“When everybody owns something, nobody owns it, and nobody has a direct interest in maintaining or improving its condition. That is why buildings in the Soviet Union—like public housing in the United States—look decrepit within a year or two of their construction…” Milton Friedman
Dr. Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 1976, and died in 2006 at the age of 94.
I could make this post all about his defense of capitalism, his arguments against socialism, the benefits of reducing government’s role in our lives, and a whole host of ideas that he defended throughout his career.
Instead, my focus is on ownership and how Dr. Friedman’s quote applies to leadership in a business setting.
Look around your workplace. Look at the teams. The committees. The ad hoc groups that come together to solve a problem.
Who owns the outcomes of these teams, committees, and ad hoc groups? Is everyone aligned around the same goals? Does everyone own the outcome, or no one?
Ownership is the key to success. Owners are always more dedicated to the outcome than non-owners. If this is true, wouldn’t more owners be better? As Dr. Friedman points out, when everyone owns something, nobody owns it.
True leaders step up and take ownership. Leaders then unite others around the important goals. Followers, in turn, own their support of the goals and their valued place in that effort.
Show me a team with multiple owners (which is really no owners), and I’ll show you a leaderless team that’s doomed to mediocrity and failure.
3 thoughts on “The Truth about Ownership”
Bob, what about the structure that has become the free software movement, shareware, the creative commons, and open-source software development? Would this be an exception?
Good question. I suppose they could be an exception. But, the funny thing about those types of things is that there always seems to be one or two individuals who take ownership…even if it’s temporary.
To your point, read Michael Lewis’ account of Sergey Aleynikov v. Goldman Sachs in his book, Flash Boys. I’d be willing to bet that more often those one or two individuals claiming ownership are larger, corporate entities.