Many Cooks Make Great Soup (Sometimes)

Earlier I talked about how too many cooks spoil the broth – that is, too many leaders on a team lead it nowhere. However, that’s not always true.

One team I was on was compared by one of the members to the early days of Saturday Night Live, and to prove his point the member passed around a short history of SNL for us to read. Interesting stuff. The article described how in SNL’s early days, it was a ragged yet intense group of people with great chemistry. (And yes, there was a lot of chemistry going on in every sense of the word.) It was a group of very talented people who managed to click and create something spectacular.

It was one of the rare examples of how a lot of “Makers” can sometimes create amazing things together if you somehow manage to glue them together with the right energy. I’d call it context in the sense that it’s used in The Tipping Point. With the right context, sometimes too many cooks make AMAZING soup.

Similarly in one of my favourite articles, Paul Graham talks about how his first company included Robert Morris, Jr. doing system administration. Having several “Makers” on the same team created great synergy there, too. Then there’s Google. And so on.

But often when you have a lot of Makers, eventually they leave the team. How many great SNL stars stayed on? Most left to start solo careers, just like so many rock stars.  It’s very rare that a team – or a company – is able to hold onto those players forever. Sometimes the Makers are artisans, and concerned only with their art, be it coding, comedy or choreography. It’s a little easier to hold onto talent like that, because like it or not, the talent needs the business as much as it needs them.

However, many Makers are machers in the making, to use an old Yiddish word. Primadonnas. Often Makers don’t do as well on their own as they did with their original group, but they find it hard to work well with others. They’d rather fail on their own than succeed with a group.

The question for a group leader or entrepreneur is two-fold:

  1. “How can I hold onto these key people?”
  2. “And, in the end, is it really worth it?”

The later years of SNL seem to answer #2 in the affirmative (and Drucker’s The Effective Executive agrees) but then the real question becomes:

“Is it more valuable to hold on to the Makers-turned-machers, or should we just get good at finding great new people?”

Notes

  • Macher – Yiddish word for big-shot, usually someone well-connected who also has a swollen sense of self-importance.