Survival of the Nicest… or is it the Meanest?

I’m a regular Slashdot reader.  Yes, yes, people from Microsoft do read Slashdot; it keeps us grounded to know what is on the minds of the ABM crowd.  Slashdot is often an insightful leading indicator of information technology thought and opinion.  However, every once in a while I come across a Slashdot article that I find remarkable either for it’s hater-ness or it’s naïveté.  This posting, asking whether Nice Engineers Finish Last In Tough Times, is an example of the latter.  Whether it’s sloppiness or sensationalism that allows articles like this to slip through the editorial sieve to the home page, I don’t know.  But this particular article got my goat for a number of reasons.  The first couple of reasons are pretty obvious:

  • The author obviously has pretty strong opinions about the two managers.  Is this really a case of Jim vs. Dwight battling to keep their jobs on The Office, or is there a more subtle reality being masked by the author’s opinions of the people involved?
  • I’m not a professional statistician, but I feel pretty secure in asserting that a sample size of one doesn’t meet the bar for statistical relevancy.  Does this guy’s experience with one instance of office politics really portend some sort of “nice guys finish last” trend in worldwide IT?

But here’s the thing that bugs me most about this article:

  • The article lacked any relevant data that a second-level manager would actually use to determine who kept their job.  For example, which of these two people is more effective at their job, has the most relevant experience, or judged more capable of managing the combined organization would all be important pieces of information for such a decision.  We’ve all worked with really nice people that just weren’t very good at their jobs as well as people we didn’t like that we begrudgingly admitted were effective at their jobs. 

Of course, we would all prefer to work with people that were both great at what they do as well as total sweethearts, but reality is rarely as simple as the “new trend: bad guys kick sand in face of good guys” caricature painted by this article.