In a world full of answers you start your journey by asking the right questions
“These days, Silicon Valley is feeling very optimistic. A very active angel community, a resurgent venture investment climate and a plethora of emergent platforms… whichever way you look at it, these are good days to be an entrepreneur. With newer venture funds coming online by the week, it isn’t surprising to see a sharp surge in funding and the number of new companies.” - Silicon Valley and Talent Crunch – GigaOm
Yesterday GigaOm published some salary stats from Glassdoor illustrating the spread across the Valley for different roles and organisations (see Stat Shot: The Results of Silicon Valley’s Talent War). Perhaps the most interesting observation one could make from the data is that – largely thanks to the ailing Greenback and the bubbling Pacific Paso – these world-class specialists would be making significantly more money working for an Australian Bank – but that’s a story for another post…
The problems of finding experienced talent counter points nicely with another trend within the Valley and that is the problems encountered by the older, more experienced software and hardware developers and designers who are out their struggling to find work.
“The harsh reality is that in the tech world, companies prefer to hire young, inexperienced, engineers.” – TechCrunch - Silicon Valley’s Dark Secret
Today, even in a seller’s market where companies are bought and sold just to gain access to their human resource pool, older talent struggles to get its foot in the door in the Valley. If anything the trend is towards investing in even younger applicants (See an interesting piece on ZoHo’s “Radical” recruitment practices).
This growing problem of “Global Ageism” in the creative professions was of course addressed a couple of years back by Malcolm Gladwell in his classic piece on “Late Bloomers”. In the article published in the New Yorker he explored Galenson’s idea that creativity can be divided into two types—conceptual and experimental – with youth focused on conceptual and experience on experimental.
“Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth…” Malcolm Gladwell - Late Bloomers or why do we equate genius with preciosity?
If you take the time to read the article you may find the radical idea that experience and not youth equals experimentation to be the most interesting take away on offer. After all, isn’t “fail fast, fail often” the incremental innovation mantra of the Valley? and doesn’t Galenson’s research suggest this experimental approach is more intuitive to the older, more experienced mind than that of the young and precocious?
What I find to be the most practical take away from the article is the simple idea that the success of the late bloomer is highly contingent on the efforts of others. Or, put another way, the willingness of sponsors to invest in the late bloomer’s latent potential.
Now, if you think this idea through in the context of the Valley’s skills shortage, you will quickly discover that talent crisis isn’t about a technical skills shortage at all. What the Valley is short on is the managerial expertise that can lead and mentor a generation of very experienced software and hardware engineers and designers who have “been there and done that” on to bigger and better things.
The simple message here is – in a market awash with highly experienced talent sitting it out on the bench – the market leaders will not be the start-ups and platforms paying over the market rates to attract the best of the younger talent but the start-ups and platforms that can attract the very best of the managerial talent.
It is the old story: Get the leadership and the management team right and the very best talent will come looking for you.
The problem of course is in a world of flat management structures and collaborative workplaces it is very hard to come by management talent with the complex skills that allow them to extract the very best out of their people in these types of social environments.
Your smart people don’t necessarily make the smartest managers and yet there is an expectation that they should be fast tracked through the ranks simply because they are the special ones.
Malcolm Galdwell explored these ideas almost 10 years ago in The Talent Myth when he asked and then explored the simple question: Are smart people overrated?
As we discovered before in The Discipline of Innovation Teams and Why the smartest people operate the dumbest businesses? business cultures are complex adaptive systems. To suggest that one size fits all is an enormous mistake to make and yet we continue to see the adoption of the lean management model of the Management Consulting industry being applied to everything from start-ups to retail banking. When the smart people fail to either build or adapt to the smart system that is at the engine room of any highly profitable business model the company inevitably fails and the smart people move on.
Football [Soccer] has long history of struggling with this talent paradox. Often it is the very best players who fail to make the transition into management while the average and even less than ordinary players go onto become the very best managers. Put quite simply the world’s best often find that their abundant talent is a barrier to their ability to manage others. After all how do you impart on to others what comes so naturally to yourself that you don’t even have to think about it while you are doing it.. you just do it.
The lesson that football continues to provide us with is simply the revelation that those who excel at managing the business are not necessarily always those who demonstrate an aptitude for doing the business.
“Three recent books, Geoff Colvin’s Talent Is Overrated, Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, examine high achievement — literary, musical, business, sporting — down the ages, in the light of recent discoveries in psychology and neurology. What all three writers agree on, despite some obvious ideological differences, is that hard work, so-called deliberate or deep practice, extremely intense and pursued over many years, makes the difference between the remarkable and the less accomplished. Inborn genius, to which we commonly attribute success, is in fact so rare that it doesn’t really figure in the calculations.” - The Science of Self Help by Algis Valiumas