Tag Archives: hiring

“Don’t Be So Stupid, Stupid” – A Reminder For Those Seeking Talent

Bumblers keep creating crises that didn’t need to happen.
George Anders, The Rare Find:  Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else


Have you ever done anything stupid?  OK – maybe you haven’t.  But I have.  And, I suspect, if your answer is not “yes,” then you are either a liar, or you’ve got a pretty unrealistic view of your own life history.

I think that one way to describe the challenge of life is this:  quit being so stupid!

As I read The Rare Find, my mind drifted back to an idea I read from Neil Postman.  (Postman is probably best known for his book, Amusing Ourselves to Death).  In his essay The  Educationist as Painkiller, he ponders the purpose of education.  And his conclusion, simply, is that education can’t make a person smart — but it can keep a person from being so stupid.  (The essay is available in pdf format here).

Neil Postman

Here are a few quotes from Postman’s essay:

This is the strategy I propose for educationists—that we abandon our vague, seemingly arrogant, and ultimately futile attempts to make children intelligent, and concentrate our attention on helping them avoid being stupid.
The educationist should become an expert in stupidity and be able to prescribe specific procedures for avoiding it…
…everyone practices stupidity, including those who write about it; none of us is ever free of it, and we are most seriously endangered when we think we are safe. That there is an almost infinite supply of stupidity, including our own, should provide educationists with a sense of humility and, incidentally, assurance that they will never become obsolete.
stupidity is reducible…
Stupidity is a form of behavior. It is not something we have; it is something we do.

So, why did I think of this essay as I read The Rare Find?  Partly because of this:  after massive amounts of money spent developing processes for finding and hiring the right people, every book and article I read seems to say that we have not gotten very good at it.  And that includes hiring all up and down the organizational ladder.  (As I write this, RIM {BlackBerry} just replaced its two CEOs with a new “savior.”)   And the statistics pretty much prove this.  Here’s a brief summary from Anders’ book:

In 2010:  only 18% of HR Managers say they are “winning the war for talent.”  All the rest stated they were either “losing ground” or “stuck” with a process that was not successful in identifying exceptional talent.

So, we make stupid hires; and then those people hired do stupid things.  Avoiding such stupidity would be a great, massive step forward, and save a boatload of money and a whole lot of anxiety and despair.  And as the quote at the top of this post affirms,

Bumblers keep creating crises that didn’t need to happen.

The Rare Find provides one remedy:  part of this stupidity is that we trust our “gut” way too often, when our minds, if we could simply focus them, would scream out some much needed warnings.  The Rare Find describes just how hard it is to actually listen to a job candidate, to actually look at work and life history, and then to avoid being “wowed” by the pizazz of a person’s personality.

In other words, if we could focus our minds, we might not make such stupid decisions – in hiring, and in our own life, at work, and everywhere else.

Maybe “don’t be stupid, stupid” should be our mantra…

Hire Nice People – Oh, AND Teachable; Oh, AND…

Hire Nice People – Oh, AND Teachable; Oh, AND

I really liked the quote that I included in a recent blog post from the book Demand by Adrian Slywotzky.  It is about the restaurant Pret a Manger:

“We hire happy people, and teach them to make sandwiches.” 

I was telling this to a friend of mine.  He is a Doctor ( a good one!) and has a very successful practice.  He told me about something he did when he was just starting.  He loved staying at the Four Seasons (who wouldn’t?!); was impressed with their customer service/experience.  So, he went to the Four Seasons, asked to speak to the manager (who was more than willing to meet with him), and asked “What is your secret?”  What training do you offer?  How do you get these people to work this way?’  The manager said:  “There is no secret.  We hire nice people.” 

That may be it.  Hire nice people.

Oh, AND make sure they are Teachable.  Because Nice AND Incompetent does not work.  Nice + Competent works really well. And to get competent, a person has to be teachable.

