She looked like a deer staring down the headlamps of a Mack truck.
Her crisp suit jacket might as well have been a straitjacket, the way she wiggled uncomfortably in the chair. This was our final interview, and she had come prepared with answers. Lots of answers. That had gotten her this far. But answers are useless without questions to match, and I didn’t have any for her. That was her job.
This is my new way of approaching interviews: not asking questions. It has led to an occasional awkward silence that lasts just a few ticks too long, but it’s the best way I’ve found to assess the primary skill I’m looking for when hiring someone (or befriending someone, for that matter). I don’t care how much they know. I want to understand how much they are willing to learn.
If what we want is stuff that is known, there’s Google for that. I’ve used it to great effect: one time in a pinch, I taught myself how to drive a stick shift in 35 minutes while sitting in a car rental at Frankfurt Airport. We have access to more information faster than anyone in the history of mankind, making all the facts someone knows less of a differentiable skill. What will set the highest achievers apart from now on is not having all the answers. Instead, the future will be optimized for the most curious.
That my approach to interviewing is so unconventional is what surprises me, like the mainstream still hasn’t really caught up to something so obvious to me. The large company I work for, and many others, still promotes the people most sure of themselves–the ones who talk the most and the loudest. Not coincidentally, I was doing some research the other day when I saw an ad flaunting how to become a better version of yourself. It flaunted an “every man should read” list, comprised of the Art of How to Win the 48 Laws of Power with No Excuses to 80/20 Grow Rich by working 4-hours in The 5am Club.
These books surely all provide some interesting insights–I’ve read a few of them myself. But one thing that struck me was that not a single title on the list was about understanding others, different cultures or different types of people. Everything was about power. Get money. Make them like you. Do it faster. Now. Faster, better.
If anyone thinks they need to read all of these books to become “better,” they should instead buy a comfortable bicycle, take a mountain road and learn to ride their own ride. Grab a passport and buy a one-way ticket to a place they can’t read the signs. Ask the cashier at the grocery store how their day is going, and actually listen to the response. God forbid, maybe even ask a follow-up question. For me, it has been my repeated willingness to put myself in situations where I feel powerless and insignificant that have, ironically, given me my only superpower–to acutely observe, listen and understand the world around me.
The world is indeed still very outbound, but I profoundly believe this will change soon enough. It has to. After all, if everyone is practicing the same laws of “power,” then who really has the upper hand?
There’s a saying in the startup world, what got you here won’t get you there. I think the same applies to our lives. Most of us have gotten to where we are today by having the answers; by answering the test questions correctly and learning how to sell ourselves. But the ones who truly drive us forward, historically, have been those most willing to ask the questions, who aren’t selling themselves so much as they are seeking to understand others.
The answers, after all, are all out there now, and anybody can find them. The real value is in figuring out the right questions to map them to.