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Weekly 3: Hiring people

Summary: Test for animals. Solve for self-awareness. Raise the bar. (~4 min read)

Idea Journal Weekly 3

September 9 · Issue #51 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Test for animals. Solve for self-awareness. Raise the bar. (~4 min read)

#1. The type of hire you need in a startup.
In his essay How to Start a Startup, entrepreneur and Silicon Valley oracle Paul Graham describes an “animal” as someone who takes their work a little too seriously.
They do their job so well that “they pass right through professional and cross over into obsessive.”
Animals may not fit well in large companies, but in startups they’re essential.
In practice, what exactly an animal does depends on their particular role – here are some examples:
  • The engineer who will stay up until 4am rather than go to bed leaving code with a bug in it.
  • The salesperson who won’t take no for an answer.
  • The graphic designer who feels physical pain when something is 2 millimeters out of place.
  • The PR person who will cold-call reporters on their cell phones.
The animal test is easy to apply: call to mind someone you know, and imagine the description “so-and-so is animal.”
If you laugh, they’re not.
#2. A person's level of self-awareness can give clues about their personality.
Retired U.S. Army general Stanley McChrystal, in an interview with author Tim Ferriss, talks about the importance of measuring a candidate’s self-awareness when they’re applying for a job.
McChrystal uses the following two-step technique when he’s interviewing candidates for his leadership consulting firm McChrystal Group:
  1. McChrystal asks the candidate to complete the statement: Everyone says you’re great, but …
  2. He then sits in silence and waits for the candidate to answer.
This puts the candidate in the position of having to articulate how other people perceive them.
That perception may be common knowledge, but the prompt accomplishes 2 things:
  1. It forces the candidate to come to terms with what it is that other people don’t love about them.
  2. The candidate has to explicitly say this to you.
As McChrystal puts it, if the person doesn’t have the courage to acknowledge this perception and tell it to someone who’s considering hiring them, then “that’s a window into personality.”
#3. Continuously aim higher.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos writes in a 1998 Letter to Shareholders that “Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of’s success.”
In hiring meetings, Bezos encourages colleagues to consider the following 3 questions before making a decision about a candidate:
1. Will you admire this person?
As Bezos points out, if you think about people you admire, they are probably people you’ve learned something from or who have served as an uplifting example. You should try hard to work only with people you admire: “Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.”
2. Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering?
Bezos wants to make sure that the quality of people Amazon hires is always increasing. He asks colleagues to imagine the company 5 years in the future; their reaction at that point should be: The standards are so high now – boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!
3. Along what dimension might this person be a superstar?
Many people have unique interests, perspectives, and skills that enrich the work environment, even though these qualities may not relate directly to a person’s job. Bezos gives the example of an Amazon employee who is a National Spelling Bee champion: “I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: ‘onomatopoeia!’”
Quote of the Week
“We look for three things when we hire people. We look for intelligence, we look for initiative or energy, and we look for integrity. And if they don’t have the latter, the first two will kill you, because if you’re going to get someone without integrity, you want them lazy and dumb.”
- Investor Warren Buffett in a speech to MBA students at the University of Georgia
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