Sunday, May 24, 2009

Productivity Bit: Looking for 'The Willingness to Death March'

This interview is chock full of interesting ideas but what really made particularly useful, at least for me, is how Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, looks for what he calls "the willingness to death-march" in those he hires (NYT):

For each book, he hires a research team of university students, up to a dozen at a time, to help him during long summers of work. He is picky about whom he hires, typically from Stanford and the University of Colorado. They’re not always business students; they might be studying law or engineering or biochemistry.

He prefers to learn as much as he can about them before he meets them. “Because if I meet them, I may like them, and then all the assessment of the person is going to be filtered by the fact that I like them, and what I really want to see is the quality of their work,” he says.

So he will look at their transcripts. “If they even have a small glitch in their academic record over the last year, they don’t really get considered,” he says. “I need people who have that just weird need to get everything right.”

He gives the candidates a list of different academic activities, including field work and lab work, and makes them rank the activities in order of preference, to give him a clear idea of their interests.

If they clear other hurdles, he will finally meet them in person. He’s looking for four intangibles: smart, curious, willing to death-march (“there has to be something in their background that indicates that they just will die before they would fail to complete something to perfection”) and some spark of irreverence (“because it’s in that fertile conversation of disagreement where the best ideas come, or at least the best ideas get tested”).

“So I look for somebody who on the one hand was an Eagle Scout, because that’s death-marching,” he explained. “And, on the other hand, somebody who took time off to travel to 14 third-world countries on no money.” One of his researchers, an M.B.A. student, had studied medieval literature at Princeton and served in the Marines.

No comments: