“People Are Like Apples”
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received relates to managing people. Many years ago, as I was getting ready to hire my first employee, I prepared a long list of ideal competencies. My manager laughed at my list and remarked that I was looking for a perfect candidate, one that I wouldn’t be able to find. He told me a metaphor about how “people are like apples” and encouraged me to look for a good-enough employee instead.
When you buy apples in a market, don’t look for spotless apples, but rather for good-enough apples. Spotless “choice” apples are not only difficult to find, but may cost more. Instead, look for apples that are good enough and may have one or two bad spots. When you get an apple with a spot on it, you can either remove the spot with a knife (almost always, the spot is not very deep) or simply eat around the bad spot, thus enjoying the rest of the “near perfect” apple.
Employees, bosses, colleagues, friends, relatives, parents, kids, spouses, and all people are like apples. Use a metaphorical knife to work around their imperfections, flaws, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.
“Root for their better angels”
Last year, the ever-brilliant Ben Casnocha wrote a fascinating essay reflecting upon his “10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman,” the founder of LinkedIn and a Silicon Valley investor. As Hoffman’s chief of staff, Casnocha worked on various strategic aspects of Hoffman’s professional and personal initiatives. He also co-authored two books, Start-up of You (on career management) and The Alliance (on talent management).
Casnocha’s “What I Learned” essay is full of helpful management and leadership insights. Here’s one on people-skills:
One of Reid’s underrated gifts … is that he maintains very complicated portraits of the people he knows. He appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll comment on a friend’s character flaw—say, self-centeredness—but in the next breath note one of their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, “navigable” (to use a Reid-ism) en route to their better side. … If you make a mistake (or three) or if a weakness of yours gets exposed—you’re not dead to him. It’s just another data point in a rich tapestry in a long-term relationship.
Idea for Impact: Work around Others’ Faults
A Chinese Proverb reminds, “Gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect.” People differ greatly in their capacities: some are stronger than others, some are better looking, some are better at science, some draw and paint better, and some are better athletes. Some make decisions through logic; others rely on intuition. Intelligent people are sometimes not physically very agile and are frequently socially awkward. Great artists sometimes cannot do enough math even to balance their checkbooks. Most people are smart in their specific spheres of competence, but are clueless in many other areas of human endeavor.
When working with people, work around their idiosyncrasies. Overlook and compensate for their imperfections, or coach them and help them work on their weaknesses. Being skilled at working with people in all aspects of life involves being able to fortify their strengths and making their weaknesses irrelevant.