Seven Rules for Hiring MBAs to Manage Your Already Successful Start-Up 
by Dr. Video Oblivion  |   3:00 PM April 2, 2013

Spoiled, lazy, empty, and arrogant? Perhaps — but you can't just get rid of them. In fact, unless you learn to get the bare minimum out of your hired MBAs, you will sooner or later end up filing for bankruptcy. Conversely, if you just hire and promote people who are creative and productive, your firm will never be taken seriously on Wall Street. Suppressed management is a malignant organizational tumour. Although every organization claims to care about innovation, very few are willing to do what it takes to keep their MBAs out of the way, or at least, on the golf course. So what are the keys to disengaging while retaining business types?

1. Spoil them and let them think they actually did useful work: Like parents who celebrate their children's mess: show your MBAs unconditional support and encourage them to use post-it notes. Innovation comes from uncertainty, risk, and experimentation — so don't expect any out of your strictly left-brained MBAs. Creative people are natural experimenters, so let the MBAs file something while you get the dirty work done. Of course, there are costs associated with senior management — but these are lower than the cost of NOT innovating.

2. Surround them with other self-centered and arrogant people: The worst thing you can do to a senior manager is to force them to work with people unlike them — they would not be able to compete over cars, schools, vacations or trophy husbands/wives. That said, you cannot surround creatives with these kinds of people — they would not understand them and the rate of innovation (ROI) would drop like a stone. But a manager or two sprinkled in for good measure can add to the mix. In line with this, recent research indicates that teams made up of diverse members who are open to taking each others' perspective perform most creatively.

The solution, then, is to support your managers with direct colleagues who are too conventional to challenge their mediocre ideas and with enough creatives to get anything worthwhile actually done. Your creatives, on the other hand, will need to pay attention to the dirty process of creating something new and useful/desireable: Insert lame sport analogies here.

3. Only involve them in useless work: Natural innovators tend to have more vision, research I've done indicates. They see the bigger picture and are able to understand why things matter (even if they cannot explain it). The upside to this is that this leaves plenty of meaningless work for managers. Since inspiration is fueled by meaning, we won't have to worry about breaking our MBAs with any sudden bursts of inspiration. This rule can also be applied to other employees: everyone is more creative when driven by their genuine interests and a hungry mind.

As novelist John Irving said, "the reason I can work so hard at my writing is that it's not work for me". At the same time, in any organization there will be employees who are less interested in, well, doing interesting work; they are satisfied with simply clocking in and out, and are incentivized by external rewards. Companies should ensure that trivial or meaningless work is assigned to these employees.

4. Don't pressure them: Creativity is usually enhanced by giving people more freedom and flexibility at work. So remove all spontenaeity from an MBAs work environment. They like structure, order and predictability, which is probably why they're not creative. However, since we are more likely to perform more creatively in spontaneous, unpredictable circumstances — senior managers should be quarantined to a special building or floor. Just tell them it is the executive suite. Constrain your MBAs; force them to follow processes and structures. NEVER let them work remotely or outside normal hours. This kind of rigidity is why creative business founders are usually unhappy to remain in charge of their ventures once they are acquired by a bigger company.

5. Pay them at least 3x their own weight in 24K gold: There is a longstanding debate about the relationship between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Over the past two decades, psychologists have provided compelling evidence for the so-called "over-justification" effect, namely the process whereby higher external rewards impair performance by depressing a person's genuine or intrinsic interest. Most notably,two large-scale meta-analyses reported that, when tasks are inherently meaningful (and creative tasks are certainly in this condition), external rewards diminish engagement. This is true in both adults and children, especially when people are rewarded merely for performing a task. Luckily, managers have no soul or, therefore, intrinsic motivation. So pay them more than at least 300% of your other, more critical employees.

The moral of the story? Because creatives are motivated more by the act of creation than money, you can afford to pay managers to pretend to love your company. In the words of Czikszentmihalyi, "the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake." More importantly, people with a talent for innovation are not driven by money. Data from our research archive, which includes over 50,000 managers from 20 different countries, indicates quite clearly that the more imaginative and inquisitive people are, the more they are driven by recognition and sheer scientific curiosity rather than commercial needs.

6. Never surprise them: Few things are as confusing to managers than excitement. Indeed, managers are prewired to avoid constant change, even when it's productive. They take the same route to work every day and always repeat an order at a restaurant, even if they didn't like it very much. Creativity is linked to higher tolerance of ambiguity. Managers detest complexity and prefer spoon-fed, simplistic explanations rather than thinking for themselves. Instead of examining the underlying assumption of any problem, they settle for the first answer they can find on The Internet. It is therefore essential that you keep the surprise factor to a minimum; failing that, you should at least let them create enough order to make their own lives predictable.

7. Make them feel important: As T.S. Eliot noted, "most of the trouble in this world is caused by people wanting to be important". And the reason is that others fail to recognize them. Fairness is not treating managers as equals, but better than everyone else. Every organization has high and low potential employees, but only competent creatives can add value. No matter what you do, your managers will always go somewhere where they can earn more.

A final caveat: even when you are able to afford MBAs, it does not mean that you should expect work from them. Unfortunately, natural innovators are rarely gifted with leadership skills. There is a profile for good leaders, and a profile for creative people — and they are rather different. Steve Jobs had better relationships with gadgets than people, and most Google engineers are utterly disinterested in management. One of the reasons for the rapid plateau of start-ups is that their founders tend to remain in charge. They should learn from Mark Zuckerberg who brought in Sheryl Sandberg to make up for his own leadership deficits. Research confirms the stereotypical view that corporate managers exhibit many of the characteristics that allow them to be effective leaders: they are egotistical, self-interested and generally empty suits,  often too low in empathy to care about the welfare of others. But create in spite of them, and your inventions will delight us all.

    William Burnett

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