One of my colleagues here at Inc. posted an interesting piece about hiring smart people. He mentioned a quote by Steve Jobs that applies really well to the tech industry.

The quote reads this way: "It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do."

I wonder if this comment predates Millennials in the tech labor pool.

They already outnumber all of us anyway, and that trend will continue in the next few decades. Most people in the workforce today are Millennials, to the tune of about 56 million workers. Many of them are in their 20s. A high percentage are recent grads.

The problem with the quote, and the reason it won't really work in the modern age of work in the tech sector in particular, is that we're in a middle-era stage of tech. Maybe 20-30 years ago you could hire bright and talented folks who knew more than anyone on your staff. It's doubtful today. The computer operating system of today is decades old, for example. Smartphones have been around for more than a decade.

In my mentoring role with college students, I've seen many incredibly smart and gifted people who did not know too much about the workplace or the process involved in completing projects. They know a lot about Instagram, though. That does not make them dumb by any means. Jobs was right at least in part about the fact that smart people will figure out what to do eventually and they will start telling you what to do.

Where the idea falls apart is in understanding that the smartest person in the room might be the most untrained. It's almost a given. Millennials are mostly in catch-up mode.

A better quote might be:

"It doesn't make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. It makes more sense to hire smart people and train them enough so they start telling you what to do."

Another problem with hiring smart people so they can tell you what to do is that they often come with baggage, typically from their previous employer or just from being around the work world period. They have biases and bents, a way of doing things. Most of us don't work at Apple, who may be able to hire luminaries right and left.

I'd rather train a smart person in a process like social media strategy, give them all of the tools they need to succeed, and then watch them blossom until they outpace you and everyone else rather than hire know-it-alls who babble on about how things should be done according to their great and mighty intelligence.

Most of the time, they are wrong. They don't know your process, they don't know your team, they don't know your history. You might do things a certain way today because it's a proven method, and because it was an idea that other smart people invented and retooled. A smart person comes into the equation, spouting off about these wonderful ideas...that worked somewhere else, but won't work at all in this particular environment.

Take a social media expert. From what I've seen, those who have "the perfect strategy" for social media are usually not that helpful. There isn't a perfect strategy. There's a strategy that works for your particular market, with your team and your product.

Anyone who is truly intelligent knows that you have to customize and adapt to an environment. If a smart person starts on a team and insists on implementing their own ideas only, then there's a good chance that person is not actually that smart.

The smartest people in any company know how to adapt, customize, and improve on any process; they don't insist on using all of their previous strategies.

Plus, even after someone has learned how to adapt and you've trained them, the concept of letting smart people tell you what to do is deeply flawed.

That's not how MIllennials operate.

They work as a team, sharing ideas so that the smartest ideas always trump the smartest person. There's no "use versus them" anymore, no smart hires giving you the know-how to make a product better. It's a collective of smart people, all growing at the same time.

So, sure--hire smart people. Train them, let them teach you--but in the end, the goal isn't to have a team of smart consultant types. It's to have a smart company.

Published on: Sep 5, 2018