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Steve Jobs: hiring the best is your most important task

mrgn:

Excerpts from In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the Visionaries of the Digital World, 1997

What talent do you think you consistently brought to Apple and bring to NeXT and Pixar?

 I think that I’ve consistently figured out who really smart people were to hang…

The story of Steve Jobs is the story of a young college dropout who sojourned to India in search of purity and enlightenment, returned to the U.S., and founded Apple Computer. Was dabbling with Hinduism the key to success for a 20-year-old with little money and a modest technical background?

Perhaps. High school buddy Steve Wozniak — by all accounts a brilliant tinkerer and engineer — and Jobs collaborated on several “projects” during their adolescence, including hacking into phone company networks and making video games. Yet, over time, their individual responsibilities remained well-defined: Wozniak mainly designed and built the product, and Jobs scrambled to find the customers, coworkers, and components. Eventually the projects became of value to others and Jobs persuaded Wozniak in 1976 to devote his energy to a partnership — Apple Computer.

What talent do you think you consistently brought to Apple and bring to NeXT and Pixar?
I think that I’ve consistently figured out who really smart people were to hang around with. No major work that I have been involved with has been work that can be done by a single person or two people, or even three or four people. Some people can do one thing magnificently, like Michelangelo, and others make things like semiconductors or build 747 airplanes — that type of work requires legions of people. In order to do things well, that can’t be done by one person, you must find extraordinary people.

The key observation is that, in most things in life, the dynamic range between average quality and the best quality is, at most, two-to-one. For example, if you were in New York and compared the best taxi to an average taxi, you might get there 20 percent faster. In terms of computers, the best PC is perhaps 30 percent better than the average PC. There is not that much difference in magnitude. Rarely you find a difference of two-to-one. Pick anything.

But, in the field that I was interested in — originally, hardware design — I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1. Given that, you’re well advised to go after the cream of the cream. That’s what we’ve done. You can then build a team that pursues the A+ players. A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and C players. That’s what I’ve tried to do.

So you think your talent is in recruiting?
It’s not just recruiting. After recruiting, it’s building an environment that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision — all those things. Recruiting usually requires more than you alone can do, so I’ve found that collaborative recruiting and having a culture that recruits the A players is the best way. Any interviewee will speak with at least a dozen people in several areas of this company, not just those in the area that he would work in. That way a lot of your A employees get broad exposure to the company, and — by having a company culture that supports them if they feel strongly enough — the current employees can veto a candidate.

That seems very time-consuming.
Yes, it is. We’ve interviewed people where nine out of ten employees thought the candidate was terrific, one employee really had a problem with the candidate, and therefore we didn’t hire him. The process is very hard, very time-consuming, and can lead to real problems if not managed right. But it’s a very good way, all in all.

Yet, in a typical startup, a manager may not always have the time to spend recruiting other people.
I disagree totally. I think it’s the most important job. Assume you’re by yourself in a startup and you want a partner. You’d take a lot of time finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company. Why should you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your company or a fifth of your company? When you’re in a startup, the first ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is 10 percent of the company. So why wouldn’t you take as much time as necessary to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small company depends on great people much more than a big company does.

(Source: mrgn)

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