Now, nice may seem important just in jobs that interact with actual customers.  But, it would be a mistake to reduce it to that part of the work equation. Because nice matters in team building also.  People do not like to work on projects, or teams, with people who aren’t nice.  Working with not-nice people can be a real morale defeater.  So, nice is definitely part of the “team player” job responsibility.

So, here is the formula:  hire nice people, make sure they are teachable, thus they become ever more competent.   — Oh, and make sure they are able to manage/embrace/not get freaked out over change.  Oh, AND

But, whatever else you do, start with NICE.

By the way, be nice yourself.  If you have a voice in the hiring process, remember:  people don’t like to work for not-nice people.

Winning, with the Right Stars, Leads To More…Winning!

Two things.

It really helps you win if you’re on a winning streak.
It really helps you win if you have the right stars to fill the right slots.

Both of these thoughts are stated pretty clearly, and strongly, in the Jack Welch book, Winning.

Here’s Jack Welch about winning:
There have been literally thousands of questions.  But most of them come down to this:  What does it take to win?  And that is what this book is about – winning.  Probably no other topic could have made me want to write again!  Because I think winning is great.  Not good – great.  When companies win, people thrive and grow…  Winning lifts everyone it touches – it just makes the world a better place.  When companies are losing, on the other hand, everyone takes a hit.  People feel scared.  They have less financial security and limited time or money to do anything else.  All they do is worry and upset their families, and in the meantime, if they’re out of work, they pay little, if any, taxes.

An effective mission statement basically answers one question:  How do we intend to win in this business?  It does not answer:  What were we good at in the good old days?  Nor does it answer:  How can we describe our business so that no particular unit or division or senior executive gets pissed off.

And here’s Jack Welch on hiring:
Hiring good people is hard.  Hiring great people is brutally hard.  And yet nothing matters more in winning than getting the right people on the field.  All the clever strategies and advanced technologies in the world are nowhere near as effective without great people to put them to work.

Here in Dallas, life revolves around one thing, and one thing only – how are the Cowboys doing?  (I am fairly convinced that if a scientist found the cure for cancer, war broke out between the USA and Canada, the Texas Rangers won the World Series, and Tony Romo had a hang nail, all on the same day, the lead story on the front page of the Dallas Morning News would be Tony Romo’s hangnail).  Lately, the Cowboys have looked like losers  (because they were losers, losing their first two games).  Their posture, their facial expressions, were all showing the strain.  And then, yesterday, it all clicked.  They looked like a different team.  They looked like…winners.  And winning literally changes the way you look!

And then I read this fascinating article, Without Star, Often Broadway Shows Can’t Go On by Patrick Healy, in the New York Times.  Consider these opening paragraphs:

To understand why the hit Broadway musical “Promises, Promises” will close after just nine months, gaze up at the show’s giant billboard over Times Square. There are the smiling faces of Sean Hayes and Kristin Chenoweth, stars who are the chief reasons the show usually grosses $1 million a week.

The producers built the $9 million revival of “Promises” as a vehicle for Mr. Hayes and Ms. Chenoweth — so much so, they now contend, that the actors have become irreplaceable, and the show will close in January when they leave.

Winning in business works the same way.  If your company, your department, you, are on a losing streak, you don’t have to tell anyone.  They can see it in your demeanor.

And if you are on a winning streak, you don’t have to tell anyone.  They can see it in your demeanor.

And it really helps to have the right stars (the right people, doing the right jobs – the jobs they were born to, trained to, feel “called to,” perform) in the right places.  And when you find a true star, he or she is really, really hard to replace.


You can purchase my synopsis of this Jack Welch book, Winning, with handout + audio, at our companion web site, 15minutebusinessbooks.com.

A Quote for the Day – from Tom Kelley, Ten Faces of Innovation

Here’s the quote:
There’s an old adage in Hollywood that “directing is 90 percent casting.”  Great Directors build a team of people who need little direction and can lead by example themselves.
The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley

Here’s my comment:
Companies need self-starters, who can and do set the good/right/effective example in a multitude of ways.  This is who you look for when you are ready to hire your next person.

