Are you a 1 in 10 or a 1 in 10,000?


I am honored to host a guest blog by my pal Kaustav Mitra, who is a dear friend and colleague. He is the fearless leader of the SAP startup focus program. When I joined SAP last year, Kaustav was assigned as my “buddy” to show me around 🙂 

When I say fearless, I am not just saying that in the figurative sense – I mean it literally too. If you don’t believe me – look at this photo

TigerCub

I have been bugging Kaustav endlessly to start blogging and finally succeeded. At about 3.30 AM today – he sent this to me. Please enjoy – I am sure you will like his first blog just as much as I did. 

Leading a team of talented Type A personalities is a treat but comes with its own challenges. One major part of it is trying to offer the best guidance as a manager when it comes to the topic of career progression. You see both ends of the spectrum with colleagues either overestimating or underestimating their readiness for rapid progression. Being a fan of playing with numbers in general this sent my thoughts in another direction altogether. What could a basic estimation Gedankenexperiment (love that word!) tell me about talent management?

**CAVEAT. I am not claiming that any of the numbers below are remotely accurate; they just seemed more or less reasonable. If you don’t like them, feel free to use your own guesstimates instead.**

1:10

Factoring in children, gender distributions in the global workforce, unemployment and people past their active working years I’d still estimate that about 1 person out of every 10 on this planet are employed at an organization large enough to support a career track. I use this in the broadest sense – say entities larger than a few hundred people. Using a world population of 7,000,000,000 that still gives us 700 million people working in offices, factory floors, call centers, workshops and so on.

1:100

You’re already in a privileged position if you are one in a hundred. You’ve had a good education and a lot of advantages in life. Chances are that you are in a white collar job and placed solidly in the middle class. If I stop to think about though, I’d bet you still feel very much part of the 99% rather than the 1%.If you’re competitive though the bad news is that there are 70 million others like you.

1:1,000

At one in a thousand, it should be getting hard to breathe since you’re in the upper atmosphere. You’re probably well on your way on a decent growth track with your eye on management or acknowledged functional expertise. Still doesn’t feel like though, does it? You’ve got some luxuries but you’ve also got the pressures. The nice house, the good schools and the shiny car all come at a price. And by the way, there are 7 million people who are probably as good as you.

1:10,000

Bust out your air guitar, rock stardom beckons. You’re good enough at what you do to have fundamental impact wherever you are. It still feels like you have a lot of company with 700,000 others like you around but the reality is that organizations are desperate to find people like you. Even in a large corporation with 100,000 employees there are only about a hundred people with your ability (keeping in mind that you had to be one in ten even to get in in the first place) and if employers don’t work hard to keep you, it will be to their own detriment. Congrats! You’re on the fast track.

1:100,000

Great – you’re the Big Kahuna. You’re no longer working for The Man, you ARE The Man (or The Woman, as the case may be). You’re already in the C-suite and with just 70,000 people like you around, it’s a nice little club. There are probably more than 70,000 firms around (of notable size) and they really, really want you. Feels good to be wanted, doesn’t it?

1:1,000,000

Hope you have your spacesuit on because at this altitude I can guarantee you’re not sucking air. You’ve either won a Nobel or Oscar (bonus points if you can name the two people who have won both, no Googling) or Olympic gold or otherwise need a five point font for a one page resume because your achievements are overflowing. No one will see the personal sacrifices you’ve made to get where you are because we’re blinded by your dazzle.

Most of us will never get to meet one of these people and if you do shake one of them by the hand, be sure you wrap that hand in plastic in case that talent rubs off on you. And there’s STILL 7,000 of them today on this planet.

I could take this to the logical extreme, at one in ten million, you’re a regular on the global news circuits; at one in a hundred million, much of the planet knows who you are and at one in a billion, there’s a good chance people will still know who you were a hundred years from now (all hail Jimi Hendrix).

This blog is really not about the last few categories since I can guarantee that most people in those categories are not reading this. But for everyone else, this exercise should be fascinating.

I started out talking about talent management. Employers have the tough job of recognizing and rewarding the incredible talent of people in the 1 in 10,000 category.  They not only have to attract these people; they have to keep them engaged, motivated and committed. In a corporate setting, you need the right management talent to do this effectively and the odds are not in a company’s favor when the managers are likely 1 in 10,000 people themselves. This is just not something most HR departments are designed to do well. To be certain, you can’t build a company around rock stars alone but it sure is nice to have a few handy when competition comes nipping at the heels.

On the flip side, for employees, it’s incredibly difficult to make the jump from the 1 in 10 to the 1 in 10,000. Any misstep can send you tumbling down the ladder and that is assuming you started out blessed with the colossal amount of talent, appetite for consistently insane hard work and wizard-like organizational savvy (and yes, plain dumb luck) needed. Think of the numbers and realize there are a LOT of people at least as smart as you and quite possibly, a whole lot hungrier. There’s a reason the odds against you are 1 in a 1,000. Not odds to take to the races. But here’s a basic truth. You can’t stop trying – even if your efforts don’t take you where you want to go, everything you do to improve the odds works in your favor in the long term. As good a place as any to end with one of my favorite quotes from Les Brown

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

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