On hiring people

After years of various roles in which I've been solely or jointly responsible for hiring people into businesses and organizations, I offer some thoughts on what I think works.

Hiring is ultimately about entering into a new relationship with someone. Actions and words that truly honor the joys, anxieties, vulnerabilities and interdependencies of that process will tend to make it more successful. Things that treat it as a cold, harsh, impersonal transaction will tend to make it (and your organization) less successful.

A successful process, by the way, could mean that someone is not hired just as much as it could mean they are. Clarity about the long-term fit is more important than short-term harmony and avoiding disappointment.

If you create an application, screening, interview and hiring process where people can check off a bunch of boxes that culminate in their employment, they will tend to optimize for that. It doesn't mean they are disingenuous or won't be good employees, but it may not be what you want as you build a team. Asking people to follow specific instructions is fine - it can be a good way to screen out bulk applications and clarify someone's interest. But lean more toward creating an interesting dance between equal partners, and then seeing how everyone feels when the music stops.

Keep candidates updated as much as possible at every step of the process. Let them know you've received their inquiry and when they should expect to hear a next response. If there are delays on your end in evaluating their application, say so. Try to respond to every candidate who follows your basic instructions about how to apply, no matter how far they make it in your process. Don't play mind games, you are not running Fight Club.

Résumés are useful as a summary of someone's professional identity, but should only be a starting point for understanding what they would bring to your organization. Putting together a flawless résumé (and possibly a cover letter) should be a baseline for understanding someone's attention to detail and ability to communicate clearly. A résumé with typos, lots of fluff or other problems can probably be discarded early on.

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What we are, what we can become

One of the many recent life lessons I've learned from parenting an 18-month-old is that where you are and what you know right now doesn't have to limit where you can go and what you can become.

It's been fascinating to watch our daughter learn about the world and incorporate that knowledge into her life on timelines that span mere days and weeks. I had apparently developed a cynical view of what people have the capacity to learn and how long it takes, and she is challenging those assumptions and views every day. The old, limiting way of thinking about this puzzle/game/word/object/creature is so yesterday, dad! It is delightful and surprising to watch the human brain expand its understanding of how the world works, and I must constantly re-evaluate what she is capable of in order to keep up.

It's also a good reminder for me about how much we as a society tend to categorize and label people and what they have the capacity to know or do based on our initial encounters of them.

I've been thinking lately about how this dynamic is at work in the tech world in particular - people are pigeonholed into being developers, support/customer service, marketing/sales people, administrative/HR people, founders, or other roles and then we quickly start to make assumptions from there about how they think, what they know and what they're capable of. We can quickly forget that someone might have a broad range of skills and life experience that would allow them to take on multiple roles or see a given problem space from multiple perspectives, even if they choose to primarily occupy one particular role right now. Even worse, there's strong temptation to use only one or two direct encounters to label someone as a good/bad/mediocre version of their singular role, never again mentally giving them the chance to demonstrate otherwise.

"Him? Oh yeah, I worked with him on a project three years ago. He's a so-so developer but I wouldn't trust him to really thrive with this new project."

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Without media literacy, is there hope for the media?

Much has been said in recent weeks about how the news media will need to transform itself if it is to keep up with continued deception from a President Trump, and with the proliferation of so-called fake news.

I think it's true that journalists have an almost impossible-to-navigate obstacle course in front of them for the years ahead. Covering hard news, calling out lies and omissions while maintaining their access, not becoming the story, not becoming desensitized, and just generally being on top of the actions of an administration unconstrained by any reasonable standards of integrity or transparency will be all-consuming.

But perhaps the harder task falls to an American public whose media literacy has apparently wasted away under the relentless influence of social media, clickbait journalism, passive entertainment, substandard education, and general civic apathy. It may not matter how well-sourced, researched and fact-checked a news article might be if the average reader doesn't know how to distinguish it from a speculative, misleading or just plain fabricated piece published by someone trying to get rich quick or advance an agenda. It probably doesn't matter how much time and money a media organization invests in being seen as credible if there is no widely accepted and respected standard for credibility.

If the public continues to give our clicks, attention and dollars to the most salacious and distracting stories over ones that cover the complex substance of politics and governance, there may be little hope for a strong fourth estate.

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2016 Year in Review

With another year gone by, I'm again sharing a few reflections on how 2016 went. (Previously: 2015, 2014, 2011.)

New house, staying in Indiana

Sky TrainWith a big shift in my wife's professional life and an intentional wrapping up of most of my local commitments that required regular attendance at in-person meetings, this year found me as physically untethered to the city of Richmond, Indiana as I've been since I first came here in 1995. We spent much of the year asking whether we should stay, or take the opportunity to explore living in new places outside of the U.S. midwest. (Someone even started a rumor that we'd already moved away.) I reflected a lot on why I've stayed in Richmond this long, what we'd be giving up if we did go, and what we'd gain by living somewhere else.

There are changes happening locally and regionally that concern us, and there are times we want our daughter to have more diverse experiences than we can find in Richmond, so we know we'll keep considering these questions. But we decided that our wonderful community of friends and family, the difference we feel like we can make locally, and the opportunities we still have to see and live in other parts of the world all added up to staying in Richmond right now.

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Beyond Tweetstorming

It seems "tweetstorming" - using a series of tweets on Twitter to share commentary that requires more space than a single tweet can hold - has become a thing.

For those of us who have been using various web tools to publish online for many years now without any notable space constraints, it's a puzzling trend to say the least. Why would you put your thoughts in a format and on a platform that was not at all designed for longer form writing, makes it hard for others to link and respond, and risks a loss of ownership or availability of that content later on (for starters)? I've expanded on these concerns in posts like Owning our digital homes, and made light of them in my own tweets.

But we know that the most elegant and flexible practices don't always win out over ones that are popular or compelling in other ways. So I'm trying to resist the temptation to be entirely dismissive of tweetstorming, especially as I see people call out why they prefer it over blogging: they're more likely to follow up on a conversation on Twitter than they are to check back on an individual blog's comment thread, they like the immediacy and wide distribution of Twitter, they like being able to respond to single thoughts one tweet at a time, and so on.

That said, I still see tweetstorming as a disconcerting trend for the realm of publishing and discussion online. In a time where we need more clarity of thinking, constructive dialog and interactions that don't shy away from details, nuance and truth-seeking, tweetstorms seem like a move in the wrong direction.

So what to do about it?

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Tired of Cancer

My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.

I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:

I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.

My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.

I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.

Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.

And it feels like cancer is everywhere.

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