Would you rather fight 100 duck sized Predators or 1 Predator sized duck?

Job Applicants Cultural Fit Can Trump Qualifications – Businessweek.

Someone asked Arnold Schwarzenegger this in his Reddit AMA:

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The trend in the above Businessweek article has me wondering if questions like this will now work their way into candidate evaluations.

From a leadership / organizational design perspective, I’m of two minds on this trend. On one hand, I firmly believe that functional qualifications performed in a professional manner should be the most important consideration in hiring. Can you do the job we need you to do and are you a decent human being while doing so?

I think market supply & demand is part of the reason why hiring can tilt towards the absurd and start to resemble dating. When there are plenty of qualified candidates to pick from, you can get away with additional decision making criteria that at other times would be considered irrelevant fluff.

I can’t remember which company it was, but recall a CEO saying that they considered whether they could see grabbing a beer with someone in their evaluation process. I love connecting with people in that kind of thing, but really? That’s what’s important to consider when sizing up an accountant or quality assurance lead? I love talking about good books, movies, and music but is that a key predictor of work performance or cocktail party conversation performance?

It’s a perfectly legitimate reason / gut feel heuristic to parse a pile of candidates based on who you like most. Obviously it’s much better to work with people you connect with. Chemistry and cohesion makes problem solving and teamwork easier. Cultural fit is incredibly important in building companies and products.

But I think aiming for an overly homogenized population undermines collective problem solving capacity and creativity. I’d rather have people with diverse perspectives and abilities, willing to go to bat for what they believe in and respecting each other as professionals enough to let the best thinking win. You can’t learn or do anything new if everyone is saying the same thing. As a product leader I’d rather encourage healthy debate and intervene when it isn’t. I’d rather have products built by people who bring very different things to the table and collectively create something richer than a uniform group. It is a good check & balance in human systems to have people who tend to question consensus, whether they have a rational case or it is just a personality disposition. Good ideas and thinking can withstand that acid test.

Some organizational and product problems stem directly from the fact that there is no new blood to show how things could be done differently. Say the team has an easy going, laugh it off group personality. They might simply tolerate things that could be better. People who reject inadequate reality and might not fit with that culture, but could bring about more meaningful change. Same goes for people who have worked together in various ventures – group output tends to be constrained to a particular range and new blood might help take things in different directions. Do what you always do, get what you always get.

Obviously there is a politically wise, grown up, diplomatic way to bring about change – more organizational judo than throwing furniture and tantrums. Anyone who has led this kind of change knows it’s neither a sprint nor a marathon but a mix of both.

But before things go too far in building teams of people who are exactly the same, I think it wise to consider whether product and organizational results would be improved by diversity rather than just adding more clones and drones.

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