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Now hiring: All slow learners

Posted by Paul Gupta on March 22, 2010


Would you hire a slow learner?
Someone who makes you uncomfortable?
Someone who is is usually vague and boring?

Quite some time back, I had the privilege of being taught by Bob Sutton.  He was not your garden variety teacher: our organizational behavior class was punctuated by lessons from a roadside shop’s attempts at pricing (consumer psychology) and Reagan’s Iceland arms control talks (spin management).

I recently had a chance to dust off some old notes, and felt compelled to share this table.
Take a look:

So now I ask again:
Would you hire a slow learner?
Someone who makes you uncomfortable?
Someone who is is usually vague and boring?

Remember – these are weird ideas THAT WORK.

(DISCLAIMER: The above table has quite a bit of hyperbole, meant to disrupt your way of thinking.  We would not recommend taking literally at face value…amongst other things, we always think listening to customers is a good idea!)

11 Responses to “Now hiring: All slow learners”

  1. You say “these are weird ideas THAT WORK.”

    Can you demonstrate how and why they work? For very counter-intuitive ideas, just saying “they work” is not very convincing :)

  2. Paul Gupta said

    Hi Chen, good point. I should have clarified. That comment was a reference to his book “Weird Ideas That Work: How to Build a Creative Company”. In it he expounds and presents examples.

  3. I’m all over diversity like the last piece of sushi in Tokyo but that list on the left sounds like a breeding ground for creative asocials who potter around with whatever the heck they want and tell customers and stakeholders to bite them – if you can actually track them down, that is. I also feel a bit sorry for applicants at that company since they’re effectively being ‘milked’ for their ideas rather than selected for an actual job. Having said that, I think the point about working on what inspires you rather than sucking up to the old guard is a good one. Also it doesn’t necessarily pay to hire only cookie cutouts of ourselves.

    • Paul Gupta said

      I love your response – burst out laughing (and wanting sushi). The creative asocials – yes, that’s the bit I had the biggest issue with w.r.t. Sutton’s ideas. We put one such person up on a pedestal way back in my dot-com and allowed them not to “waste” their time to document their work — and paid a steep price.

  4. Louise Barnfield said

    Thanks for this Paul!…there’s an important point about talent development here, too.
    The characteristics required to preserve and maintain one’s current business are not necessarily the same characteristics needed to take a business into the future: to capture new markets, or tap into or develop new technologies.
    Many organizations need both kinds of top talent, since existing, established markets or products provide the bread-and-butter that enables companies to thrive while developing new business.
    If we need different types of talent, then we also have to consider different types of development programs that fit their very different characters and help them develop and succeed along those two distinct paths.

    • Excellent insight, Louise!

    • Meg Bear said

      I agree Louise — first you need to know *what* kind of Talent you require and then you need to get a strategy to find it (inside or outside your company).

    • Paul Gupta said

      I do not disagree BUT:

      I think the list helps in pointing out the inconsistency of having a value system in place that rewards column B behavior and then wonders why the group/organization is not innovative.

  5. Meg Bear said

    Similar to Laura, I struggle with this list. I do like the idea of challenging assumptions and breaking out of traditional modes of thinking. I don’t love the idea of skipping feedback and not learning from the past. Either way, I do think this is the kind of post that sparks conversation so thank you Paul for doing that!

    -Meg

  6. HRMargo said

    I am so proud of the work you do. You are all steward leaders, and demonstrate the best leadership example for our community. I applaud and appreciate the work you do. While this is off topic, I just wanted to offer you positive feed back for all the good work you and your company do.

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