Reflecting on the “New Normal” of this Stubborn Jobless Era

Here’s the article that captured it first for me:  How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America by Don Peck.  An excerpt:

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults. It will leave an indelible imprint on many blue-collar men. It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities. It may already be plunging many inner cities into a despair not seen for decades. Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture, and the character of our society for years to come.

And here’s a newer reminder, from the Atlantic again.  The problem (from A Grand Unified Theory of the Jobless Recovery by Derek Thompson).  An excerpt:

Something’s not right.

In most recessions in the last 60 years, jobs recovered soon after the economy healed. But in the last three downturns — the early 90s, the early 00s, and today — companies continued to slash jobs and hold off hiring for months, even years, after profits returned. In the current recession, many commentators are perplexed that corporations are sitting on their largest cash pile ever rather than investing in new workers.

It’s tough out there.  And it is getting tougher.

Here’s what’s happening, apparently.  Companies aren’t hiring because they remember what happened just recently when they had to meet payroll – they either went under or almost went under.  So, they’re sitting on big piles of cash, because:  they are afraid, and, they have learned to do more with less of all kinds of resources, including doing more with fewer people.  In other words, they can make a profit while providing fewer jobs.  (And, some day, that’s bound to cut into their profit — as fewer people can afford to buy their products or services – don’t you think?)

And, other companies and organizations, especially city and county and state governments, aren’t hiring because they don’t have the cash anyway.  Because all of those people out of work are spending far less, thus tax revenues are down, and thus budgets for city workers and teachers and all sorts of other positions are falling off a cliff.  (By one estimate, the US will see 500,000 lay-offs of city, county, and state employees in a very short time frame).

So – people aren’t hired when companies have cash, and people aren’t hired when cities and other entities don’t have cash.

So – something’s not right.

Just thought I would remind you that this might be the most important thing to think about right now in this economic climate of uncertainty.

Business Lessons from Guy Kawasaki

Business Lessons from Guy Kawasaki (excerpted from the Corner Office Interview, NY Times)

Guy Kawasaki on one of his many adventures

Guy Kawasaki is a one-man business idea factory.  We link to his blog on our blog roll, and I follow him on Twitter, and I have presented synopses of two of his books, The Art of the Start and Reality Check (which Bob Morris called the best book he read in 2008).  Here are some excerpts from his terrific interview in the NY Times Corner Office (Note:  Bob usually posts about the pieces from the NY Times Corner Office, and will probably do so again with this one.  But I liked it so much that I decided it would be more than ok to give our readers a double dose of Kawasaki).

On the centrality and primacy of sales:

You truly have to understand how to take care of your customers.
I learned a very valuable lesson: how to sell. Sales is everything. As long as you’re making sales, you’re still in the game. That lesson has stuck with me throughout my career.

On Steve Jobs and his brilliance:

I learned from Steve that some things need to be believed to be seen. These are powerful lessons — very different from saying we just want to eke out an existence and keep our heads down.

On hiring:

The most important thing is that you hire people who complement you and are better than you in specific areas.
…make yourself dispensable — what greater accomplishment is there than the organization running well without you? It means you picked great people, prepared them and inspired them. And if executives did this, the world would be a better place.

On clear and simple, easy to understand, to the point communication:

business schools should teach students how to communicate in five-sentence e-mails and with 10-slide PowerPoint presentations. If they just taught every student that, American business would be much better off.

On work ethic:

…success in business comes from the willingness to grind it out. It’s not because of the brilliant idea. It’s because you are willing to work hard. That’s the key to success.

On execution:

The issue with consulting is that if you go straight to work for a consultant (after college graduation), you develop this perspective that the hard part is the analysis and the decision. In reality, that’s not the hard part. The hard part is implementing the decision, not making it.


You can purchase my synopses of both The Art of the Start, with handout + audio, on our companion web site 15minutebusinessbooks.com.  The synopsis for Reality Check should be available soon.