The Impressive Shortcomings of Silicon Valley CEO Kim Polese

Sometimes it seems that no one fails in Silicon Valley, or that to the extent they do fail, their failure is actually cooler than anyone else’s success. This sort of thinking has floated around in the New Economy for a while, but especially since the big “e-shakeout” began earlier this year.

Another interesting example crops up in the news that Kim Polese will turn over the CEO reins of her software company, Marimba. Marimba has been relentlessly hyped from the beginning, and Polese was never shy about being its public face–its thirtysomething and very attractive public face, it was invariably noted. Now the company is shifting focus and looking to grow to a new level. “Frankly, I didn’t have the operational ability,” Polese says in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Fine. It’s great that Marimba is apparently successful and Polese’s vision has been vindicated. And she is remaining at the company as “chief strategic officer.” Can’t we just leave it at that? No, we can’t, because apparently we’re supposed to believe that Polese’s lack of operational ability is in fact a strength. “The mark of a good CEO is to know when they can’t do something,” Polese comments. So there, you see? While it may seem that Polese has failed as a CEO, in fact she has succeeded as a CEO, because she is smart enough to know that she cannot succeed as a CEO. This is what makes her a good CEO, even though she isn’t one anymore.

It is of course good to know your limits, and to admit them. But the mark of a good CEO? Isn’t the mark of a good CEO knowing how to do something, or perhaps even actually doing it? Anyway, I would go on here to expound on the long-term consequences of a business culture that presents itself as ruthlessly Darwinian yet expects even its flaws to be viewed by everyone else with envy. But I’m not sure what those consequences might be. And the mark of a good columnist is knowing one’s limits. Or something like that.