You’re Trying to Hire the Wrong People

What do you think is the average age of the founders of most new companies? Or an even better question is, what do you think the average age is of founders of high-growth startups? The kind of start-ups that take off and scale and grow quickly? Do you think it’s 25 years old, 35, 45, 55?

When asked this question most people say 25 and the voting gets lower as the age range goes up. The truth is that the average age of all new founders is 42, but the average age of the founders of the fastest growing and most lasting successful companies is 47. And founders with an average age of 50 are almost twice as likely to create a fast growth firm with a highly profitable exit, the kind of exit that makes investors rich.

Surprised? Maybe you bought into the romantic idea that all savvy entrepreneurs are young like Steve Jobs, or Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or Sarah Blakely, the founder of SPANXX. The truth is that older entrepreneurs have more experience, broader networks, and deeper wisdom, which seems to contribute to their capability to innovate successfully. And by “innovate successfully” I don’t mean they possess creativity. Lots of people are creative, but the difference between being creative and being innovative is the ability to execute – to lead a team to realize a shared vision.

As more and more work is routinized, outsourced, or automated, highly innovative people are exactly the kind of people most organizations need and want right now, but instead most hiring managers are hiring for PLUs – People Like Us. To ensure we have “culture fit” we hire people who look, act and behave like we do. We know we should be hiring for values, but often we confuse values for people who have the same interests.

That cultural conformity is terrible for innovation. Serial innovators are people who have lots of diverse interests, zig zag from job to job, often hold different kinds of roles within companies, experiment in different domains, read widely, experiment with hobbies, and often stay in contact with people who work in different lines of work. They are also often consistently counter-cultural in their efforts. Chuck House, who developed a number of innovative new products for Hewlett-Packard, was awarded a “Medal of Defiance” by the President of HP.

And because of this diversity and breadth of experience, these candidates appear on paper to be inconsistent in their work. On paper they look flakey, distracted. But they are also exactly the kinds of people who are more likely to borrow brilliance from other domains because of their experience, and become powerful innovators for your company.

Most job descriptions are overly narrow, and hiring managers focus on resumes that have predictable, consistent trajectories that align with the target abilities they are trying to hire for. Keep in mind this is a short-sighted approach. It’s a tactical hire, not a strategic one. When hiring, don’t just think about the task you are trying to accomplish, think about the kind of company you aspire to build.

Finally, make sure you have a diverse set of interviewers. Women are more likely to join a company when they can interact with women who are already there, and can witness a company’s commitment to diversity. As Katherine Swings points out, one of the biggest deciding factors on whether or not a female candidate accepts a job is if there was a woman on the interview panel.

Innovation isn’t rocket science. It can be deconstructed and learned by anyone. Try our course Out•Innovate the Competition to build measurable innovation in your workplace.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Small Acts of Leadership: Choose Learning Goals, Not Performance Goals

– [Announcer] Do you sometimes praise people at work for being brilliant? Do you praise your kids for being naturally gifted? Instead think about praising the hard work that lead to this success.

– Carol Dweck, at Stanford University, has been writing and teaching about how the mindset we choose in every interaction, either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset largely determines whether we continuously learn and grow, or whether we believe we are locked into a fixed level of intelligence, or creativity, or similar ability.
What she discovered is that when we tell our kids or our coworkers how smart, or naturally gifted they are, we reinforce a world view that these things should come easily, that they should always perform well, that they should always shine. Because when you praise for innate talent you create a form of status.
If someone believes that they have special talents and they’re expected to perform well, well then the thought of failing becomes really scary. So often those labeled as gifted and talented will then choose easier tasks because they want to ensure that they have consistently high performance. I mean after all, nobody wants to be revealed as an imposter.
In Carol Dweck’s studies she discovered that those who are praised as brilliant, but then perform poorly on a test are also more likely to lie a little bit about their own results. So in sharing their test scores with other partners, other kids next to them the kids told their friends that they did better than they actually did. Well presumably this was to maintain their social status as talented.

