In his book “How to win in a winner-take-all world: the definitive guide to adapting and succeeding in high-performance careers” , Neil Irwin, a senior economics journalist at The New York Times, claimed that what makes people succeed in a highly competitive job market is what he calls being a “glue person.”

To strengthen his theory, N. Irwin asked many big companies (Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, GE, Walmart…) what does it take to succeed in a high-technological and competitive environment. The main point he gathered was the importance of being able to work in teams. That’s why he decided to develop the “Glue people” concept: people who are good both at their core job and at understanding other teams’ perspective.

Glue people are those “who pull teams together to make them greater than the sum of their parts”.

While most of the people are used to finding out one expertise they’re good at, sticking with it, glue people naturally do the opposite, stretching themselves over the boundaries.

They are mainly experts in one area, but they are also able to understand other functions, being effective in cross departments communications too. They have a wider systemic view, strongly supported by a high organizational acumen and a natural empathetic approach.

This is what makes them strategic for growing organizations and what enlarges their career opportunities over digitalization and automation as well. Neil Irwin is a senior economic correspondent at The New York Times, where he was a founding member of The Upshot, the Times’s site for analytical journalism. He was previously the author of The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire, a New York Times bestselling account of the global financial crisis and its aftermath that was short-listed for the McKinsey-Financial Times Business Book of the Year award.

In order to better understand who actually those people are, N. Irwin suggested an easy corporate example. “If you think about a team that has people who are engineers on it and people who do kind of marketing and product work on it, an optimal engineer is somebody who is a really good engineer who is at least as good at marketing as they can be without being worse as an engineer.”

“There are people who are really good at one thing and only a little bit good at that other thing. Then there’re others who are kind of in the middle, and they know some engineering, they know some marketing, some product development. Those tend to be team leaders, people who pull together a product in a lot of different types of organizations.”

That being the case, if you are not a potential glue person your career might be in trouble in the near future. Especially in those fields where digitalization and automation are prevailing.

Let’s find a way to work on whichever of your skills is lacking then. Let’s take advantage of every learning opportunity, stretching yourself in new ways that might not come naturally to you.

As N. Irwin said: “If you have a natural mind for numbers and statistics, maybe figuring out how to be a better communicator and public speaker is the key. If somebody comes up through engineering, maybe understanding what do these finance people actually do all day, how does marketing fit in to figure out what product I should be building and working on. The key is asking for different opportunities, whether it’s a six-month assignment on another team, working for a different boss who has a different background, always seeking out those opportunities to stretch your own experience beyond where it exists now.”

There is no end to learning!

Become a glue person and you’ll succeed in a high-performance career.


Enza Artino,
International Service Manager c/o Wyser; Coaching Competence Center Manager c/o Gi Group