In preparing for The Surprising Science Behind Agile Leadership I came across some more great quotes from Dan Pink’s Drive on why great products and teams often come from teams of autonomous, self-directed, multi-talented generalists.

This is a continuation of my previous post The Rise of the Generalist.

Dan shares a great quote from CEO Cannon-Brookes regarding who Atlassians regards the role of engineers and how they apply 20% time:

A startup engineer must be all things-he (or she) is a full time software developer and a part time product manager/customer support guru/internal systems maven. As a company grows, an engineer spends less time building the things he personally wants in the product. Our hope is that 20% time gives engineers back dedicated stack time- of their own direction-to spend on product innovation, features, plugins, fixes or additions that they think are the most important.

Another great example of shedding labels and giving people autonomy over the 4 T’s: their task, their time, their technique, and their team is the pioneering work of William McKnight and 3M.

In the 1930 and 1940s McKnight believed in a simple, and at the time, counter intuitive creed:

Hire good people, and leave them alone.

Well before it was fashionable to talk about empowerment, and intrinsic motivation, McKnight made a strong case for autonomy:

As our business grows, it becomes increasingly necessary to delegate responsibility and to encourage men and women to exercise their initiative. This requires considerable tolerance. Those men and women, to whom we delegate authority and responsibility, if they are good people, are going to want to do their jobs in their own way. Mistakes will be made. But if a person is essentially right, the mistakes he or she makes are not as serious in the long run as the mistakes management will make if it undertakes to tell those in authority exactly how they must do their jobs. Management that is destructively critical when mistakes are made kills initiative. And it’s essential that we have many people with initiative if we are to continue to grow.

That’s a pretty cool management philosophy and McKnight (and 3M) were definitely ahead of their time.