where making  money is more and more directly correlated to things like integrity and creating value in other people’s lives.

And, as for intrinsic motivation, that’s a world that pretty exciting to wake up, sit down next to good people, and help build.

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  • Matthew Newton


    (PS. There’s a few typos in this one).

    • Taylor Pearson

      Thanks. Hopefully I caught them this time around.

  • Allen Lee Scott

    Great! Deming, not Demison, though.