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The Manager as Maker

Sonne, when asked why his company operates as a business instead of a charity, always highlights the skills of ASD consultants as a source of competitive advantage. He acknowledges that his consultants require extra support and extra management, but he also argues that they’re worth it. The company estimates that [its] consultants are significantly more effective than traditional testing consultants, and that this more than offsets the cost of making a workspace in which ASD consultants can work effectively.

One reason to examine Specialisterne closely is that this kind of logic, which compares the benefits and costs of working with special employees to traditional models, applies in general when you’re managing specially talented employees in ways that will, you hope, bring about outlier levels of performance. It’s not limited to ASD consultants.

A manager at one of Specialisterne’s client companies made this point eloquently. He told us that managing Specialisterne’s ASD consultants has made him a better manager of all his staff. Managing ASD consultants, he said, required him to create the conditions needed to help them do their best. Work on that problem produced an epiphany for this manager. He realized that he could, and should, pay the same levels of attention to his other employees. Many of those, he observed, had eccentricities of personality or behavior. In the past, he’d regarded these differences as inconveniences he had to “put up with.” After working with Specialisterne, he asked himself if he could find ways to make workspaces that could improve the performance of all his employees. Outlier behaviors can sometimes create coordination difficulties and additional costs, but this manager reckoned he’d have to cope with those no matter what. He was, he figured, already paying the costs of accommodating the eccentricities. Why not get some more benefit for his trouble?

This thinking and his performance represent a transition from the industrial dichotomy between manager and maker to a more artful notion of managers and creatives both as makers.


Reprinted with permission of Stanford Business Press; copyright © 2012 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

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The Reviewer

  1. Don Tapscott ([email protected]) is CEO of the Tapscott Group and vice chairman of Spencer Trask Collaborative Innovations, which is building a portfolio of companies in the collaboration and social media space. He is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Tapscott is the author of 15 books about information technology in business and society, including, with Anthony D. Williams, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (Portfolio, 2006), Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (Portfolio, 2010), and Radical Openness: Four Unexpected Principles for Success (TED Conferences, 2013).

This Book

  1. The Soul of Design: Harnessing the Power of Plot to Create Extraordinary Products (Stanford Business Books, 2012), by Lee Devin and Robert D. Austin
  2. Lee Devin ([email protected]) is a senior consultant with the Cutter Consortium’s business technology strategies practice. He is an emeritus professor of theater and senior research scholar at Swarthmore College and senior dramaturge at People’s Light and Theatre Company. Devin is also coauthor, with Robert D. Austin, of Artful Making: What Managers Need to Know about How Artists Work (Financial Times/Prentice Hall, 2003).
  3. Robert D. Austin ([email protected]) is dean of the faculty of business administration at the University of New Brunswick. He has written several books, including, with Richard L. Nolan and Shannon O’Donnell, Harder Than I Thought: Adventures of a Twenty-First Century Leader (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012) and The Adventures of an IT Leader (Harvard Business Press, 2009).
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