Apple’s Steve Jobs frequently pointed to the risk of a “bozo explosion,” which is what happens within a company that makes the mistake of hiring B-grade managers early on. As the company expands, these bozos—Jobs’s label for well-meaning, but less-competent managers—tend to emerge through the ranks and run important divisions of the company.
When bozos hire other people, they prefer to hire bozos. As entrepreneur (and bonafide Steve Jobs’s coattail-rider) Guy Kawasaki explains, “B players hire C players so they can feel superior to them, and C players hire D players.” Lo and behold, entire divisions are soon swarming with hordes of bozos.
How to Prevent a Bozo Explosion
The heuristic “hire people smarter than you” is obvious enough, but, every so often, smart people can be a terrible fit within your team.
In this Startup School 2013 interview with venture capitalist Paul Graham, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg offers a better heuristic to hiring and keeping smart people who aren’t jerks and can get things done:
What’s the right heuristic for determining if someone is really good? Over time, what I figured out was that the only actual way to let someone analyze whether someone was really good was if they would work for that person. I don’t think that needs to recurse too many levels down in the organization but I basically think that’s a really good heuristic. I believe that. If you look at my management team today if we were in an alternate universe and I hadn’t started the company it would be an honor to work for any of these people. I think if you build a company that has those kind of values, rather than just saying ‘oh I want to hire the best person I can find’ or whatever, if you hold yourself to that standard then I think you’ll build a pretty strong company.
Idea for Impact: Mediocre managers often feel threatened by employees who seem more intelligent than they are, and could potentially pinch their jobs. In contrast, a wise manager knows that she reveals well on her own ability to discover and nurture talent.
- As with advertising tycoon David Ogilvy’s Russian nesting dolls metaphor for building “a company of giants,” insist that managers hire folks who are better than themselves. For example, a product manager should hire a designer who is better at design than the manager is, not worse.
- Insist that each interviewer ask themselves of job candidates, “Would I want to work for this person?”
- Remember, the best don’t come cheap.
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