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If The Shoe Fits: The Self-Made Talent Shortage

Friday, September 22nd, 2017

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here.

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mQuick. Off the top of your head, what are the chances you’d hire a 65 year-old Black man for a senior management role in your startup?

Unlikely — or flat-out ‘no’?

Next question.

How well could you handle traveling from the Bay Area to Detroit to Toronto back to the Bay Area and then to New York, London and Columbus, Ohio, back to the Bay Are for one night, then to Singapore, Australia, and Hong Kong for ten days, with a side trip to Seattle?

That was the recent schedule of the 65 year-old Black guy you probably didn’t hire.

Tough schedule, jumping around all those times zones; think it would dent your 20/30-something system more than the 70+ hour week you brag about?

The guy you didn’t hire is John Thompson, but that’s OK, he already has a job.

He’s CEO of Virtual Instruments, one of several startups he invested in after he retired from his ten year stint as CEO of Symantec, which came after his mandatory retirement from IBM after 28 years.

That little age bias you have would also preclude your hiring Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown (62), Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot (70), Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison (73), Netflix’s Reed Hastings (56) and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.

The interesting (hilarious? ironic?) part is that if you were using most recruiting filtering tools, human or software, their resumes would probably be screened out.

Now just think how much larger your pool of exceptional talent would be if you brought yours and your organization’s biases/assumptions/prejudices under control.

What talent shortage?

Image credit: HikingArtist

Social Media Fame Stupidity Knows No Bounds

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

I write posts one day in advance, so this one was written yesterday (Tuesday) and is not the one I planned to write.

I live in Washougal, a small town on the Washington State side of the Columbia River about 20 miles from Portland, Oregon; a town that calls itself “the gateway to the Gorge.”

In spite of its proximity to both Portland and Vancouver, WA, it’s a very rural area.

I woke today to a gray sky, the smell of smoke and everything covered with a mix of fine wood particles and ash.

Apparently, some teens thought it was the height of entertainment to film throwing fireworks into Eagle Creek Canyon on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.

“Even though that kid threw the firecracker, all of those kids he was with are complicit. All of them watched, all of them did nothing. They all were a part of it. One filmed it,” she said. “When I came upon them, and the guy threw the firecracker, I’m pretty sure I heard a couple of them giggle. The guy was filming it like it was another thing to film, no big deal. The whole complacency of that group, I find it so disturbing.”  

They did this in an area that has seen no real rain in months; an area under fire prohibitions.

That was the start of the Eagle Creek Fire.

Then, for the first time since 1902, the fire jumped the Columbia, caught and started the Archer Mountain Fire.

As I write this, that fire is less than six miles from my friend’s house and only 15 miles from mine.

The air, inside and out, is smokey.

Hopefully, the winds won’t start up and neither of us will have to evacuate.

There is so much I don’t like about today’s world that it’s hard to choose the worst.

However, I reserve a top spot for people, no matter their age, who don’t think about / don’t care how much damage they do so long as they get their 5 seconds of social media fame, along with those who stand by and watch.

Image credit: Brent/KOIN TV

Golden Oldies: Insanely Smart Retention and Stars

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

It’s amazing to me, but looking back over more than a decade of writing I find posts that still impress, with information that is as useful now as when it was written.

Jerks. Turks. Stars. Bro culture. Definitely insanely stupid. I wrote this exactly six years ago and nothing has changed; if anything, it’s gotten worse and the post is yet more applicable.

Golden Oldies are a collection of what I consider some of the best posts during that time.

Read other Golden Oldies here.

3937284735_35e9f47fb3_mAre you already a devotee of insanely smart hiring, in the process of changing after reading insanely stupid hiring or somewhere in-between?

Wherever your MAP is on the subject there is one thing about hiring that you need to wrap your head around if you want your career to flourish.

You can not hire stars, but you can create and maintain them.

This is as true of executives and management as it is of workers at all levels.

Think of hiring in terms of planting a garden—only these plants have feet.

You’re at the nursery and find a magnificent rose. It’s large, because it’s several years old, has dozens of blooms and buds and is exactly what you wanted for a particular space in your yard.

