We all read Joel Spolsky and his (opinionated) opinions about how to hire smart people who get things done. Thanks to him and few others, we also know that how Microsoft hires people and asks them to move ‘Mount Fuji’, and all those anecdotes and traits of *smart* techies that everyone is looking for. Joel’s blogs & books are full of such ideas if you’re keen….but if you’re really keen, you already know him and have already read his books. And then, if you’re like me, though you mostly agree with his message in general, you must be already having lot of arguments against his own opinionated/prejudiced views aka thumb rules!
Anyway! The great scientist Thomas Alva Edison apparently had one very bright idea (besides his light bulb idea) for hiring people to work with him, and I liked that idea *very* much! I recently read this article somewhere through a link on FB or Twitter, but I am unable to find that article now. Never mind! The article narrated an interesting story about Edison and what sort of “screening” he used for hiring people (well, I never thought he actually hired people to work with him). The story goes like this…
Whenever Edison shortlisted a person to work with him after initial screening/interview, he’d take that person out for lunch before finalizing his decision. Once their ordered food arrived, Edison would taste one of the dishes, and say, “Oh, this needs more salt!”. And then he’d observe the candidate’s behaviour. If he added salt without tasting it, he’d reject the candidate but if the candidate tasted the dish first and then decided to add (or not to add) more salt, he’d hire the candidate. Because he knew if a person couldn’t think on his own or if he couldn’t form an opinion based on his own experience & judgement, it is unlikely that they’d come up with an original, innovative solution!
I loved this story the moment I read it! I can connect with it instantly!
How many times we just hear this cliché about ‘original/independent’ thinking or thinking ‘out-of-box’, and yet time and again we’d be expected to do exactly what has been told – in a compliant do-as-directed mode. In fact, bigger the organization, more stringent the compliance norms would be. I recently read that one giant software company in India has dictated even what to wear on every day of the week to the employees. And then I have a friend working in a senior management grade for yet another software giant, he decides to borrow a book from his library based on number of times it has been issued! Huh? Talk about personal preferences versus popularity!
Anyway! With all this omnipresent herd mentality around, it is reassuring to see that some people still give importance to ‘independent thinking‘, and they actually understand what it means! Among other things, it could also mean a certain amount of irreverence and disagreeing with all those holier-than-thou authorities. And I often wonder, how would ’independent thinking‘ work (if at all it would) in a big, structured organization – be it a corporate giant or an esteemed school. In fact all this system seems to be promoting factory like methods of cultivating & nurturing do-as-directed machines with tunnel vision. It is puzzling, saddening and even exasperating at times to see how many HR people simply look for labels rather than trusting their own organization’s ability to assess potential candidates. Why can’t impressive profile count more than few fancy names (companies, schools or degrees) on the résumé? I have seen far too many programmers doing medicare work in bigger MNCs and I have seen some awesome work being done in smaller start-ups. Strength of an organization does not necessarily depend on its size. It often reminds of a beautiful quote by Gerald Massey.
“They must find it difficult …. those who have taken authority as the truth, rather than truth as the authority”
~ Gerald Massey
And then…. though it is rare, it is indeed heartening to see those who dare to follow their hearts with conviction, those who dare to take the road less travelled and do things that they want. Fortunately, some individuals do listen to a different drummer. They may come across as Social change makers like John Hoppkins educated Dr. Abhay & Rani Bang working in Gadchiroli for tribals, or IIT educated Arvind Gupta working with IUCAA/Muktangan to popularize science among children and translating hundreds of amazing books for them, or they might come across as entrepreneurs struggling and trying to do their own thing instead of working for big corporates for a fat pay. Or it could be someone like Rahul Alvares taking a year off from school and finding what he really wants to study or what he really wants to do in his life. Or one such independent thinker might come across as an unknown struggler in his own field of interest, he (or she) may not be successful in materialistic terms – but he’d have enough conviction in his own thoughts to follow them with all his heat, rather than following the herd! These are the people who really inspire me, these are the people I can really connect with. For me these are the people who are really worth their salt and I was glad to know that Edison thought so as well !
Somewhere deep within myself, the ancient soul of Tukaram knowingly smiles and chants happily:
सत्य असत्याशी मन केले ग्वाही, मानियेले नाही बहुमता|
(Translated from Marathi: My mind confirms the truth that I see, and doesn’t care about the opinion of the majority.)