The Key to Success in a Winner-Take-All World: Be a Glue Person

Neil Irwin — New York Times economics correspondent and author of How to Win in a Winner-Take-All World — was a guest on a recent Pinkcast episode, and he offered 2 words and 1 question that can help people succeed in today’s competitive marketplace.

Irwin claims that what makes people succeed in a highly competitive job market is what he calls being a “glue person.”

To strengthen his theory, N. Irwin asked many big companies (Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, GE, Walmart…) what does it take to succeed in a high-technological and competitive environment. The main point he gathered was the importance of being able to work in teams. That’s why he decided to develop the “Glue people” concept: people who are good both at their core job and at understanding other teams’ perspective.

Glue people are those “who pull teams together to make them greater than the sum of their parts”.

And what if you’re not quite there; perhaps you understand your own job quite well, but aren’t too sure about what the other members of your team are responsible for? Is there anything you can do to become a “glue person”?

That’s where the one question comes in.

Irwin states that in order to become a glue person, you need to ask other people who have a different skill set than you, “How do you do your job?” That means an engineer might have to ask a salesperson what their challenges are in the field; a marketer might have to ask a programmer what their day to day job entails, and somebody might have to ask an accountant about their job (actually that would never happen because no one cares what an accountant does 🙂 )

So like all Pinkcast episodes, they are short and sweet, right to the point, and leave the viewer with a couple of basic takeaways:

Be a glue person, and ask people “How do you do your job?”

Here’s the video (clicking on it takes you to Dan Pink’s page):

P.S. I wonder if Dan always carries glue in his sport coat…

P.P.S. image from Northern Crossings Mercy

25 thoughts on “The Key to Success in a Winner-Take-All World: Be a Glue Person

  1. Like so many things I read, I often find myself applying the ideas from my past life as an elementary teacher. I think one of the most underappreciated parts of school are the opportunities kids have to learn to work with others. I sometimes had kids choose their academic partner. The problem with that approach is that some children are never selected, and I think that further erodes their self-esteem. More often than not, I selected their partners or groups for this reason. I discovered that there were kids who couldn’t work with practically anyone, those who did well with a select few classmates, and others who could work with anyone. Those are the “glue people” who make the group dynamics work. It is a skill and a blessing to have this talent because being able to work with anyone opens up a lot more doors.

    1. I do the same thing for my team projects; I used to let students form their own teams, but for the past several years I do the team formation myself, usually just random, with a coupe of specific placements if I think it is warranted.

    1. Thanks, Tandy, for sharing your thoughts. I think you can have both; I agree that it is important to accept that you need diversity on a team, but I think it also helps to have a bit of insight about what everyone else does, so that perhaps you can help them when it is appropriate.

  2. I can see the value in this concept, Jim, but am also of the view that your peers must be of a similar frame of mind i.e. work ethic, for this to work. In my environment, I cannot work in teams because people just don’t do their share. I always end up doing everything just to get it done. Senior people lean on me and ask me to check on juniors just to get it done. As a result, I am a loner who aspires to be part of a great team.

    1. great point, Robbie. Some of my students feel the same way; they would rather do a project by themselves than work with teammates who may not do their share. I respond by telling them it is a learning experience, that they will experience the same thing in the working world. I just assumed that there would be more significant repercussions in the corporate world for being a slacker than there is in the classroom. Sounds like there may not be! I tend to be a loner, but I think given the nature of my job, it is OK…

  3. That seems to make perfect sense, Jim. Sometimes, I think, we are frightened of asking others what they do in case we don’t understand it. But we’ll never understand if we don’t ask.

    1. We certainly have our students do a lot of work in teams. Some students like it more than others, and sometimes I wonder if we overdo it sometimes. Having students on two or three different teams in one semester makes it difficult for them to coordinate all those meetings!

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