The directions say that the rose needs full sun to thrive, while the space in your yard only gets four to five hours of morning sun. But the rose is so gorgeous you can’t resist, convincing yourself that those hours from sunrise to 11 will be enough, so you take it home and plant it.

It seems to do OK at first, but as time goes by it gets more straggly and has fewer and fewer blooms.

Finally, you give it to your friend who plants it in a place that gets sun from early morning to sunset.

By the end of the next summer the rose is enormous, covered in blooms and has sprouted three new canes.

One of the things that insanely smart hiring does is ensure that people are planted where they will flourish, whether they are already thriving or are leaving an inhospitable environment.

I said earlier that people are like plants with feet. Abuse a plant, whether intentionally or through neglect, and it will wither and eventually die; abuse your people and sooner or later they will walk.

Insanely smart hiring also gives you a giant edge whether the people market is hot or cold.

By knowing exactly what you need, your culture, management style and the environment you have to offer you are in a position to find hidden and unpolished jewels, as well as those that have lost their luster by being in the wrong place. (Pardon the mixed metaphors.)

These are often candidates that other managers pass on, but who will become your stars—stars with no interest in seeking out something else.

They recognize insanely smart opportunities when they see them.

Flickr image credit: Ryan Somma

If the Shoe Fits: the Stupidity of Crowds

Friday, November 11th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mHow much do you rely on the so-called “wisdom of crowds” when you’re making decisions?

Do you think for yourself or check everything, from where to eat to the best language to use, against the “wisdom of crowds?”

If this election taught you nothing else it should have taught you that crowds aren’t particularly bright.

Stupid is more accurate

When I wrote The Value of Thinking in 2013 I asked a simple question.

But what happens to the crowd when everybody stops bothering to think?

At that point the old saying, everyone has a right to be stupid, but some just abuse the privilege, kicks in with a vengeance.

In the March redux I said,

…crowdthinking has increased geometrically, while independent thinking, let alone deep thinking, has decreased in proportion. You have only to consider the questions on Quora and the crowd’s actions/reactions at any political rally to see just how bad it’s become.

From failed startups to Tuesday’s election the wisdom of crowds has led down more garden paths than can be counted.

But for the legion of readers who demand hard data to back up common sense I give you the words of Anand Sanwal and the data of CB Insights.

Can we please never utter ‘wisdom of the crowds’?
I know lots of management consultants sold corporations on this “wisdom of crowds” nonsense, but can we now stop?
Here is what the crowd thought of Trump’s chances over time.
Totally, utterly stupid crowd.
stupid crowd

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stupid crowds do immeasurable damage.

Image credit: HikingArtist and CB Insights

How to be Dumb as Google

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ficusrock/5716144109/

When it comes to hiring, as Forrest Gump would say, “stupid is as stupid does.”

And stupid is using recruiters who think the only “right” answer to a technical question is the one written on a sheet of paper. (Note that “technical” can refer to the specifics of any field, although in this case it was software.)

No knowledge or understanding of the subject; just the blind focus on the written words — kind of like talking to customer service when the rep keeps repeating their script no matter how you phrase the question — and no recognition that they may wrong.

The call started off well but as the interview progressed, Guathier got an increasing number of questions wrong. His frustration grew as he tried to discuss the answers with the Google recruiter only to find that the recruiter wanted the exact answer in the test book even if alternative solutions were better.

The company is Google and it should be noted that they approached the candidate, as opposed to his applying.

Way back in 2007 Google announce that they had developed an algorithm to screen candidates.

It didn’t work.

Google was also famous for its brain-teaser questions.

Only, according to Lazlo Block, SVP of People Operations, they are a lousy predictor of success.

“Part of the reason is that those are tests of a finite skill, rather than flexible intelligence which is what you actually want to hire for.”

The value of elite colleges and high grades was publically debunked in a 2013 story about the prevalence of grade inflation.

Not all Google’s efforts fall in the stupid category; block’s efforts to educate both management and workers about bias is definitely a smart move.

But locking technically ignorant recruiters into accepting only set responses to tech question rates right up there with algorithms and brain-teasers. And I say this as someone who was a tech recruiter for more than 12 years.

Of course, managers’ interviewing skills won’t matter, since  the best, most knowledgeable, most creative candidates will be screened out before they ever see them.