“What’s so alarming,” Carol Dweck says, “is that we took ordinary children “and we made them into liars, simply by telling them that they were smart.”

– [Announcer] Paula is very good at organizing events. Whenever there is a social occasion people volunteer her to manage it. Paula learned how to be hospitable earlier in her life and was held to high standards. She’d like to learn to enjoy more casual entertaining, and asks her easygoing colleague Mitch to partner with her in planning the next event. Complete this sentence. People think I’m really good at blank, so I’m usually on guard to be sure I perform. Then complete this sentence. What I’d like to learn is blank. Ask yourself, can you use some of your natural talents to help you learn new behaviors or skills? If so, what are they?

Change the Task, Not the Person

Ask yourself. Does our company only hire the best and the brightest? Only accept the most remarkable and enlightened ones?

And does our company try to mold them, transform these new recruits so they talk like we do, sell like we do, write code like we do, and write marketing copy like we do?

What if the way our company does things is tired, stagnant, and outdated? What if our company is recruiting talented people with new skills and ideas, and then training it out of them?

Maybe the problem isn’t teaching the new person our way of doing things. Maybe the problem is the task, and the tools we’ve been using.

Don’t try to change someone to do a task or a process better. Change the task or the assignment to better fit the strengths of the amazing new people you hire. Or better, let the new person choose the task and the tools.

Why Successful People Don’t Believe in Comparisons

“Comparison is the death of joy.”
– Mark Twain

I don’t mean to say successful people don’t believe in comparison, as in they don’t believe it exists. Rather, the most successful people reframe comparison as learning opportunities instead of competition.

Named the “next Pelé” and going pro at the age of 14, Freddy Adu, was hailed by Major League Soccer as the savior of the game. Within a few short years, Adu became the definition of unrealized potential. After being drafted by DC United, and having a lackluster season, Adu knocked about in leagues from Portugal to Monaco to Greece to Turkey, then back again to the MLS. He currently plays for the Las Vegas Lights Football Club, and is still searching for his footing on the field.

“I’m not going to lie, that stuff bothers me. It hurts.” Adu told Goal USA in an exclusive interview. “In the end, I can’t control what people say. It wasn’t my choice or decision to be compared to Pelé when I came into the league.”

“What has happened is I’ve gotten to the point where I’m basically scared of failure right now. That’s the honest truth.”
– Freddy Adu, soccer player

Alissa Quart learned to read at 3 years old. At 7 she had written a novel. By 17 she was winning creative writing competitions. As she writes in her book Hothouse Kids, her father cultivated a strong sense of academic expectation, and as a result she writes that she developed a feeling of failure when she didn’t live up to the demands. She was constantly compared to, and expected to, outperform her peers.

“Designating children as gifted, especially extremely gifted, and cultivating that giftedness may be not only a waste of money, but positively harmful.”
– Alissa Quart, author Hothouse Kids

Believing we are gifted, or special, is comparing ourselves to others. When we tell ourselves that we are somehow endowed with special gifts or skills, we are comparing our skills to our peers, and it only serves to denigrate either ourselves or someone else. It’s the very nature of comparisons.

When we compare ourselves to others, we create a sense of superiority and pride within ourselves, and contempt for another. Even worse, we can develop schadenfreude, a sense of pleasure and joy at the misfortune of others.

These thoughts are the domain of the fixed mindset – the belief that our skills, our intelligence, our capacity for invention or creativity is limited and fixed. When we believe that our skills are fixed we lock ourselves into a comparative hierarchy that only serves to further limit or potential.

Inversely when we adopt a learner mindset, we see those as more talented as opportunities to learn. The “genius effect” is when we see another as having greater skill and are inspired by it. When inspired, with an open mind, we study that talent, we are fascinated by that skill. We become transfixed by the talent we see and work to break it down into chunks we can recreate ourselves.

