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"Those who suggest that startups should only hire A players are grade inflators..." ~Eric Paley

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Eric Paley is managing partner of Founder Collective.

The quote comes from his post The Curve of Talent: http://epaley.posterous.com/the-curve-of-talent

His point is that true A players are rare.

The posterous link is dead (grrrr), but found this "reprint" on BI:

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-curve-of-talent-2011-5

"Thanks, Twitter" is the new "Thanks, Obama".

Also, a round of applause to BusinessInsider for syndicating.

I like the VentureHacks definition of A players:

A players write the book and not just read it. They not only have a clear idea how to competently accomplish their functional objectives, but actually lead the organization to innovate and be world class within their functional area. They raise the bar on the entire organization. One way these candidates can be identified during an interview is when they actually teach the interviewer something about how the company can win.

Every organization needs some of these but I agree with @epaley that no startup can have only A's because true A's are rare.

If everyone is a leader, who follows?

There are plenty of leaders who also do lots of following.

But your point is a good one, Eric.

I like to think of an project as something to be divided, with owners who lead on their areas but are also followers for areas that they do not own. For example, if I am designing a web product, I may follow by taking direction from the community team lead who is setting the tone for site-wide communications. That is, I'll incorporate his determined values into the workings of my design. In turn I will be taking the lead on user experience but I will expect (say) an engineer to follow my lead on matters of user behavior.

Of course there are reporting hierarchies within teams, but that's mostly administrative stuff to route work, check deadlines, etc. The core of it is working as a team on the substance of the product. It's easier to do this when a team is small and has low communications overhead.

I remember reading somewhere about how to be a good follower (as well as a good leader) but I can't remember the source. The gist of it was that nobody can contain the execution of the entire Thing (product, goal, what have you) inside their head -- so you have to break it down and have leaders and followers to get it all done.

Another way to envision this is to imagine being on an expedition with a small band of experts: each one contributes to the success of navigating, surviving, recording to the goal. If you have motivated non-experts with natural skills, they can become experts and "A-players" along the way.

Ultimately you learn by doing. But you can accelerate that process a lot by seeing an A-player at work.

Elliot, I want to see if I understand you correctly.

Are you saying that on a balanced team, each person has the opportunity to lead sometimes?

"Ultimately you learn by doing. But you can accelerate that process a lot by seeing an A-player at work." Agreed. Along those lines, nothing beats great mentors. Nothing.

Of course, you always want to hire A players, but they are in short supply. So the critical thing about hiring is that every new addition to the team, needs to raise the AVG score of the existing team.

Peter Norvig of Google did a quantitative analysis of why "hire above the mean" beats "hire above the min": http://googleresearch.blogspot.com/2006/03/hiring-lake-wobegon-strategy.html

Lemonodor applies this principle to hiring programmers: http://lemonodor.com/archives/001371.html

I also found it helpful to read 5 steps to interviewing well, which really talks more about the interview process.

If only the best birds sang in the forest, the forest would be a quiet place.

Here I'm using the forest as a metaphor for Silicon Valley. Birds represent engineers. I think that this might make companies correspond to trees, but they may just be flocks of birds.

A good question to ask during an interview: Do you believe in free will? http://www.bakadesuyo.com/should-you-ask-do-you-believe-in-free-will-du

After reading that it's clear that an employee's belief in free will means they believe they can drive outcomes.

Thanks for that tip!

"We find that an individual's level of general intelligence increases both entrepreneurs' and employees' incomes to the same extent. But entrepreneurs and employees benefit differently from specific areas of intelligence. The earning power of both groups is affected positively by social and technical intelligence. Both types of intelligence render stronger returns for entrepreneurs than for employees. Mathematical intelligence is also beneficial for both groups, though only for the upper end of the mathematical intelligence distribution. Only employees benefit from clerical intelligence. Verbal intelligence does not have a strongly significant effect on earnings for either group." http://www.rolfnelson.com/2009/11/intelligence-education-and-startup.html

Isn't it a little legally dodgy to ask about personal belief systems during job interviews? "Do you believe in free will?" sounds an awful lot like the flip side of "Are you religious?" to me.

And I can just imagine myself in a deposition saying, "But it's a great quick-and-dirty measure of Protestant work ethic!" :P

It's okay to ask about values in an interview, especially if it is pertaining to work ethic.

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