Malcolm Gladwell on hiring

Anyone who’s been reading this blog for a while knows of my fascination for the New Yorker. I just finished watching a talk by Malcolm Gladwell (also rapidly climbing my ‘favourite speakers’ list) at the 2008 New Yorker Conference, titled ‘Reinventing Invention’. As I am slowly discovering, most interesting people give talks with titles that have hardly anything to do with the talk itself (kidding!). In this case, Malcolm Gladwell’s talk was about the challenges of hiring in the modern world, by way of US scouting combines, US teacher recruitment criteria, criteria for applicants at the University of Michigan’s law school, and primary recruitment criteria for police officers. Very fascinating to listen to (and you should), but what I want to do here is put down his main conclusions for the benefit of everyone.

Gladwell speaks about parameters for hiring in companies today and says that requiring applicants to have certain minimum achievements for particular roles is increasingly irrelevant in the modern workplace. It’s not like selecting 10-year-old kids to play basketball where going by height and general co-ordination would be a reasonable indicator of success. In today’s world, employees are expected to have the ability to be flexible, work in teams and think abstractly, not just a minimum standard of education or a certain number of years of work experience. However, the guidelines for hiring today remain the same as years ago, whereas the demands of the workplace have changed dramatically in just the last couple. In addition to that, as Gladwell says, people cannot be understood simply and cleanly. There will always be an element of risk involved, because we cannot impose certainty on something as uncertain as human nature. If you listen to the full talk, he gives excellent examples which illustrate how sticking by the best possible criteria for selection when hiring can in fact wind up being a strategy that falls flat.

My experience so far has been that most people are willing to discuss things with you even if you are from an unconventional background, but whether that translates to action is yet to be seen. I’m hopeful though, because as an industry, communications in general is full of some of the smartest people I’ve seen yet.

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