I work for a marketing agency. That means that I work with a large number of brilliant freelance and contract people, as all agencies do. It also means that I work for a large number of clients who rely on supplementing their in-house talents with agency folk.
Both agencies and clients, in other words, depend on (and invest large amounts of intellectual property in) people who are not tied to their businesses. Which, with recession looming, looks like an increasingly risky model.
But then you think deeper. You reflect on the fact that no one (owners and founders apart) is ever truly tied to a business. You think about the fact that, from marketers to accountants, people move around from one organisation to another. And all that is sure to get left behind is the brand, the culture, the idea. Which may or may not have been strengthened by what these transient folk achieved there.
I don't have any brilliant ideas about how to deal with this. All I know is that the old mantra "it's all about your people" is only partly true. Because your people will come and go. Whereas your brand, the thing you all collectively stand for, the idea that will both precede and succeed most of the people who work for it, is the one thing that will hopefully endure.
Seth Godin talks here about the need for smart companies to invest less in ego-driven edifices to their greatness and more in their people. I don't disagree. People are a far smarter thing to spend money on than profile-raising vanity projects. I just think we need to be clear about the difference between investing in people (the collective who represent and build brands) and investing everything in a few people (the cliques most brands usually find themselves dependent on).
Of course people matter. In fact, in today's experience economy, they perhaps matter more than ever. But strong brands need to do their best to ensure that individual people matter less...that the brand, the culture, the strategy, the narrative, and the organizing idea are all so strong that it can withstand the inevitable comings and goings of individuals.