Optimisers vs Drones

Since I gained enough social skills to function in society and organisations, I’ve gradually come to notice a distinction between people. When working as part of an organisation, most people don’t optimise for or really care about outcomes. They just do the kind and amount of work that is normal. A small proportion of people are different. They do care about outcomes, whether that be the firm’s wellbeing or making a great product. They don’t just do what is expected. Instead they look to make the greatest impact. They optimise processes, try to improve their teams ways of working, try to challenge bad or ineffective policies etc…

Concept labels are useful. Let’s call the first group of people drones. Let’s call the second optimisers. Drones are not independent actors. They are, by and large, a reflection of their environment. In a good firm they do well and are an asset. In a bad organisation they internalise and perpetuate pathological behaviours. A very good culture and team dynamic can transform drones into optimisers, but that’s inordinately hard to do and requires managers who are great leaders and can forge a tribal identity.

Good examples of optimizers are John Boyd and TaraMac Aulay. Both fought against the current to implement changes which had disproportionate impacts.

When hiring, you should be on the lookout for optimisers. It’s not the only criteria by any means, a optimiser with an IQ of 50 won’t be much help, but in most high-skill professions and especially in leadership positions an optimiser is far more impactful and trustworthy than a drone.

In life, you should aim to be an optimiser and not a drone. This isn’t easy. Going against the flow can have significant personal costs. More than that, thinking for yourself is a skill. It’s like a muscle. If you haven’t done it for most of your life for whatever reason, your muscle is atrophied and it’s a very hard and long process from that state to one where you have a healthy mind and take ownership of your work, team and effects on the world.

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