Hammer Problems

Written by Ben Siler on December 2nd, 2009

I don’t think Koch himself would argue that he has “really created a generalized model of “success” that can be applied to societies, organizations and individuals.” He notes that generalized models come up against the hammer problem, which is that “to a person with only a hammer and no understanding, every problem looks like a nail” (39). It doesn’t seem that Koch is trying to provide a Guaranteed Recipe for Success®; rather, he’s trying to create general principles that can be applied to various situations. Of course, everyone has different types and levels of talent, and some people will probably never learn to apply Koch’s principles in a way that creates success, even if they really want to.

This likely failure of individuals raises an interesting question: what about the C employees? Koch seems certain that someone who can’t perform in his organization can find a better fit elsewhere (“Inability to create value at one company does not mean the same will be true elsewhere. Employees may be much more successful in another organization that has needs or a culture better suited to their talents and values”), and overall, firing the C employees will probably lead to a more productive society. It seems to me, however, that sometimes people may be less talented in general than others. I worry about these people if every company practices Koch-style pruning. On the other hand, few things are more frustrating than incompetent coworkers. Overall, the problem of C employees leads me to question whether Koch’s plan is really practical for a broad range of businesses. As Koch says, C employees “may be in the wrong role, meaning they could contribute at a B or even an A level if they were in a role that better leveraged their comparative advantages” (90). I doubt that all managers have the ability to perceive what roles fit what people best, or that all people act in the enlightened self-interest mode of rationality all the time. It seems that Koch has a good plan if you can rock it, but many people probably can’t.



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