Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Inexhaustibility of Talent

Passion is what makes someone good at something.[1]  Since passion is what makes a great employee, and passion is an unlimited resource, it stands to reason that great employees are also an unlimited resource.

Of course passion isn't exactly enough for most jobs.  You also have to have skill.

While my experience is limited, I was amazed that very few people at Microsoft made me wonder why they were there. That's a company of over 90,000 people. I met no such person at Google. They also turn down a lot of people I think are great.  Both type 1 and type 2 errors are from the difficulty of making good hiring decisions, not from the availability of talent.  

Is this true for areas outside of tech? Perhaps Google attracts the best to the suffering of others? Tech is, however, the _most_ likely space for companies to run out of talent, due to the relative scarcity of good programmers compared to the market size. If huge tech companies are able to hire thousands of competent people, I don't see how a grocery store should have a hard time finding competent clerks.  

The problem, really, is that companies don't understand that _every_ employee matters. They don't care about certain positions enough to bother hiring competent people.  Or, for that matter, treating their current employees well.  We've all suffered from a run-in with an incompetent sales associate or an underpayed security guard.

Creating a great product starts, then, with hiring the best and creating a great place to work: one that encourages and rewards passion.  This a truth in a service-oriented economy that wasn't true when we were a manufacturing economy. How happy Foxconn workers are doesn't matter the same way that the happiness of the Genius Bar staff does, or the passion of Apple's designers for that matter. In many ways, employers are stuck in an old economy where passion didn't matter.

It is interesting to note that I reduced skill to happiness.  There is always more talent out there[2].  Keeping your workers happy attracts the talent, keeps them, and keeps them working well.   Because happiness is clearly inexhaustible, I argue that talent is as well.

[1] - You work hard and constantly improve if you care. Natural talent is only a multiplier, or worse a head start.
[2] - Even if you run into the talent wall, you can make schools that generate more talent. This is what Henry Ford did. More recently, Microsoft donated money to the University of Washington because UW generates good programmers. UW now has twice the number of CSE students, thus increasing the talent pool in the Puget Sound.

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