In the years after World War II, advertising was America’s glamour industry. The competition was fierce for the best and brighest talent. David Ogilvy stood at the top of this time and was well known for writing “rules” for great advertising based primarily on his expriences as a direct marketer and market researcher. His core belief though was that great advertising started with great and intelligent people. He said that he was looking for “gentlemen with brains”. And at that time it primarily was “gentemen” and not “gentlepeople”.
Ogilvy drove home the importance of attracting great people to his office managers through a unique and effective device–he gave them dolls. Not just any dolls. A set of the nesting, Russian matrioshka dolls. Every new office manager received a set with a personal note from Ogilvy inside the smallest doll. The note said “If we each hire people smaller less capable than ourselves, we will become a company of dwarves. If we hire people greater than ourselves, we will become a company of giants”.
A powerful lesson, powerfully delivered. There are two lessons here. The obvious one is that we need to have the guts and vision to hire people who are better than us (at least at some aspects of our jobs). The second is more subtle. As business leaders, we need to think about how we send messages to our team in ways that get them heard.