A-players please, no bozo's

Feb 28, 2018

Joris Snoek
Digital Consultant
+31 (0)20 - 261 14 99

When I read Disrupted last week about the bozo culture I recognized plenty: Dan Lyons strikingly describes how he spotted this culture at start-up Hubspot. It is caused by the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect. Steve Jobs said it as well: A-players are looking for A-players, B-players are looking for C-players and C-players are looking for D-players, etc. That is what Dan Lyons saw happening.

Recognizable, as I’ve seen het happen internally and with clients. At the end of 2010 we experienced such a bozo explosion ourselves and an organizational overhaul was the result.

What did I learn from it?

Dunning who?

Bozos are people who are bringing the Dunning-Kruger effect along with them: they think that they are quite something, but miss the competence to spot talent in others. They are also looking for people less competent than themselves, making themselves stand out more. This results in ever more bozos in your organization.

The phenomenon has been observed by plenty of philosophers, among others the Brit Bertrand Russel, who remarked the following about them:

In the world or today dummies ooze with self-confidence, whilst smart people are being consumed by doubt.

Since 2010, I try to avoid this syndrome in all our collaborations: both internally as well as with client relations.

Source: Wikipedia

Avoid bozos as clients

A long time ago (when there were still horse) I was dealing with a client who only wanted to pay one invoice, and I learned a lot from it: some of these relations went to nowhere, eventually.
I’ll never avoid an introduction, as everybody is interesting and such conversations can give me new insights. But right after the meeting I am trying to filter out whether I’m dealing with a narcistic bozo or with an A-player.

A-players vs Dunning-Kruger people

As far as I’m concerned the most important traits and differences are:

A-players are highly skilled in the current role and working environment, self-reliant, self-conscious of their knowledge and skills and know when to better leave things to others. They are empathic and keep their mouth shut when needed, and are never tedious. They look to themselves if something goes wrong and don’t blame others for it.

Dunning-Kruger people/ bozos are less self-conscious and think they know everything within their field, leading to a certain degree of narcissism. They won’t recognize it when they need to shut up, when people with more knowledge come along. Often they are tedious because they are less empathic: they don’t feel it when people get bored by them. The blames others for the mistakes they made.

The search for A-player employees

Regarding finding new employees: we are always searching for A-players, not ones suffering from the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. Also important: if we’d hire B/C players, our A-players would start leaving.

It also seems that A-players — besides the correct technical basics- always have an extra dimension in perseverance, even outside the office. for example: running marathons, fighting in a kickbox match or doing Mud masters.

A-players could also be defined as:

Someone you definitely want to work with again in any context.

It’s someone who is in the top 10% of anyone you ever worked with. This person will do everything he promised, whatever it takes.

Mind the ‘Halo-effect’

Mind the halo-effect, causing you to unjustly assess mistakes as non-mistakes and won’t recognize the fact that the A-players is perhaps slowly slipping into the B-player category.

After a little search I also found the following striking characteristics:

The A-player of today is not necessarily the A-player of tomorrow

The A-player of today could become less competent in time, and you’d also have to put them in the right context: An A-player software developer might not be an A-player tech lead. Because someone used to be an A-player it doesn’t mean that they will be this way forever. Cruyff wasn’t the same player at 50 as when he was 25.

B-players of today could become the A-players of tomorrow

On the other hand, an A-player of today used to be a B-player. He could have been not mature enough, or that he yet didn’t shine in a different role/ culture/ environment. Or maybe the new team leader just fits them better. There are many examples of people getting fired by bad performance which went on to become A-players. Sometimes firing is the cause of it all: “I will show them!”

A-players are rare

It is very hard to find A-players who have at least 4 years’ worth of experience and with whom you never cooperated before. Because all these A-players have a lot of experience, people who worked with them are begging them to work for them.

If you think an A-player doesn’t get a lot of offers, you yourself might fall into the B-player category or lower.

Other A-players skills:

I also found these in my research:
- Strong intrinsic motivation
- Possess a lot of energy
- Provide a lot of energy
- Be able to make decisions
- Delivering as promised
- Collegial
- High EQ and people skills
- Discrete
- Always open to receive feedback
- Solid communication skills
- Passion
- Getting sh#!t done
- Open for ideas, from anywhere
- Charisma
- Ensuring productive work, which is fun at the same time

Wrap up

Alrighty, that’s it for now, please let me know your thoughts in the comments and like and subscribe


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