I’ve written a number of times on the subject of hiring smart people.
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Raw intelligence and a natural curiosity about the world are two qualities I’ve found to be universal in the great executives I know and I always spent a lot of time when I was interviewing new hires trying to uncover those qualities in the candidates. As I thought about the search for that brilliance the other day I realized that it’s just not enough. No, I’m not retracting my statement. I do think, however, I’m doing you folks a disservice by not providing context. Let me do so now.
Suppose you knew a really smart ten year-old. He is constantly asking questions about the world and more often than not can hold his own in a discussion with adults. His logic is impeccable; his ability to express himself is superb. Would you hire him? Of course not (although you might tee him up for an internship in five or six years). While he has two of the skills one can’t teach, he lacks many critical skills for success. Emotional maturity is probably first on that list; the ability to contextualize (or not) is the other.
What do I mean by that? When we get too caught up in a moment we need to have the ability to stop, take a step back, and see the forest as well as the trees. That’s contextualizing. Math teachers would explain it as probing into the referents for the symbols involved – I like that. Great businesspeople can also do the opposite – decontextualize – maybe even at the same time. That’s the ability to abstract a situation and think about it symbolically without all the immediate pressures of what’s going on. These abilities – as well as other critical thinking skills – take time and experience. It’s why older executives such as me have value that our younger peers don’t: we’ve made the mistakes already and have learned.
Smart people can be stupid. They need experience, a grounding in facts, and the emotional maturity that comes with time to be successful in business. We all know the brilliant jerk – the very smart executive who everyone respects and very few like. They can crush a company. Our challenge is to find the qualities in addition to smart and curious that make for greatness. You up to it?
One of the nice things about writing the daily screed is that sometimes I get asked to read new books and offer my thoughts about them. I received a copy of a book called “Creative Thinkering” by Michael Michalko, who has written another book – Thinkertoys – which has been listed as one of the “100 Best Business Books” of all times and which I enjoyed.
Since looking at business from a different perspective is one of the things we often discuss here, I thought you might find what he has to say of interest. Here are a few points he makes in the book for your consideration: Continue reading
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Forty or so years ago, George Harrison wrote a song called “I Me Mine.” It’s about achieving an ego-less state of mind and is especially interesting in the context of how The Beatles were imploding at the time due to egos.
I thought about that song as I was working on a bit of business development over the weekend. The reality is that I’m probably not the right consultant for the project and I know of a few other folks who might be better at it. That realization is something we try to teach our kids – how to share – and I think that it may come down to something from which we all can learn – a philosophy of abundance. Continue reading
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If you’ve been following along in this space you’ll know that we spent a little time in Hardware Hell the last week or so. Motherboards frying, backup drives breathing their last, laptop displays going dark like a theater marquee after a string of bad reviews.
As I was doing my best to repair this stuff and not electrocute myself by weeping into a live circuit, The Mrs. asked “how do you know all this stuff?” In my mind, it wasn’t so much how I knew it but how I was able to dive in and get to work without spending a lot of time thinking about it. The business thought? Continue reading
Today’s screed is about dumbing it down and how it can improve your business thinking as you grow dumb. I’m pretty sure you’re aware that I’m not an advocate for the willfully stupid among us. They might be spending too much time behind the wheel of the car in front of you to be reading this anyway. However, I do find myself trying to reduce things to their most basic elements a great deal of the time. It’s not that I don’t care about detail – sometimes there’s a lot of important stuff in there. But I find that the details tend to clutter up one’s mind when you’re trying to have a basic understanding of something – it’s like worrying about what color the room will be before you’ve figured out the square footage and the amount of paint needed so you can budget properly. Continue reading
I don’t know if you watched the 60 minutes story last night on endless memory. You can see the first part of the story here and there’s a link to the second part on the player. In a nutshell, the story shows 5 folks – including a famous actress – who have complete recall of every moment of their lives since they were kids. You pick a date, they tell you what happened. A lot of people think it’s some kind of parlor trick but the research clearly demonstrates that it’s real. I thought it was fascinating and I’d love to hear your thoughts. Of course, as I was watching, I had a business thought which I’d like to share with you as well. Continue reading