Hiring and Managing Genius

Experience is the accumulation of a wide variance of attacks on a problem until you see all of the dimensions surrounding your problem and can control for them in your final approach. The genius of a good startup founder, software architect, or product manager is to see as many dimensions as possible in order to draw higher levels of insight, see missed opportunities, and target with greater precision. Apple under Steve Jobs had 17-18 different concepts developed before launching the first iPhone in 2007. If you ask 10 product managers how they would improve Facebook Stories, 9/10 may start brainstorming new features including an ability to save items. But the 10th would actually look at how stories are used by the core user base - as a low threshold, non-embarrassing way to share content that will deliberately disappear. The product is a safe way to share when you are afraid of being judged, and starting from that point will get you further than dozens of expensive attempts elsewhere. Hire the people who see what you didn't.

Genius is also not genius all the time. A burned out brain running under continuous high stress, or low on sleep, or nutrients, will be unable to keep its own emotions in check, let alone manipulate a giant cloud of complexity. What truly matters is the quality of the mind-share people give you. The executive function of your cortex is critical for strategy, working memory, and decision making, and you need to know under what conditions that shuts off. If you run a 10x engineer in an exhausted state, you may be getting a 1X or 0.5X performance for 10 hours, instead of giving them 8hrs of genuine rest, and getting 2hrs at 10X+, solving the problem exponentially smarter and with far less technical debt. I highly recommend that every professional runs the same mental exercise against their own brain in different dimensions: times of day, types of nutrition, steps in the sleep cycle, states of stress, even levels of caffeination etc. You will surface your own objective peak performance conditions for each type of effort you need to do. Awareness of one's peak performance is far more valuable than a desire to work long hours. It's a sign of experience learned from a truly competitive environment - you've competed with your best self and won many times over.

Naturally, there are plenty of caveats. These are additional dimensions that can be navigated in any direction. Not all work requires executive thinking - a grind is a grind at times, and it is worth powering through as fast as possible, even when exhausted, if that means you get to fully dedicate to a different problem when your brain resets. You also can't always afford to rest if you are losing $$$ per minute due to a provisioning mistake, or putting people in danger because of a life-threatening issue.

In non-extreme circumstances, however, the quality of the mind-share your people give you is their biggest gift and testament to you as a manager. It is an equation of their attitude towards your project and other factors in their life, and to your team culture. Whether someone is burning the midnight oil trying to unproductively finish a grinding task for you, or watching Netflix, it still means they are losing their best brain hours the next day, and you project won't get the multiplier of executive thinking you think you are getting. So as manager or especially higher level executive of teams that are capable of 10X+ work, I would watch for burnout and give slack when needed for recovery (in executives, managers, and individual contributors alike). Address de-motivation problems as well, and find the source. Time worked is a fixed gain for the business, but leverage gained through exponential thinking compounds whenever you can get it and it is what can put your business on a whole different trajectory.

As a founder and people manager hiring professionals, I look for a mix of experience, self-awareness of performance, and rare breadth and depth of vision into problems during our interviews. We often arbitrage on dimensions many companies don't recognize. Examples:

  1. A remote team member may be better rested (higher performance amplifier) and won't waste 20-30% of their work day in a worthless commute.
  2. A highly performing underdog sales leader who doesn't look like the typical salesperson, or a founder without funding who has achieved tremendous insights and metrics for their product without a massive team are precisely the people who would break through in competition when given better resources.
  3. A team that has a limited number of hours to launch may launch better if they are not severely under-slept or underfed. In pressure conditions, we'd order high protein food, and break down the work required so people can get a break or tag team. We might then book a hotel room have nap rooms available, so those who need a rest can cycle through and recover to pick up the load at top speed. We've reduced the number of launch problems and quantity of technical debt substantially as a result.
  4. When hiring in fields you don't have experience in, I reach out and talk to people who excel in it, and find out what dimensions of vision matter in that field, then hire against those benchmarks.

People who know you value their brain and insights rather than time burned on the clock are also far more likely to give you their best performance.

Compounding insights by documenting the lessons also helps. A dream of mine is to one day build a consequence engine that calculates likely outcomes of laws or people systems with the simplicity of a calculator crunching numbers. Until then, we have experience, documentation, ontologies, and search engines. Watch, track, and manage based on all dimensions that matter. (And do share when you surface more.)