The hero myth, the notion that great accomplishments are achieved by superstar geniuses working alone, is an alluring but dangerous fantasy in business. Look no further than rock & roll to slay that chimera.
In the world of rock—as in mainstream business—it’s the TEAM that gets things done.
First, there’s the phenomenon of the rock band that has revolutionized popular music—from the Beatles to the Grateful Dead to U2 and beyond. But the great achievements of the solo artist as well—from Presley to Dylan to Jackson to Prince, etc.—are enabled by a team of collaborators, including studio and touring musicians, record producers, sound engineers, a road crew, and full array of business managers, booking agents, lawyers, and accountants. Behind the success of any rock & roll artist (band or solo star) is a team—in fact, a team of coordinated teams.
So…if you want to build creative teams in your organization, study the great rock artists, as we do on these cyberpages. Especially if you want teams that are innovative, passionate, ambitious, result-focused, and independent thinking.
But there are those in business who downplay the importance of teams at all and still subscribe to the myth of the individual hero. As Warren Bennis and Patricia Biederman pointed out in their book, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration: “We cling to the myth of the Lone Ranger, the romantic idea that great things are usually accomplished by a larger-than-life individual working alone.”
But the sun may finally be setting on that illusion. Tom Kelley in The Art of Innovation argues:
We believe that the myth of the lone genius can actually hamper a company’s efforts in innovation and creativity. After close encounters with dozens of real-life inventors, I have to report that most of them don’t have a lot to teach us about applying creative process to business...We’ve found that loners are so caught up in their idea that they are reluctant to let it go, much less allow it to be experimented with and improved upon. They think more like individuals than team members. And unfortunately their projects suffer.
Malcolm Gladwell, in a New Yorker article, “The Talent Myth,” concurs:
In the modern corporation, the system is considered only as strong as its stars…[The McKinseys and Enrons] believe in stars, because they don’t believe in systems. In a way, that’s understandable, because our lives are so obviously enriched by individual brilliance. Groups don’t write great novels, and a committee didn’t come up with the theory of relativity. But companies work by different rules. They don’t just create; they execute and compete and coordinate the efforts of many different people, and the organizations that are most successful at that task are the ones where the system is the star.
In business, “system” is just a name for how a team—or a team of coordinated teams—works together.