Avoiding the Irreplaceable

This weekend’s WSJ discussed how Cirque du Soleil recruits special performers but not so unique that they cannot be replaced or duplicated. After all, they spend millions on a show and intend for it to outlast any single performer plus travel around the world.

“Let me tell you, this is our nightmare. It’s quite possible there isn’t another person on the planet quite like him,” lamented the company’s Director of Casting with regards to a amazing Brazilian gymnast.

This reminded me of how I occasionally view Google’s evolution – we’re mechanizing. Turning the core parts of our business into well-tuned platforms. This doesn’t mean we don’t value the individual or have unique people on our teams. Just that when you encounter these sorts of people you want to try and institutionalize their greatness. If it’s a killer engineer, make sure their code can be maintained and evolved by others. A “black swan” salesperson? Well, once they close the deal you want to immediately support the partner with a broader team to ensure the relationship stays with the company and not just the person.

Scale relies upon replaceable parts so the machine can be replicated and maintained.