It has always interested me how often people who work in advertising, especially creative people, didn't arrive via an academic industry-related course. One copywriter colleague left behind a career as a town planner. I taught AWARD School classes for people who wanted to find work as creatives in the early 90s - one guy would drive hundreds of kilometers from rural Coromandel where he was milking cows for a living to eke out some insights that would give him an entrée into an agency job - then drive home again for milking in the morning. He's a creative director now. Others have been cops, journalists and one was a stripper. Being formally educated wasn't a reliable indicator of much at all…
You might think that Google only hires the best. You're right. But you might be surprised by what the search giant considers to be 'the best'. In a recent New York Times article Thomas L Friedman reported that, according to Google's 'head of'people operations' the company has determined that “G.P.A*.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... We found that they don’t predict anything.” He also noted that the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time” — now as high as 14 percent on some teams."
Rather than concentrating on grades and scores Google consider these factors to be most significant:
1. Cognitive skills.
Can you do the job? If you want to fill a technical role you'll have to be able to perform the tasks - coders got to code good at Google. But the most important attribute is the ability to learn and to pull together ideas and information - cognitive ability.
Google's take on leadership might differ from the conventional idea. "when faced with a problem and you’re a member of a team, do you, at the appropriate time, step in and lead. And just as critically, do you step back and stop leading, do you let someone else? Because what’s critical to be an effective leader in this environment is you have to be willing to relinquish power.”
3. Humility and ownership
“It’s feeling the sense of responsibility, the sense of ownership, to step in, to try to solve any problem — and the humility to step back and embrace the better ideas of others. Your end goal, is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.”
“Successful bright people rarely experience failure, and so they don’t learn how to learn from that failure."
Humble people don't blame others or their circumstances when things go bad. On issues they have taken a strong position on they don't let ego get in the way when new information proves they were wrong. "You need a big ego and small ego in the same person at the same time".
Google doesn't think there's value in hiring someone who has all the answers. Experience and expertise are historical traits - what you did before. Sometimes the beginners mind (even in a world expert) needs to me applied to a problem to find new solutions to problems.
Graduates from the best schools might not always be the best candidates “when you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people. Too many college don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.” Ouch.
Friedman concludes his story with an important insight: "In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.
* GPA = Grade Point average
This blog is a notepad of contemporaneous and sometimes extemporaneous thoughts about creativity, strategy and ideas.