Dysfunctional Employees? Sometimes, We Need Them to Innovate

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Jun 14, 2012

When the numbers are in the trillions – 10 trillion to be precise – a lot can be accomplished. But then again, a lot can go wrong as well.

The human body is made up of 10 trillion cells, the building blocks of life. That means the exponential number of cellular interactions and chemical reactions are nearly endless. A lot of amazing things can happen along the way with the human body’s ability to adapt and flourish, and as modern biology has shown us, a lot can also go horribly wrong.

Cancer has been used as a metaphor for a long time, but it’s vile destructive path both literally and figuratively unfortunately never wanes, never lacks a heart-wrenching, shake-your-head story.

Dysfunction that can be beneficial

Organizations get cancer; individuals get cancer. My father has been battling melanoma that has now spread throughout his body, and most likely anything the doctors do will only prolong his life for the short-term, adding months instead of years. It’s a difficult time for our family, which is why those who have been through it vilify cancer and other diseases of cellular failure.

But there are lesser dysfunctional evils that affect those trillions of cells, and those can actually benefit the literal body in an evolutionary way as well as the figurative body in a world-of-work way. However, the irony is that we talk so much about the progressive global workplace of today when the most of the world is still pretty suit-and-tie conservatively corporate and women still struggle to be seen and judged as individuals.

And while on the one had we argue the ethical, medical and spiritual pros and cons of DNA cloning and genetic engineering, the other hand wants to clone and hire cookie-cutter employees based on bland job descriptions that don’t allow for coloring outside the lines.

Dyslexic entrepreneurs

Again, the cellular dysfunction isn’t all so bad. According to a recent article in The Economist:

Julie Login of Cass Business School surveyed a group of entrepreneurs and found that 35 percent of them said that they suffered from dyslexia, compared with 10 percent of the population as a whole and 1 percent of professional managers. Prominent dyslexics include the founders of Ford, General Electric, IBM and IKEA, not to mention more recent successes such as Charles Schwab (the founder of a stockbroker), Richard Branson (the Virgin Group), John Chambers (Cisco) and Steve Jobs (Apple).”

The great captains of industry suffer from synaptic connections gone haywire. And mercy, look at what’s it’s gotten us via some pretty happy and successful accidents. That doesn’t mean they’ve need polarizing balance on the other side with sound management and front-line folk, but it does mean some of these cellular interactions and chemical reactions have been good for innovation and business.

We need talent management Petri dishes

Organizations think they can’t experiment with talent screening for new and existing employees in their own Petri dishes, but they actually can, and that’s in the form of talent network Petri dishes. They need a place where applicants and employees alike can communicate with one another, collaborate with one another, commiserate with one another, and the “mad” scientists – the HR, recruiting and hiring manager scientists – can witness in real-time the interactions of who does what with whom when, why and how.

Throw in some controlled experiments (scenario-based experiments, problem-solving, individual and group assessments), and the talent network Petri dishes give insight as to future brilliant “dysfunctionals” who innovate and those who will keep them balanced for business growth in kind.

You can find more from Kevin Grossman on his Marcom HRsay blog.