What kind of people do companies usually want to hire, according to their job descriptions? They want people who “take initiative”. They want people who think “outside the box”. They want people who are “leaders”, rather than followers.
But do they really?
Peter Thiel, Billionaire, Co-Founder of PayPal and first investor in Facebook, also wants these innovative people for his various businesses. The problem, he says, is to identify those people though. Everyone says he is innovative, everyone thinks that he can think outside the box. So whenever he interviews someone for a job, he asks them one simple question:
„Can you explain to me a concept or an idea that you believe to be true, but that most people would disagree with?“
Think about it for a minute. Can you?
I find this question brilliant. It immediately weeds out all the copycats and followers of the herd! After all, if you always just do what others want you to do, if you always think what others tell you to think, all of your ideas will be a 100% unoriginal. Guaranteed. It’s only when you start coming up with your own thoughts, your own ideas, that you begin to seperate yourself from the masses.
And that’s when the hard part begins. When you believe something to be true that most people don’t, do you think these ‘most people’ will congratulate you on how innovative and outside the box you think? HELL NO!!
They will disagree with everything you say. They will undermine you. They will badmouth you. They will call you a dreamer (if they’re polite) or a moron (if they’re less polite).
The problem is, most companies are run by those ‘most people’. That’s why most companies itself are not really innovative, even though they all claim to be. And they don’t truly want someone who is innovative either. Innovative people want to change things. They question old habits and break with routines. They don’t do things the way their bosses want, but the way they think is best. Do you really think that is appreciated by the bosses?
To be innovative also means to do something that has never been done before. And trying something new usually means to make lots and lots of mistakes first, then learning from these mistakes and slowly, but gradually, make progress.
“I didn’t fail. I just found ten thousand ways that didn’t work.” – Thomas A. Edison
Do you honestly think that this is the corporate culture of most businesses nowadays? Do they encourage very slow progress, with lots of mistakes and failures along the way, hoping that it eventually leads to achieving a goal? Or do they want to generate quick results, the quick fix, a quick buck?
The most innovative people in business usually end up starting their own company at some point. Why do you think that is? In my opinion, the main reason is not the desire to get rich or gain more influence. I believe that it is simply because they think so far outside the box that no existing company allows them to follow their passion. No one shares their vision. That’s why they have to create their own company in which they finally attempt things that seem crazy to most others.
I thought quite a bit about Peter Thiel’s question and came up with several answers, several ideas that I believe to be true but most people probably don’t. The main one though is the one I described in this post. I believe that most companies, regardless of what they say, don’t really want innovative employees in the first place. Instead, they want employees that do things exactly the way it has always been done.
This becomes very clear when looking at most companies’ requirements for a successful job application: a degree in a relevant major, good grades, internships in the same field, previous work experience. What kind of people are more likely to be attracted by those kind of requirements? People that live life on their own terms or people who always follow the beaten path? If companies truly wanted to hire employees that think outside the box, they would start having hiring processes that are a little more outside the box. But they don’t.
That’s why Peter Thiel’s question made such an impression on me. He wants to find innovative people and understood that in order to find them, he first had to develop an innovative hiring process! You cannot find and attract innovative employees if you’re not able to be innovative yourself! Keep that in mind when trying to change something in this world. Learn from others, but think for yourself and come up with your own solutions rather than rehash what others say.