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A Human(e) Culture

Yesterday, I saw this article in my Twitter feed:

Don’t hire Hotmail users & other tips to save your company culture

And my first response was to say that this guy’s company culture is very clear and easy to understand: join up, and get treated like sh*t by a bunch of a**holes.

But perhaps there’s a more nuanced response, and one which speaks more deeply of the mission which Ninja Goat has, and the way in which I intend to live up to that mission.

When I think about the people whom I’d like to hire, I am certainly – as a business owner and as someone who would like to see my company prosper over the long haul – thinking about what each person can contribute, how they can help the company grow, and how they might “fit” into the company “culture.”

I would be lying if I said that I had a very clear picture of what any one person who met those criteria looked like, or what they were capable of, or how any particular day of theirs would go from start to end. And I think that anyone who pretends to know those things unequivocally is lying to themselves at least, and probably to a lot of other people.

When I hear people say they are looking for a good cultural “fit”, what I think they’re really saying is that they want to hire people who look and think like them. Or perhaps, they’re looking for people who will challenge the team and its leader, but not too unconventionally.

I think this is a terrible strategy, for it’s short sighted and suboptimal, particularly for any company that hopes to innovate.

Innovation is invariably the result of jamming two or more disparate ideas together in a way that turns out to be novel and useful. If you want more innovation, you need more disparity, jammed together with increasing frequency. Hiring a bunch of people who share the same basic attributes (like being driven solely by monetary rewards and willing to work endless hours to achieve them) isn’t going to get you that.

Moreover, you’ll quickly burn through the people you’ve worked so hard to recruit, because 80-hour weeks and sleepless nights result in a crappy product, whatever you’re making.

And I’ve worked for and with enough folks who run their companies by the lean/agile/startup handbook to know that they’re really after one thing: a jackpot. They think that with enough hard work, backed by enough brilliant, driven and dedicated people, they’re destined to land a big round of funding, capture a huge audience, and maybe even get snapped up in an acquisition. They have an “exit strategy.”

But here’s the thing about winning a jackpot: statistically-speaking, almost no one wins, and just about everyone loses. Do everything “right”, and you will still go bust. That is not a strategy any more than buying lottery tickets to ensure a comfortable retirement.

What if there’s another way? What if it’s possible to build a company that can grow and thrive over the long term, and which does so by bringing together the widest range of contributions it can find?

I have this theory, on which I’m willing to bet the success of my business: if you hire people based on whether or not they fit a set of criteria you’ve created, you will only ever know if you were right or wrong about that judgment.

But if you hire people based on a desire to see how completely they can live up to their own potential, I suspect two things will happen: They will live up to that challenge and, with that as a bulwark to their confidence, raise their own expectations They will help you to discover things you never imagined.  My goal is to jam together as many people with wildly divergent ways of thinking as possible, guided primarily by a mutual respect and desire to understand those perspectives.

I want to hire people with “issues”, which is to say, “humans”, because all humans have issues – big, complex, seemingly-intractable issues that we each struggle with daily.

I want ethnically, culturally, neurologically, psychologically and physiologically diverse people because these differences are integral to my company’s strategy, not something we’ll succeed in spite of.

Will you reply to email at midnight? Stop it, you should probably be sleeping, or at least not looking at an electronic screen. Will you be available to come in and work on weekends?Great, but only if it’s because you prefer to work when no one else is there. Do you want to talk about the economics of the pottery trade during the Byzantine Empire while we pack boxes? As long as you don’t overfill them and you don’t quiz me the end, that’s awesome!

Somewhere along the way, we’ll discover something new.

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