James Billmaier | Crain's Portland

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

James Billmaier


Hoping to bring the patent process into the 21st century, Seattle-based TurboPatent offers a set of technologies designed to automate and streamline patent drafting, prosecution and quality evaluation.

The Mistake:

When I was at Sun Microsystems, I had an individual who really wanted to do a particular job, so we put her in there. What was troubling was that, after about three months, she was working her heart out, but wasn’t producing good results.

We continued with her for about six to nine months. She was so enthusiastic and ambitious about doing the job, I thought it was something she would learn with guidance. In hindsight, it was really outside of her skill set, and would have never been a fit.

When you put someone in a job they’re not right for ... you’re setting them up for failure.

The Lesson:

In the software industry, the difference between an extremely talented, world-class software developer and a brand new software developer can be 25 to 1. But I don’t think that’s limited to software developers. I think it’s limited to whatever your function is in the organization.

You want to see people in an organization succeed, especially those who work hard and have a great attitude. But when you put someone in a job they’re not right for, and stick with them, you’re setting them up for failure. Sure, it might feel good – like you’re being loyal to the person – but you’re ultimately doing them, and yourself, a disservice. Maybe find that person a different role where they would be a better fit.

There’s a counter to this too, though: Don’t let preconceived notions about a person lead you to believe they can’t do a job they weren’t previously qualified for. Maybe there’s a junior person who worked for you at one point in time, and five or 10 years later, you meet them again for a position within the company. You might think they can’t do the job, but they may have grown in those five or 10 years. So there’s a counter danger to not considering how much people might have changed and grown over time.

Follow TurboPatent on Twitter at: @TurboPatent

Pictured: James Billmaier | Photo courtesy of TurboPatent

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