Lancaster Civil Engineering

Which is more valuable: good ideas or good people?

“Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.”

This is one of my favorite concepts from Ed Catmull’s book Creativity, Inc. (the Lancaster Civil book of the month for January). I’ll do a complete review of the book in the near future, but this theme of great teams and the ideas that they come up with is so crucial that it warrants separate consideration. There’s an interesting anecdote in the book where Catmull asks groups this question: “Would you rather have a great TEAM or a great IDEA?” Usually the response is split 50/50 with about half of the audience preferring one or the other. But in reality, those answers are not mutually exclusive – great ideas come from great teams!


Now this sounds so simple that you’re about 1.5 seconds from clicking over to check Facebook – I know. “Of course great ideas come from great teams!” But sometimes we talk as if ideas were like magical talismans that creative people keep around their necks. Or they’re like lightbulbs that simply click on at random and entirely unpredictable times. Or the best ideas are only to be found in the genius mind of a singular leader who has the charisma (or brutality) to force his will into existence. Each of those representations might be partially accurate, but the fact is, many of the best solutions come from people with different expertise and different backgrounds who are working together as a team.

Designed for teamwork

This has very practical implications for me as an engineer and a business owner. Although I personally have a wide variety of expertise and experience that allows me to complete many aspects of a project on my own, I almost always call upon the services of trusted partners to help me complete one part of that job. Being designed for community means that not only do I want my products to enrich the lives of the people around me, but my approach to creating those products is almost always done within the context of community (or a team). I am blessed to be surrounded by a strong network of like-minded professionals and their firms that I know that I can trust. The advantages of this approach are that I can tailor each project team to meet the specific needs and concerns of the client that I’m working with. As a company, it allows me to stay lean and efficient internally, while at the same time bringing highly skilled experts together to get something done. Plus, I get to chose the best in the business to work with me on each and every project – even if “the best” happens to be a competitor (which I don’t hesitate to do).

Worth it

This approach is not revolutionary…and it’s almost too simple…but it’s not easy. No way. It can be extremely intimidating to work with people who are more experienced and smarter than you are. And sometimes our pride makes us not want to share any of the credit for great ideas. And most times working as a team is just plain old hard work. It can be frustrating…and exhausting…and at times overwhelming. But I strongly believe the old African proverb that “if you want to go fast, go alone…if you want to go far, go together.” By putting together the best teams possible, we get the best ideas possible, and can provide the best solutions possible for the communities that depend on us. It’s worth the trouble in my opinion – because that’s what being designed for community is all about.

Ben Craddock

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