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  • Writer's pictureBen Kettle

📈The Higher You Go, The Less It's About You📈

Updated: Jan 3, 2022

Using your greed and ambition to change how you think about hiring.

Hey Everyone,

This is the first of several posts covering why you should think critically about how you evaluate talent, and more specifically the hiring process in general. I hope that you enjoy it.



The Higher You Go, The Less It's About You

Quick warning: The argument I’m about to make is both comically obvious and frequently overlooked. I’m aware of the former. The latter is why I’m writing this post.

So what’s my goal in pointing out the obvious? It’s to convince you that taking your hiring process seriously and developing your people are the two most important things you can do for your career.

That’s right; I’m appealing to your most personal, selfish ambitions. Let’s align our incentives: I’d like to make everyone’s evaluation of talent more equitable. You’d like to have a long, fulfilling, lucrative career. Appealing to your more self-centered, base desires accomplishes both our goals. Hooray!

Obvious and Ignored

Here’s the big, obvious truth: the higher your rise in an organization, the less your success is dependent directly on you. I did the math. Below is a chart (for those of you so inclined).

Sure, you may have an outsized influence on your own success if you’re particularly visionary, a great motivator, super good at office politics, a 10x engineer, or a truly one-of-a-kind system designer.¹ In which case, congrats!

But even for those people, and especially for the vast majority of hiring managers, leaders, and run-of-the-mill workers, we are all increasingly dependent upon the people we surround ourselves with. It turns out that individuals don’t scale very well.

It makes sense, right? I told you it was obvious.

Default states and where I went wrong

My theory is that we all know who we surround ourselves with matters, but because it’s so obvious it loses its relevance and ability to impact our behavior.

Just like the two fish in David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water,” we’re so accustomed to the idea that the people we work with have a massive role in our success that we don’t even think about selecting where we work, how we hire, and how we might develop the people who work for us. We’re just operating in our default state and going along with the flow.

Take me, for example. A few years ago, I had to grow a sales team quickly. Typically sales leaders don’t have a direct, individual sales quota. Instead, the team’s achievement of their collective revenue goals is what determines their leader’s bonus. Said another way, I was completely dependent on the people I hired.

And, since we were growing, I was hiring a lot of people quickly. I went months interviewing about three candidates a day. And you know what? I complained about it.

The recruiters I worked with did a great job, I’m an extrovert who genuinely enjoys meeting people, and, most importantly, the candidates I interviewed could potentially have a significant impact on my income and career. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I still whined because one and half hours of my day were taken up by doing the one thing that, were I to take it seriously, would have the single biggest impact on my professional life. In retrospect, I was so naive that it’s comical.

So what do we do about it?

The simple answer is to avoid your default state and think critically about how you choose the people you surround yourself with, in this case, professionally.

And hey, by reading this far, subscribing², and sharing this newsletter³, you’re kind of doing that!

But keep it up. If for no other reason than being better at evaluating talent will make you more successful.

Use your greed for good. Take it away, Gordon!

Further Reading

There are too many books, articles, podcasts, videos, etc., to mention in one post, but here are some excellent places to start thinking critically about how and who you work with.

Although Bohnet focuses on gender equality, many of the studies she cites could apply across multiple demographic lines. If you think most of the “hey, diversity is good!” genre is too heavy on platitudes but way too light on practical evidence and execution tactics, you will love Bohnet.

You can feel Highhouse’s pain in this article. For example, this is how he opens his piece:

Perhaps the greatest technological achievement in industrial and organizational (I–O) psychology over the past 100 years is the development of decision aids (e.g., paper-and-pencil tests, structured interviews, mechanical combination of predictors) that substantially reduce error in the prediction of employee performance (Schmidt & Hunter, 1998). Arguably, the greatest failure of I–O psychology has been the inability to convince employers to use them.

I’ve written about Duncan before, and for a good reason. He’s a great critical thinker, particularly when it comes to people.


1 Satoshi, the inventor of Bitcoin, comes to mind here.

2 Thank you! 🙏

3 Double Thank You! 🙏 🙏

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