Image credit: Chris Pond

Entrepreneurs: Stupid Follows Stupid

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/bensutherland/260720037/

It’s always interesting to see young people following in the footsteps of their predecessors.

Even more so when they hotly deny doing it.

But the frosting on the denial cake is that they are following in some of the stupidest footsteps.

Which they are doing in droves.

Last week I wrote how stupid it is to stereotype 80 million millennials.

Before that is was management’s stupidity regarding Gen X.

Age, however, is the biggest stupid and has been for decades.

For Boomers, the breakpoint for when a person became hopeless and valueless was 30; Millennials raised it to 40.

As bad as age discrimination has been in general, it is far worse in tech.

VC Vinod Khosla crystallized and popularized this mindset back in 2011.

 “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.”

That means you can expect no more creativity from Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Marc Benioff, Parker Harris and Satya Nadella. (For insight to other fields read the article.)

Not to mention that 32 year-old Mark Zukkerberg only has a few good years left.

There are thousands more at all levels, I just picked recognizable people to better illustrate the stupidity.

The difference between when the Boomers did it and now is the notice and action being taken.

This past week, the EEOC joined a probe behind a federal class action lawsuit against Google filed last month, charging that the search giant “engaged in a systematic pattern” of discrimination against applicants over the age of 40. The suit, expanding upon a related case filed earlier this year, cited data from Payscale that placed the median age of Google’s workforce at 29, with a margin of error of 4%. By contrast, the median age for U.S. computer programmers is 43.

Actually, I will probably find it somewhat amusing to watch founders as they try to meet candidate demand for the compensation and perks of the past few years in today’s do-more-with-less/revenue-based-business-model world.

That also goes for many, not all, by a long shot, tech workers who are looking for those same jobs and perks.

So heed the advice I recently gave a founder who took advantage of my standing offer of free help (both my phone number and email are posted on this blog).

He asked how to land a “star” candidate looking for “yesterday’s” compensation and refused to consider anything less.

My advice was to take a pass, refer him to Facebook or Google hire a reality-based programmer who can do the needed job and was sincerely interested in his product and vision.

The only thing he might lose were a few late night bragging rights.

In short, grow up, get smart and hire talent — no matter its age or color or gender.

Flickr image credit: Ben Sutherland

Entrepreneurs: Who to Interview

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

https://www.flickr.com/photos/jonphillips/3540693888/

I try to be polite, but sometimes it’s difficult.

Sometimes I just need to shut up in order to avoid telling my host that I think he is the stupidest person I’ve been around lately.

“Clay” was talking to a group of new entrepreneurs; going on at length about how brilliant he is at hiring talent for his company.

He said that knew when he should interview someone just by hearing a few basic facts, like education and general experience; no need for detailed specifics.

When he finally stopped bragging and patting himself on the back just one guy had the temerity to disagree, saying that wasn’t enough information to make such company success-critical decisions.

Clay turned and asked me to do four thumbnail sketches of candidates I knew and he would prove it was enough.

Here are the four profiles I provided.

  1. BSBA, some programming in college; started in customer service and worked his way up through the executive ranks.
  2. Some college; 12 years of programming and management experience.
  3. Harvard MBA w/ 25 years progressively more responsible positions in consulting, sales and management.
  4. MIT BS; more than 40 years programming experience in a broad array of technologies. Strong entrepreneurial bent; excellent manager.

Clay laughed and said he wasn’t surprised I included mostly “oldies,” since I was one of them.

He went on to say that he would pass on 1,3 and 4, because they probably wouldn’t fit into the fast pace of a startup. The second was a possibility, although he didn’t sound particularly aggressive.

Poor Clay, his investors won’t be pleased; he just passed on

  1. Marc Benioff (52)
  2. Sheryl Sandberg (47), and
  3. Ray Kurzweil (68)

He did think number 2 was a possibility, although not a strong one.

But Mark Zukerberg (32) probably wouldn’t fit in.

Flickr image credit: Jon Phillips

If the Shoe Fits: Parker Conrad and Zenefits

Friday, February 19th, 2016

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mZenefits founder Parker Conrad traded over-the-top growth predictions for the kind of excessive funding that gooses valuation and earns the company unicorn status.

