Steve Jobs: Hiring the Best Is Your Most Important Task
Excerpts from In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the
Visionaries of the Digital World
The story of Steve Jobs is the story of a young college dropout
who sojourned to India in search of purity and enlightenment, returned to
the U.S., and founded Apple Computer. Was dabbling with Hinduism the key
to success for a 20-year-old with little money and a modest technical background?
Perhaps. High school buddy Steve Wozniak -- by all accounts a brilliant
tinkerer and engineer -- and Jobs collaborated on several "projects" during
their adolescence, including hacking into phone company networks and making
video games. Yet, over time, their individual responsibilities remained
well-defined: Wozniak mainly designed and built the product, and Jobs scrambled
to find the customers, coworkers, and components. Eventually the projects
became of value to others and Jobs persuaded Wozniak in 1976 to devote
his energy to a partnership -- Apple Computer.
What talent do you think you consistently brought to Apple and bring
to NeXT and Pixar?
I think that I've consistently figured out who really smart people were
to hang around with. No major work that I have been involved with has been
work that can be done by a single person or two people, or even three or
four people. Some people can do one thing magnificently, like Michelangelo,
and others make things like semiconductors or build 747 airplanes -- that
type of work requires legions of people. In order to do things well, that
can't be done by one person, you must find extraordinary people.
The key observation is that, in most things in life, the dynamic range
between average quality and the best quality is, at most, two-to-one. For
example, if you were in New York and compared the best taxi to an average
taxi, you might get there 20 percent faster. In terms of computers, the best PC
is perhaps 30 percent better than the average PC. There is not that much
difference in magnitude. Rarely you find a difference of two-to-one. Pick anything.
But, in the field that I was interested in -- originally, hardware design
-- I noticed that the dynamic range between what an average person could
accomplish and what the best person could accomplish was 50 or 100 to 1.
Given that, you're well advised to go after the cream of the cream. That's
what we've done. You can then build a team that pursues the A+ players.
A small team of A+ players can run circles around a giant team of B and
C players. That's what I've tried to do.
So you think your talent is in recruiting?
It's not just recruiting. After recruiting, it's building an environment
that makes people feel they are surrounded by equally talented people and
their work is bigger than they are. The feeling that the work will have
tremendous influence and is part of a strong, clear vision -- all those
things. Recruiting usually requires more than you alone can do, so I've
found that collaborative recruiting and having a culture that recruits
the A players is the best way. Any interviewee will speak with at least
a dozen people in several areas of this company, not just those in the
area that he would work in. That way a lot of your A employees get broad
exposure to the company, and -- by having a company culture that
supports them if they feel strongly enough -- the current employees can
veto a candidate.
That seems very time-consuming.
Yes, it is. We've interviewed people where nine out of ten employees
thought the candidate was terrific, one employee really had a problem with
the candidate, and therefore we didn't hire him. The process is very hard,
very time-consuming, and can lead to real problems if not managed
right. But it's a very good way, all in all.
Yet, in a typical startup, a manager may not always have the time
to spend recruiting other people.
I disagree totally. I think it's the most important job. Assume you're
by yourself in a startup and you want a partner. You'd take a lot of time
finding the partner, right? He would be half of your company. Why should
you take any less time finding a third of your company or a fourth of your
company or a fifth of your company? When you're in a startup, the first
ten people will determine whether the company succeeds or not. Each is
10 percent of the company. So why wouldn't you take as much time as necessary
to find all the A players? If three were not so great, why would you want
a company where 30 percent of your people are not so great? A small
company depends on great people much more than a big company does.
Reprinted from In the Company of Giants: Candid Conversations with the Visionaries
of the Digital World
Rama Dev Jager and Rafael Ortiz
Copyright 1997 by Rama Dev Jager and Rafael Ortiz
Reprinted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Cos. Inc.
All rights reserved.