Killing the Golden Goose: From Waste to Potential


The origins of management have embedded a fixed mindset of human potential in management practice. The resulting efficiency narrative leaves us fearing volatility and battling the threat of waste. We need to embrace the opportunity of a growth mindset and lead the development of human potential.   

Golden Goose Co Limited

Imagine you were entrusted management of 12 golden geese. Because the eggs they produce are all golden they won’t breed. As the manager of the golden geese all you can manage is their efficiency of production. Achieving the daily maximum of eggs is all that is possible.  

The manager of Golden Goose Co Limited lives in fear of any volatility in performance, any change in circumstances or any threat to the geese.  The most likely outcome from that change is a drop in production. The golden goose manager’s job in life is fight the geese’s inevitable extinction and deliver maximum efficiency of production in the meantime.

Which Management Narrative: Waste or Potential?

Human potential is not a golden goose. We are intelligent & creative, we can improve, learn, innovate, collaborate and grow. However, early management thinkers like Frederick Winslow Taylor viewed the challenge of management of maximising the efficiency of the labour resource, treating employees as a golden goose with a maximum limit of contribution. Time and motion, performance management and other tools were developed to maximise the fixed contribution from a resource that wasn’t expected to develop beyond a limited skill set of contributions.

The idea that management faces a threat of lost employee productivity and must do battle to maximise efficiency of production is a major narrative of management. As John Hagel has outlined, threat based narratives can build a strong unity of culture, but at the cost of conservatism and a focus on preservation.

Tim Kastelle recently highlighted that management is often deeply concerned at any sign of volatility of performance.  As the manager of Golden Goose Co Limited, volatility would get you fired. We go to enormous lengths to embed our desire to eradicate volatility from management, even to the extent where often the implicit purpose of our organisational structures and practices is to embed execution of only the current business model.

The management mindset of efficiency with an implicit fixed mindset of human productivity is akin to Carol Dweck’s Fixed mindset of intelligence.  The consequences for management behaviour are similar avoiding challenges, ignoring valuable feedback and feeling threatened by competitive success.

United in their battle against waste, managers with this traditional mindset are battling the extinction of the golden goose under the forces of disruption. Nothing more.

Growing Potential is the Work of Leaders

The rapidly changing and disruptive environment in which we work means we need to start managing the ability of human potential to grow.  We need a new growth mindset and to develop a new opportunity narrative for management that embraces human potential.

Any work that can be automated will be automated, including more and more sophisticated knowledge work. The role of leaders is increasingly less about the focus on managing waste as the golden goose approach is being disrupted by the innovation of others. Increasingly Harold Jarche argues leaders should manage talent. Leadership is the technology of human potential.

Managers need to start embracing this leadership and focusing on the opportunity narrative that is embedded in human history. We have shown consistently that human creativity is the best source of productivity improvement. Focusing on improving effectiveness, defined as success in producing an outcome, allows a far greater contribution from the people involved in the work and keeps our attention focused on best ways to realise the goals, not the processes.

The productivity improvement from creativity and potential far exceeds that of human management. Ongoing experiments like scientific learning, our global networks and our start-up culture prove the human potential to improve outcomes through learning, creativity and innovation. The Toyota Management System shows that human potential can and will grow in the exact industrial manufacturing context that Ford and Taylor helped invent, when given the opportunity by the management system.

When managers focus on growing human potential to improve effectiveness, this growth mindset redefines the game and pushes changes in the other systems that define our modern organisations. Purpose and goals come first. Engagement is no longer an after thought. Experimentation is a core practice. Collaboration and cooperation are seen as human opportunities to work and not sources of waste & distraction. Volatility is embraced as a source of potential learning. Most importantly of all the new narrative respects and embraces the potential of all in organisations to lead and to contribute.

That is a future of work worth seeing. So let’s kill the golden goose mindset of management and focus instead on leading the potential of people.


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