Fab Five

The Fab Five (illustrative number) are those key individuals who’ll carry the research effort forward for decades, past every obstacle, past every change in funding venue, and past every turnover of staff. They’re addicted to the pursuit. You can’t keep them away. The pursuit occupies front-and-center of all their thinking. It’s the pursuit of a dream. The number five helps offset personal setbacks, trophy brides, and a host of other family or personal urgencies that will see individual Fab Five members wax and wane in participation over the decades. These five are the glue that keeps the effort moving across time. They are the common thread the rest of the team identifies with: they personify the project.

This common pursuit must be large enough and varied enough to entertain the various strengths, personalities and interests of the Fab Five. They each enjoy different challenges and have different levels of skills at each of the challenges. They seek unique means of engagement. There should be many varied tasks that need to come together to make the pursuit successful. This allows each member of the Fab Five to bring different aspects of the pursuit to the attention of outsiders. It helps build the mystique and attraction of the pursuit for outside experts.

The Fab Five are interested almost entirely in the pursuit, and much less in the financial implications of the pursuit. They would do this even if not getting paid. Having to view this as a job in fact damages their enthusiasm. What they want are braggin’ rights: the ability to say they did something very few others would even be able to do if they had the chance.

Across the Fab Five we see a diversity of personalities. We need for the group personality to counteract the individual Fab Five personality gone astray. We have a means of checks-and-balances for out-of-control egos. We have figured out a way to reach a common means of communicating progress: secrecy between the Fab Five is strictly prohibited. In the event of a major breakthrough, the rights of the original discoverer to be in on the exploitation are guaranteed (typically a short period of protection before the breakthrough is open game). There is a competition across the Fab Five, but one that is founded in mutual respect and a sense of limits that protect individual egos.

Typically the Fab Five are in it from the beginning. They need a certain history that comes from thrashing around in the research area for years if not decades. This new research pursuit is clearly a breakthrough compared to the early years, and a sense of having paid one’s dues is palpable.

Different personalities across the Fab Five attract different individuals and talents, those who are aficionados, but not yet addicts: the technician-specialists , the builder of infrastructure, the historians, researchers from seemingly unrelated fields, etc. We leverage the attraction of the various personalities in the Fab Five to build a broader team that identifies with one or more of the five. The extended team, the 10-20 individuals who are the major contributors to the project, are attracted to the pursuit, but that attraction is mixed with a need for mentorship by one of the Fab Five.

The fab in Fab Five refers to the ability of this management group to infect the entire team with their enthusiasm, dedication and a unique approach to the pursuit. Our team is dedicated and committed because of the leadership of the team. The leaders are fanatics and live their lives for this pursuit. Others want to come along to catch some of this fanaticism. The authentic passion and dedication of the leadership team attracts others who want this sense, who want to be around people who are like this. Passionate dedication attracts like-minded followers.

It’s the leadership that (almost unconsciously) exploits this attitude through the stories, the mythology, the tales of exploits, etc. We have the equivalent of the secret handshake. It’s a community that spends much time together and revels in being distinctive and sharing tales of that distinctiveness. Perhaps it’s the lack of hygiene from too much work. It’s that piece of expensive equipment that accidentally melted down that now sits in a corner. What’s the story behind that hole in the wall the size of a fist? What about that crudely hack-sawed piece of whiteboard filled with equations that sits on a table in the conference room? Everything about our persona and our surroundings speaks to a team that has too much passion about their work and is proud to let it show.

We’re not like those other guys. We do things other folks wouldn’t even consider. We revel in our differences. It’s intriguing and different. We do things with this team that we never were able or allowed to do in any other job. It’s a bit of an outlaw, an outsider, mentality that we develop – we feel lucky to be part of this adventure, and want it to always continue. This is a life we know others only dream about being able to pursue. We are fabulous in what we do.

Further Reading