November 23, 2011

The Domain Trap

Hiring managers are hurting their companies and employees' careers with a single sentence. It goes something like this: "Experience implementing Authentication and Authorization against Active Directory". And so many variations that each of us have written when trying to find the right talent to join our product development organization.

We all want to hire experienced people. The more experienced that we can afford, the better, right? And the more experience within our specific product domain and technology domain and market, that would be perfect! Right?? We don't seem to realize it, but what is actually coming out of our mouths when we address a prospective job candidate is something like: "we are a bleeding-edge, innovative, super-creative company, and we want to hire someone that has already done exactly what we are trying to do."

Of course, we can't put responsibility for building our next generation of products with people that have no relevant experience. The expertise that a company builds within its individual contributors and managers is often its strongest asset. So where's the conflict? It's in the level of domain specificity. As hiring managers, we are no longer looking for someone with experience within our own industry, but very specifically within a narrow product domain and within a narrowly defined technology domain - let's zero in on the "perfect" candidate.

You say that you want to hire the smartest. Fast learners. Lifetime learners. Answer this: if you hired someone more generally from within your industry, but they were not able to understand your specific product domain and could not be productive within a reasonable time, did you make the right hire? Yet by creating highly restrictive hiring domain criteria, you are selecting those who gave up lifetime learning just so they can take your job and keep doing what they have been doing. That's the damage to the employee.

The damage the to company comes from hiring the wrong kind of thinkers. “Hybrid Thinking” is what Dev Patnaik calls the conscious blending of different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo. As Dev explains in Why Can't Big Companies Solve Big Problems?, "It turns out that while large companies and organizations are phenomenally good at managing complexity, they're actually quite bad at tackling ambiguity."

Hiring someone from a less familiar product domain or skillset domain provides a different perspective and that breadth is exactly what creates the environment for innovative solutions and breakthroughs. Hiring someone that has already solved your problem creates the environment for continuously solving the same problem the same way. Fortunately that creative block can be solved with just one sentence.

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