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The recently published The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation has received wide favourable comment.  Reading it reminded me of an earlier assessment that is relevant in a era where business is acutely conscious of the need to manage talent.
Here is a checklist of behaviours and attitudes encouraged in staff by Bell Labs in an effort to create star performers.

Going beyond the job

  • I make the most of my present assignment.
  • I do more than I am asked to do.
  • I look for places where I might spot problems and fix them.
  • I fix bugs that I notice (in programs) or at least tell someone about them.
  • I look for opportunities to do extra work to help the project move along more quickly.

New ideas and follow-through

  • I try to do some original work.
  • I look for places where something that’s already done might be done better.
  • I have ideas about new features and other technical projects that might be developed.
  • When I have an idea, I try to make it work and let people know about it.
  • I try to document what my idea is and why it’s a good idea.
  • I think about and try to document how my idea could save the company money or bring in new business.
  • I seek advice from people who have been successful in promoting ideas.
  • I construct a plan for selling my idea to people in the company.

Dealing constructively with criticism.

  • I tell colleagues about my ideas to get their reactions and criticisms.
  • I use their comments and criticisms to make my ideas better.
  • I consult the sources of criticism to help find solutions.
  • I continue to revise my ideas to incorporate my colleagues’ concerns.

Planning for the future

  • I spend time planning what I’d like to work on next.
  • I look for other interesting projects to work on when my present work gets close to the finish line.
  • I talk to people to find out what projects are coming up and will need people.
Source:  Kelley R and Caplan J (1993)  How Bell Labs creates star performers.  Harvard Business Review, July-August 1993 pp.128

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