Posts Tagged ‘teamwork’

David Brent (”The Office”) on training

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

Well, after his much-commented-on stint hosting the Golden Globe Awards last Sunday, Ricky Gervais perhaps is not the best role model I could have chosen for today’s post. Yet, let us hearken back to a time when Ricky, in addition to being a “slightly chubby but very kind comedian,” made fun of himself at least as much as the people around him.

I fell in love with the original version of “The Office” years ago. Gervais’ character, David Brent, was all our bad management practices and insecurities in one package, which made for hilarious yet uncomfortable viewing by any manager.

One episode that made me cringe out of self-recognition was “Training.” In this one, David hires a trainer to teach the company about customer service but undermines him by jumping up at every opportunity to (try to) demonstrate that he knows more about customer service than anyone at the company–more, even, than the trainer. While watching this, I had flashbacks to all the times I had jumped up to interrupt a trainer during a class or to demonstrate how much I knew about the subject at hand.

This is a smart-person problem. It was important to me to show I knew a lot. Or, perhaps, a “I think I’m smart but not sure I’m smart enough, so I have to demonstrate my smartness” problem. Or, if you’re David Brent, it’s a “I think I’m brilliant but I’m actually quite dumb,” in which case you have a comedy show.

The lesson I took from this was to see how this behavior looked to others. While I was trying to impress people, they were more interested in learning about the topic at hand. (Some folks probably wished they could have told me to sit down and shut up.) Jumping up to show how much you know is a manifestation of the Hermione Granger syndrome, which I’ll discuss in a future post.

For now, check out David Brent (Ricky) and make sure you don’t do what he does:

Teamwork works for Netflix Prize competitors

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Netflix has undoubtedly gotten much more than $1MM in publicity for its contest awarding a cool million to anyone able to improve its recommendation engine by more than 10%. But the contest appears to be winding down. According to the New York Times, a group has surpassed the 10% barrier, starting a 30-day countdown for any competitor to beat their performance and claim the prize instead.

It’s not likely to happen. That’s because the leading group is an alliance of several of the top performers in the competition, who abandoned their individual projects for a joint effort to push the needle past the magical 10% threshold. The Times wrote:

BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos [the alliance's name] is a pretty elite crowd. The group is a collection of the 2007 and 2008 winners of the Netflix Progress Prizes — $50,000 a year for the teams that made the most progress toward the 10 percent improvement — and a pair of engineers from Montreal who have long been near the top of the contest’s leaderboard.

One of the tenets of alliances is that it’s better to get 25% of $1MM than 100% of nothing. For longtime competitors to band together shows how difficult the 10% barrier was, and the significant incremental value of combining different ideas.

In these times, it may be prudent to throw out the old rules of going it alone, and restricting alliances to those you don’t compete with. It worked for BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos.

(Disclosure: I am a Netflix subscriber.)

Related posts:
Netflix demolishes own business model
Follow-ups: Netflix and “Harry Potter Marketing”