I was watching the movie Robin Hood last night and thinking about the difference between great men in the middle ages and great men today. A great man in the middle ages routinely risked life and limb to pursue greatness (whether that greatness be in business, thought, science or politics). The best of the best in each of these disciplines regularly died for their possessions, philosophies or discoveries. The great people of today, rarely are this brave. They do not command the respect that a great man of the 13th or 14th century would have.
This deficiency in the greatness of the greatest is more than made up for by the enormous increase in the greatness of the median. The median person in the middle ages was a surf on a leased plot of land. He gave a bit of his harvest to the landlord, a bit to the king and used most of it to feed himself. The median man today on the other hand, likely works in a factory or services position; a position where he supplies the labor that runs the world. Perhaps he builds cars for Ford, something that would have been considered a very rare skilled position in the middle ages.
The question this logically leads to is, why? I think the largest reason is the wider distribution of technology and the advancement of freedom. The technology justification is easy to see. Automation of simpler tasks means that hundreds of acres of land can be effectively harvested by a handful of men. Freedom allows men of all stature to create ideas, earn money and contribute scientific advancements without the risk of facing persecution or jealous violence.
The great man is challenged by such technologies and freedoms though. The automation of more and more complicated tasks (take computer driven computation for example) makes it more and more difficult to distinguish one’s self. Great men of these days not only need to have original thoughts, but be able to leverage the new technologies and available information.
Now that I’ve bored you with the difference between the middle ages and today, it’s time to bring it back around to the blog. I believe you want to make your company more like today than the middle ages. This may seem obvious, but it can be threatening to great men (which your company will need). In order to encourage these men, you will need to identify them, train them in how to use the technologies and information available to them, and encourage them to achieve what they can achieve. By doing this while promoting an atmosphere full of technology and freedom you will enable both great men AND make the median men in your organization stronger.