On hiring smarter than you and according to strengths

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It is all one to me if a man comes for Sing Sing Prison or Harvard. We hire a man, not his history. (Malcolm S. Forbes)

I was finishing my reading of Guy Kawasaki’s great book Reality Check and encountered a few thought provoking paragraphs in The Art of Recruiting chapter. This was the first one that struck me as interesting:

Hire better than yourself. In the Macintosh Division, we had a saying, “A players hire A players; B players hire C players”- meaning that great people hire great people. On the other hand, mediocre people hire candidates who are not as good as they are, so they can feel superior to them … I have come to believe that we were wrong – A players hire A+ Players, not merely A players. It takes self-confidence and self-awareness, but it is the only way to build a great team.

Such a strong statement. As I said before – The biggest challenge modern managers have is managing people who are smarter than them:

The more our society advances the smarter people will get. They will get more specialized. Most problems today can’t be covered by one individual so each team members must know only part of the problem very well. And the manager needs to coordinate all of that. He needs to make sure that each team member has the ability to excel with his specific knowledge and skills; has to ability to use his strength for the good of the team; to create a synergy from the separate members of the team.

I totally agree with Kawasaki. You need humility, self awareness and self confidence to hire somebody who would not want you to tell him what to do and who will want to work without rules.

And this is what I want to add to Kawasaki’s advice. You don’t only to be confident and aware enough to hire A+ players that are better than you. You also need to be confident enough to hire A+ players who are different than you and complement you and the team with their strengths.  Granted, Kawasaki does say something similar about hiring according to strengths when he writes about hiring not according to experience but according to what candidates  have to offer in a broader term:

Give young people a break. In the past of great employees are managers who gave them a break. Maybe they didn’t have the ideal educational or work experience – for example, an ex-jewelry schlepper. More important than what’s on-screen is what’s in mind, soul and attitude of candidates.

What do you look for when you hire new people?


Misguided self-perceptions and finding your strengths

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I am reading Guy Kawasaki‘s book Reality Check these days. It is like reading many important checklists about how to do just about anything in business. Strange, but interesting. Anyway, in one of the first chapters he talks about why is it better to invest in young inexperienced entrepreneurs than in serial entrepreneurs. One paragraph in that chapter caught my eyes:

Serial entrepreneurs fill new roles in their next companies. For example, in the first company the person was an engineer who became the vice president of engineering. In the next company, she is the CEO and founder. Just because you are good at designing chips doesn’t mean you’re CEO material. You may end up not doing what you’re good at and doing what you’re not good at

I am constantly surprised how people have misguided self-perceptions. They are so good at something and they usually even enjoy and love doing it. Sometimes they feel a state of flow when they are doing it. But something, society, greed, conventional wisdom or something else I cannot fathom, tells them – hey – you should try being a manager. You should try doing something else. You are better than this.

I wrote about this in my E-book:

It is not uncommon to see someone who was very good at his job and is promoted to be a manager. When he was part of a team or even a solo player, he excelled at his job. But when you put him in a managerial position, which is not his comparative advantage, he just can’t handle it. This is interesting. Usually this man actually wanted the promotion even though he was happy with what he was doing and even though he does not like to manage people. We are so used to the Hierarchy Thinking Model and not the Comparative Advantage Thinking Model, that we actually want positions that our abilities are not compatible with. The reason being this is just the way we know the system works. Well, the system sucks! The problem is that not only this man can’t handle the job of a manager, he also can’t handle the truth … He does not have what it takes to be a manager. And I am not just talking about an application of the Peter Principle. This man is actually unhappy being a manager! It is not his comparative advantage. Bill Gates got it when he put Steve Ballmer to manage while he did software development, so why can’t it work for all of us?

I admit this is a natural phenomenon. You know what, it happened to me not a while back. I found myself looking for a career, I am not 100% sure was for me. I am actually struggling these days to find a career path that will allow me a better use of my strengths.

It is not always a bad idea to try new things. If we don’t try, we will never know. And sometimes, the only way to discover your strengths is to do something again and again and fail at it. As long as you enjoy failing at it (not being cynical here, seriously, read the post in the link).

However, if we can’t be true with ourselves we will never be able to reach our full potential. If we become managers and our most important job is to help our employees find what they are good at and help them excel at it, there is no way we can do that before we go through the same process with ourselves. And it does not matter of you are a serial entrepreneur that made millions of dollars or if you are just a novice trying to find your place in the world. You can do better, for yourselves and others, by finding and using your strengths.


The curse of knowledge and recognition

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Yesterday I wrote about the importance of noticing employees. One of the things I emphasized is the importance of not only noticing people, but actually letting them know that you noticed:

In order to be really unpredictable but also create an effective response to our rewards, we need to notice our employees.  And it is not enough to notice, it is also important to let them that you notice. Most business people will tell you that marketing is all about perception. The qualities of your product are not as important as how people perceive you r product. I think we should employ similar thinking to our employees. Noticing our employees is important but making sure that they know we are noticing them is just as important.

(And today I got some empirical evidence to back that up).

After writing this I kept on thinking about why do some managers notice their employees but don’t tell them that they noticed them. The answer came to me today while I was reading a chapter from Guy Kawasaki‘s book Reality Check called: The Sticking Point, where Kawasaki interviews Chip and Dan Heath, the writers of the book: Made to Stick. In the interview they mention a term I described in this blog before called the curse of knowledge. The curse of knowledge basically means that we have problems explaining things because we already know them, which make it hard for us to imagine how someone who does not know what we know sees it. This means we need to actively seek where our assumptions about the knowledge of other people are wrong.

And the same happens to us when we see an employee doing good work. We assume that the fact that we saw him and know what he did means that he knows that we saw him and knows what he did. What is the solution? Taking the opposite assumption. We need to assume that our employees never know that we noticed them. Then make it a priority to let them know that we did. Let’s overcome the curse of knowledge and starting noticing people.