Willie Nelson & Influence

I saw Willie Nelson perform in front of a sold out crowd at Chastain Park this weekend. Some facts about Willie and his performance:

  • He is 79 years old.
  • More than half the crowd at Chastain was less than half his age.
  • He is the only performer ever to have a former United States president don a red bandana and join him on stage for a duet.

How many others have that sort of influence?

Employers compete for employees; Industries compete for entrepreneurs

Many great companies offer some pretty compelling enticements to join their teams. For a long time, we’ve seen perks like great health benefits, team happy hours, and lunches or breakfasts. More recently, employers have started offering unlimited vacation and 20% time. The trend is toward treating employees like creative, responsible adults. This is great, and I hope to see it continue.

Why is this happening? Speaking personally, we seek to offer this sort of work environment at GuildQuality because I want the people in my life to be in constant pursuit of self-actualization. Entrepreneurs seek to make the world into their image of how it should be, so those who value freedom and respect responsibility seek to bring freedom and responsibility to their workplaces.

But that’s not the only reason. More practically, businesses need great people, and great people want to work in great environments, on great projects, with other great people, where they feel they’re having a great impact. As a result, businesses compete for employees by creating as positive a work environment as possible.

Entrepreneurs, for all their quirks, aren’t so different from employees. They, too, want freedom. They want to work with great people. They want have a positive impact. They want to spend as little time as possible on administrivia and bureaucracy. They want to spend as much time as possible being creative and bringing their ideas to life.

Imagine, then, that industries are like employers for entrepreneurs. The best employees are selectively choosing where they’ll work. They ask themselves questions like,

Where will I have the freedom to be creative?

Where will I be rewarded?

Where will I get to work with wonderful people?

Where will I be able to have an impact?

And where do people want to work now? The internet. And why? Because they have no restrictions on their freedom or opportunity.

Unfortunately, we can’t eat the internet. The internet can’t heal us, nor can it shelter us from the elements. So if we’d like to start seeing real innovation — like the kind Tyler Cowen argues we’ve lost in The Great Stagnation — then as a culture, we have two choices:

1) We could aggressively regulate and corporatize the internet, so that all the profits from that industry would concentrate among only a few really big businesses, and all the time spent being creative and innovating would be consumed by time spent prostrating before bureaucrats for permission and favors. That would make entering the internet industry as distasteful a prospect as it is for other industries, thereby pushing more talented people toward industries that feed, heal, or shelter people.

2) We could strip the drag from the other industries.

Imagine what the built environment would look like if technology’s greatest entrepreneurs pursued a career in real estate development. They wouldn’t, of course, because this is too common a story.

Can you imagine people like Sergey, Larry, Steve, and Bill suffering impediments to their creativity? Of course not. As a result, we can’t dwell in the neighborhoods and homes they build. Nor can we be healed by the procedures they invent, or eat the foods they grow or serve.

Job interview questions

We’re interviewing a bunch of great folks right now. People are coming our way via our network of friends, colleagues, and employees, as well as via job boards and recruiters. We haven’t quite systematized the process, but we’re getting close.

Most of the time, we ask the solid looking candidates to answer some qualifying questions via email. They’re the type of questions that have no correct response (i.e. “Why are you interested in working with us?”). The answers help us gain a better understanding of how the candidate looks at life and work, how well they write (very important), and whether or not we should invest time in a phone interview.

Sometimes, we skip that process — this is always because a résumé, lead source, or cover letter looks just so temptingly great. Maybe she perfectly matched our wish list in terms of experience. Maybe he was referred by someone we really admire. Maybe she listed among her interests a wildly eccentric and fascinating activity. No matter the reason, it is almost always a mistake to depart from the process.

Last week, I came across a candidate with an especially promising résumé. In my enthusiasm, I skipped the qualifying questions and just sent off an email requesting a time to talk. Here’s how our phone interview began:

Me: “Hello. Thanks for your interest in joining our team!”

Candidate: “You are welcome.”

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

[Awkward Silence]

Candidate: Excuse me?

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

Candidate: “I don’t understand what you mean.”

Me: “I once read that you can tell more about someone from the questions they ask than the answers they give. That sounded like good advice to me, so I like to start interviews with that question.”

Candidate: “I see.”

[Awkward silence]

Me: “What questions do you have for me?”

Candidate: “I don’t have any questions.”

The interview didn’t last long. I wasted my time and theirs. Worse, I put a candidate who wasn’t a fit for us in an uncomfortable situation. That’s no good for anyone!

Henceforth, I vow not to depart from our process. Also, I may start including my “What questions do you have for me?” question in the initial email to prospective phone interview candidates.

Finding the right people (and avoiding the wrong ones) is among the most important skills an entrepreneur can develop. How do you find great candidates, and what do you do to run an effective hiring process?