In doing so he did exactly what Sam Altman warns against, “If a company is profitable, the founder is in control. If it’s not, investors are in control.”

Investors brought pressure (it’s what they do), so corners were cut.

Zenefits never was and still isn’t profitable and, worse still, was cutting corners when those corners are highly regulated.

Now Conrad is out and new management will pick up the pieces.

Conrad could have learned from serial entrepreneur Xenios Thrasyvoulou, who warns, “sanity is more important than vanity” when it comes to fundraising and Andrew Wilkinson’s belief that revenue-based horses have it all over funding-based unicorns.

Instead, once again, the emperor has no clothes.

Image credit: HikingArtist

If the Shoe Fits: the Worst Idea Ever

Friday, August 7th, 2015

A Friday series exploring Startups and the people who make them go. Read all If the Shoe Fits posts here

5726760809_bf0bf0f558_mI admit to a long-time and deep fascination with innovation, startups and the people who drive them

Although many of the new apps and services provide no value to me personally, in most case I can understand their allure to those of a different mindset.

But now and then I read/hear about an idea I consider the height of stupidity, but that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed.

Right now, co-living spaces are at the top of my stupid list.

Live-work spaces aren’t new.  HP started in a garage. Two decades ago they were a major force in the creation of what became SOMA in San Francisco. And home offices are everywhere.

But co-working spaces as envisioned by startups like WeWork are not only stupid, they are dangerous.

Crystal City WeLive location [Washington DC], the company will ultimately be renting out 360-square-foot “micro apartments,” which sit on top of WeWork’s co-working spaces. WeWork will offer more than 250 micro-apartments at that location, along with amenities like bike parking, an herb garden, and a library.

The idea is to eliminate the need to go outside your immediate environment.

It’s Silicon Valley efficiency taken to the extreme: you give up a normal work-life balance to eliminate your commute and live with all the amenities you need nearby. If you already hire people to take care of your other chores for you — you use Uber to drive you around and Wash.io to do your laundry — why not take it a step further and take care of your living arrangements through a startup too?

Residents not only give up any kind of work-life balance, they give up much of their connection to the real world and, more importantly, to their customers.
They will work/live/relax/socialize with people like themselves.

While losing contact with the extended world is bad, the potential for personal damage is catastrophic.

Shrinking the already tiny startup world will exacerbate the damage done by its ultra-competitiveness and worsen the rates of anxiety, depression and suicide already prevalent within it.

Image credit: HikingArtist

Before You Tweet…

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

https://www.flickr.com/photos/topgold/3341034811/in/photolist-66eFft-oeFjnx-estP63-98Spsn-ru5yJv-free6U-7gCYKZ-dUtnoh-87FzcL-6bGRnQ-8UftWG-5ZTi6A-cHM9aY-7HyzfJ-69pMgP-8BmjRj-hqybdq-8vAtRc-62KiZQ-836Ttv-77r3c2-7graYC-6PeUJ5-7Tteqf-pxBYFB-mqJuuw-6nLBhu-57iHze-8WhEXp-6cfUZr-8hLZzr-6eTk17-btdg1c-9kttrt-61gnsk-5HoFdL-eePN4H-5UuWwg-agYDbQ-6rdmKH-cNL2w5-8MX6kS-c5CURy-8hVWKZ-5QqSYP-91471X-9pT4Ni-jLKyc6-5Fgqh1-6PaSaT

You know that old saying, ‘do not run mouth unless brain is engaged’?

These days there should be a rule about not posting to social media unless brain is engaged.

Better yet, some kind of hardware similar to the gadget that prevents a car from starting if the driver can’t pass a breathalyzer test.

Media is full of stories about people who were fired for what they tweeted.

The rationalization I hear from various people is that it won’t happen to them because “I’m different.” They say that “they (those fired) were nobodies, i.e., low-level workers or unemployed, while they are “professionals,” i.e., they have clout.

Once I stop laughing I remind them of all those with clout who sent stupid tweet that cost them their jobs.

Now I just send them a link listing 13 Twitter-savvy somebodys fired for their tweets.

Whether you’re a somebody or a nobody, read the list.

Then be sure your brain is engaged before you post a tweet — every time.

Flickr image credit: Bernard Goldbach

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