Eight Kinds of Smart

I’ve long observed people to possess many kinds of intelligence and everyone comes to the table with their own unique blend. This fact bears heavily on my recruiting strategy for start ups–both at the company level and at the department level. Namely, I actively strive to identify and recruit a diversity of intelligence, culture and style to staff the start up. I believe this conscious attempt at diversity maximizes the organizational intelligence of the firm and therefore the potential for the start up to succeed.

The business plan presented to the Series A VCs usually shows bold strokes on canvas at best. As the company moves toward achieving market fit, having the broadest possible organizational intelligence, maximizes potential to achieve that all important signpost. By the very nature of entrepreneurship, the firm navigates previously uncharted waters. The path to market fit presents many cues and hints to the start up–some blunt, some subtle–along the way. Intellectual diversity maximizes the odds the organization will actually hear those messages. The key question and challenge for the leadership is to balance being tuned to these voices while maintaining a steady hand on the rudder. The leader needs to embrace something I often refer to as the “it’s okay to be wrong; not okay to stay wrong” principle (which will be the subject of a future post).

Embracing this diversity of intelligence, culture and style carries its own burden. It can be harder to achieve consensus as the organization processes and integrates a broader array of perspective. What’s the best glue to hold all of this diversity together? Values. Put the values up front. Get everyone to salute them at the get go, and revisit them in times of stress. And use them to navigate those troubled waters when the market feedback cuts across the lines of the business plan.

I believe an organization of homogeneous intelligence is more likely to fall prey to saluting “the king’s new clothes” and failing to integrate market feedback.

Let’s examine this principle at the department level for Sales. In the early going, stalking market fit, a sales force full of diversity casts the broadest possible net. And not just “eight kinds of smart” diversity, but diversity of experience in industry, price point and sales model because despite an outward appearance of confidence, we really cannot know for sure what will work best. Despite Marketing doing a terrific job crafting our product strategy and go-to-market plan, until we actually get some sales, it’s just a plan. And with a diverse sales team, we naturally and organically try a much broader mix of ingredients in the sales process with far greater odds of identifying a formula that catches fire. And once we see that happen, if we analyze what it is about that combination of experience and approach that’s creating the success, we can then aggressively go hire more folks with that mix.

This highlights the natural drawback of hiring a rockstar VP of Sales who brings his entourage. It’s a high stakes gambit that’s not a sure bet. Assuming this entrepreneurship delivers something truly new, what worked in the old company may not work in this one. I prefer hiring an initial sales force that’s more of a mixed bag.

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