September 2022 – we’re a team not a family, what’s better than hiring superstars, and making work meaningful

the 45th issue of my monthly newsletter

Photo credit: moren hsu

Greetings and welcome back!

I hope readers from the Northern hemisphere had a restful summer and a seamless back-to-school transition.

This issue offers a few research items, a few “different” ideas, and a post from my blog archive.

Happy reading!

Some research

What makes work meaningful?

This paper finds that 60% of meaningfulness at work comes from three non-economic factors:

  1. Autonomy (that one has choices & authority over tasks),
  2. Competence (a feeling of mastery), and
  3. Relatedness (connection to others).

Meanwhile, extrinsic factors, such as income, benefits, and performance pay, are relatively unimportant. Meaningful work also predicts absenteeism, skills training, and retirement intentions.

This is yet another study that shows the importance of intrinsic (autonomy and competence) and transcendent (relatedness) motives.


What is more important than hiring a superstar?

Answer: Avoiding and getting rid of toxic workers, according to this study.

Avoiding a toxic worker (or converting him to an average worker) enhances performance to a much greater extent than replacing an average worker with a superstar worker.


We don’t express support to people in need because we think we’re not qualified and because we don’t know how the other person will react.

This paper shows that we underestimate how positively recipients of support respond.

In other words, being human to someone else trumps being “competent”.

Different ideas


Melanie Stefan is a scientist who deplores that her CV only reveals successes

My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.

Her suggestion is to keep an alternative CV – a CV of failures.

Log every unsuccessful application, refused grant proposal and rejected paper. Don’t dwell on it for hours, just keep a running, up-to-date tally. If you dare — and can afford to — make it public. It will be six times as long as your normal CV. It will probably be utterly depressing at first sight. But it will remind you of the missing truths, some of the essential parts of what it means to be a scientist — and it might inspire a colleague to shake off a rejection and start again.

Johannes Haushofer has posted his online.

In the same vein, a venture capital firm, Bessemer Venture Partners, keeps an Anti-Portfolio to honor “the companies we missed”.

Our reasons for passing on these investments varied. (…)


Whatever the reason, we would like to honor these companies – our “anti-portfolio” – whose phenomenal success inspires us in our ongoing endeavors to build growing businesses. Or, to put it another way: if we had invested in any of these companies, we might not still be working.

A sample: Airbnb, Apple, Ebay, Facebook, FedEx, Google, Intel, Paypal, Tesla, and Zoom.

And here is what the non-profit project Giving What We Can does: it has a page on its website documenting its mistakes.


Your management genealogy

I can’t remember how I bumped into this but Sam Lord, a researcher at UCSF, created what he calls his academic genealogy. I have often heard academics and scientists say about themselves or others that they “studied with” professor xyz. But I had never seen anyone work out who THAT professor had studied with and who the latter had studied with, and so on.

Lord did genealogies via his PhD advisor, his postdoc advisor, his undergraduate advisor, and his research specialist advisor. Some go as far as back as 1428.

Mine is relatively short. Management is a young field.

  • My doctoral committee chair Juan Antonio Pérez López studied with Fritz Roethlisberger at Harvard Business School — HBS (1970);
  • Roethlisberger was Elton Mayo’s assistant at HBS and taught there from 1927 until 1974. He also collaborated with Mayo in the Hawthorne Experiments at a Western Electric Company plant in Cicero, Illinois;
  • Mayo studied philosophy and psychology at University of Adelaide under William Mitchell (1926);
  • Mitchell obtained the title of doctor of science at the University of Edinburgh with Alexander Campbell Fraser (1891);
  • Fraser studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh with William Hamilton (1843) and later succeeded him in the Edinburgh Chair of Logic;
  • Hamilton went to Balliol College, Oxford in 1807 on a scholarship reserved for Scottish students. A previous recipient of that scholarship was Adam Smith (1740).

More importantly, it had me wonder about one’s managerial genealogy. By that I don’t mean the managers we have had but the ones who engendered in us a passion and a love for the craft of managing… and who were the managers who engendered in them that same passion and love, and so on.

I tried to create mine and found it impossible. I certainly remember stories that my managers told about their managers and what they learned from their experiences with them. But that’s where it stops. I don’t know who these people were and I don’t know the stories of the managers who inspired them. Mind you I have never been in one organization for very long. Perhaps it might be possible for people who have had long tenures in the same organization to create such genealogy.

In any case, my general reaction to genealogy is one of gratitude. And as I write this, I recall Jeff, Dave, and Amelia who certainly had that impact on me.

Who are yours?

From the archives of the blog

Mind your metaphors: We’re a team, not a family – in a family you never can fire somebody like your Uncle Joe. In a team, everybody’s got a role to play.

To read other issues of the newsletter, go here.

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