As a Celtic fan, I hate anything good that happens to the NY Knicks…but as a basketball fan and a fan of great, human achievement stories - I cannot help but get caught up in the Linsanity…insanity. It’s a great story (granted, as a Celtics fan, I hope it doesn’t last very long) — and one that carries great lessons that apply to any business’ recruiting and talent activities (especially start-ups).
As I’ve been following the Linsanity story, I’ve heard one common, consistent thing from the people that had played with, or known, Lin prior to this year. They all say some version of:
“HE NEVER FIT THE MOLD OF AN ELITE PLAYER, BUT HE DID HAVE AN UNBELIEVABLE WILL TO WIN.”
Will to Win.
It turns out that this is just the phrase for which I’ve been searching over the past couple of months. We’ve started recruiting pretty heavily of late and I’ve been trying to impress to some of people on our team the importance of the ”intangibles” when hiring new team members. Why we need to look beyond skills and focus on talents (and the potential of those talents). And most importantly, why we need to look for someone’s…umm….well…this is where I struggled. But now I know it. His/her Will to Win. Exactly what I was looking for.
As I think more about it, this may be the MOST IMPORTANT quality in a new team member joining a small, growing team. Especially those teams looking taking on big opportunities with few resources while fighting big, established players. An OVERSIZED and UNREASONABLE WIll to Win is absolutely essential.
The problem is, not many companies are really screening for a person’s Will to Win in the recruiting process. I mean, when is the last time you sat around discussing candidates and spent any time discussing his/her Will to Win?!
Why? Probably because it’s not terribly measurable. Certainly not in any definitive way. And it takes balls for someone to stand up in a recruiting process and say,
“THIS ONE’S NOT AS SKILLED, HAS FAR LESS EXPERIENCE THAN OTHER CANDIDATES AND WENT TO A LESSER UNIVERSITY…BUT HE’S THE ONE WE SHOULD HIRE BECAUSE, DAMNIT, THE DUDE’S JUST GOT A FIRE IN HIS BELLY!”
The fact is - the other “qualification” metrics (such as skills, experience, education) are much more tangible and measurable. Which means they are SAFER metrics to use to drive a decision. It’s risky to hire someone based on something you can’t easily measure or don’t find on a resume.
But THIS IS HOW CHAMPIONS ARE MADE. The ability to recognize greatness where others can’t is the difference between GREAT and mediocre MANAGEMENT. And for small start-up teams that can’t afford to make hiring mistakes…or afford to hire people based on the normal metrics (ie - people with more experience generally demand higher salaries), this ability could absolutely be the difference between great success and disappointing failure.
But it is risky. It takes strong instincts to recognize non-obvious greatness in people. And it takes balls to hire people based on those instincts.
And this is why everyone passed on Jeremy Lin.
So, I am going to create a Will to Win category in our hiring criteria immediately. And work to find ways to assess this in the recruiting process. I’ll let you know what I find…
Some other good, relevant posts on this:
- David Cancel wrote this great post a couple weeks ago. He referred to “Scrappiness & Drive” as a hiring criteria for his companies. I like this.
- Dharmesh covers some similar ground in his post pulling start-up lessons from the movie MONEY BALL
- Finally, here is a good post from the HuffPost on how/why talent scouts missed out on Jeremy Lin
I’m sure there are plenty more that I’m missing…