It's time to reinvent management. You can help.

Hire "athletes", not experts

by David Sims on December 13, 2010


david-sims_1's picture

Hire "athletes", not experts

Elad Gil, head of Geo at Twitter, has a great new post on Tech Crunch, "The 5 Myths of Building A Great Mobile Team."  Gil, who has experience building teams at Google and a handful of startups, hammers on the need to hire great engineers who can be flexible as their tasks change. That tagline for his first principle is, "Hire great athletes; mobile 'experts' will be useless in 6 months."

While Gil's post describes building teams of engineers who can develop mobile apps, his points are widely applicable. As organizations learn they must reinvent themselves perennially (some would say constantly), teams and individuals need to be able to as well.  

So maybe we just need a new type of expert: someone who is adept at reinventing themselves by spotting new opportunities, learning new skills, and bringing them to the table to create new products and processes.

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elad-sherf's picture

I think the right approach is to hire athletes who are experts.

Expertise is important and building a team that allows different players to bring in both their different approaches and their different advantages in terms of knowledge and skills is important.

On the same time, we need to choose people for their ability to cooperate and learn. People with mental models that are adaptive and receptive to change and not fixed.

And more importantly, it is not only what you put into the team but how you facilitate it. With the right atmosphere experts might become athletes. That is synergy which is the real point of teamwork.


lafayette-howell's picture
Nice post!  I would tend to agree to be sure.  What is fascinating and also troubling is how human capital departments, or HR tend to behave in just the opposite manner by focusing on hiring experts, at virtually all positions.  What's more, the "hiring managers" tend to seek out carbon copies of a specific skill, and years of experience, rather than "competencies" that are adaptive, hence the athlete you describe.  
A-Rod moved to third from shortstop.  Some basketball players, play several positions, and this is great based on match ups.  In more mature industries, in which "athletic thinking" would be more valuable, this mindset typically, is not the case.  The inertia is mind numbing because what I tend to see is a level of organizational angst, that people can't quite describe without pointing the finger at themselves, which means, my expert status has passed its expiration date, but now I can't even think about finding a job elsewhere.  So, just imagine what could happen with the youthful workforce of countries like Italy where young citizens are experiencing inordinately high unemployment?