Friday, September 23, 2005

SG – Brains vs. Brawn Part 2

Buzz phrases like “Work smarter, not harder” tend to make people nervous because they’re too often euphemisms for “Figure out a way to get the same amount of work done, just with fewer people because we’re letting some of you go (or aren’t replacing the ones who just left).” Just because it's used badly so much doesn’t make it worthless advice. Plus, I find it interesting that this notion came up again so soon on Survivor so let’s run with that one. The examples I saw of smart & not-so-smart behavior are every bit as valid for the business world as they are in Guatemala.

Blake, for instance, is being as smart as he can be right now, pushing as hard as he can without overdoing it too much given his run-in with the spiny tree (what was in those spines anyway?). What’s not so smart is whining like Judd & Brandon about whether other people are pushing hard enough – how could they possibly know what’s possible for someone else and do they really think the whining endears them to anyone else?

And while I don’t mean to pick on Judd, I find it curious that he thinks it’s a bad thing that Blake was sufficiently rested to do well on the challenges when he’s in the hurt locker the rest of the time. Later on when it’s for individual rewards and immunity, that would be a valid complaint but hey, this early in the game, that’s good for everyone, right?

During the immunity challenge, Nakum was clearly the stronger physically, a real opportunity for Yaxha to get ahead by working smarter. In the end however, the few strategic moves of the challenge were made by Nakum and that was what barely edged them into the winner’s circle. Maybe Yaxha will learn from that. Or maybe they'll implode.

Here’s one I’m still trying to work out myself – just how smart is it that Gary is keeping his past such a secret? It seems like a reasonable strategy and yet, taken too far, it has the potential to cause him more trouble than if he’d just be open about it. Thinking of analogous situations in the corporate world (such as illness or pregnancy perhaps), I can see that it’s important to identify the conditions under which full or partial disclosure might become more important than discretion and to leave myself a graceful out so that it doesn’t come off as duplicitous when the truth does come out. I don't get the idea that Gary is really thinking that far in advance.

And I have similar questions around Danni’s strategy to use her knowledge of Gary’s past to try to undermine the other team. Sure, it worked – at least twice. But making ourselves or our teams better by tearing down somebody else often has negative consequences down the road and I wonder if that’s a risk that she’s taking intentionally or whether it could end up working against her.

Not surprisingly there’s also the question once more of which contributions are the most valuable. Possible candidates on Survivor include food gathering, working around camp, teamwork, being able to be in close quarters together, and winning challenges. I'm sure they're at least somewhat analagous to activities at work, right? There is a combination of work ethic and physical and mental strengths needed in most of these. Tribal council is a lot like trying to re-hire all the best people for a team at each stage.

The smart ones will figure out that the needs change as the game goes along and adapt to that. The smartest ones will figure out that despite whatever it is that logic might dictate regarding which contributions are most valuable, what’s more important is whatever it is that the decision-makers believe to be the most valuable at that point in time. And yeah, we see that every day in the work environment too, don’t we?

In the end, Morgan may have had other good qualities but what stuck out were her liabilities. To top it off, she didn’t have enough allies cultivated (read - social capital) to help her out of a jam when she needed it so that’s what sank her. That too is a worthwhile lesson to take into the workplace.

I'm interested how you see any of this applying to your own life. Send your thoughts to me at if you feel like sharing.

How can you help others understand and value the contributions you make?