“If you were to visit a dozen talent hotbeds tomorrow, you would be struck by how much time the learners spend observing top performers. When I say ‘observing,’ I’m not talking about passively watching. I’m talking about staring — the kind of raw, unblinking, intensely absorbed gazes you see in hungry cats or newborn babies.”
– Daniel Coyle, author The Talent Code

When you see an amazing presentation, an incredible athletic performance, an astonishing work of art, don’t compare yourself, instead study it, be inspired by it. Break it down, deconstruct it, figure it out, and then make it your own. That’s the art of the learning mindset.

To learn about how a learning mindset can change your life and your work see:


SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) is a Washington Post bestseller! You can order a copy for yourself.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Believe in Your Goals, but Earn Your Gifts


You’ve probably heard of the Pygmalion effect. It’s when people start to escalate their performance because of the expectations others have of them. It’s named after the Greek myth of Pygmalion who fell in love with an ivory sculpture he created. He loved his sculpture so much that he wished her alive as his wife, and so it happened.

That, of course, is a myth. But the phenomenon of willing high performance in others is real. In classic experiments over forty years ago, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson demonstrated that teachers in classrooms can elevate the performance of their students simply by believing that the kids are destined to be high performers. In the study, researchers gave fake IQ tests to elementary students, and then lied to the teachers that 20% of their students were identified as “intellectual bloomers”.

It worked. The teachers began to hold a false belief that specific students in their classroom were intellectually gifted, and destined for high performance. As a result, the teachers started to create a more nurturing environment to help those “intellectual bloomers” excel. The lie created a false belief that 20% of their students had elevated IQs and were poised for intellectual greatness.

The teachers believed in the potential of their students and intentionally created circumstances to enhance their success.

The teachers did this by deliberately “creating a warm and friendly environment for students, providing students with opportunities to practice their skills, and providing students with performance-based feedback.”

More recent studies find the same is true when it comes to building high-performance cultures in the workplace. When leaders hold high expectations of those around them, they tend to offer more learning opportunities, provide more consistent feedback, and hold people to a high level of accountability.

There’s one critical factor in all of this high-expectations business: Never tell them they are great. Don’t tell the kids they are brilliant, and don’t tell your colleagues they are inherently gifted and destined to thrive.

When we tell someone they are brilliant, gifted, and remarkable, we create an illusion that they have some inherent, hard-wired advantage over others. So they start to self-evaluate and compare themselves to others and try to identify their edge. That comparison and self-scrutiny can be crippling.

The world is littered with stories of those who choke in the face of high expectations. Remember Michelle Kwan, the American skating prodigy? Having won four world titles heading into the 2002 Winter Olympics, critics universally picked Kwan to wear the gold medal before the competition even began. Any threat would certainly only come from rival talents Irina Slutskaya and Kwan’s own teammate Sasha Cohen.

But they all skated tight, self-consciously. They skated as if they were obligated to win. Instead it was no-name Sarah Hughes, who barreled on to the ice and delivered a vibrant, unrestrained, and confident four minutes of joyous choreography to the deafening roar of approval in the stadium. Sarah never believed that she deserved to win, or was expected to win – only that with pluck, dedication and work, a win was an achievable goal. Her coach, Robin Wagner said in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, “Our feeling is, you go for the gold,” Wagner said. “It’s a feasible expectation.”

It turned out to be Hughes’ one, and only, big time win. Only a year later Hughes retired from skating on her own terms, satisfied and elated with her short career.

Believe in your goals, earn your gifts.


Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 2.45.37 PMShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Bibliomotion) will be out in October but you can pre-order a copy now.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Why Energy is More Important Than Skills and Results


I had an interview recently with Victor Cho. Victor is currently the CEO of Evite, the digital invitation service. You may have used them to organize a dinner event, or your kid’s birthday party. Evite currently has about 70 employees, which as he describes, is big enough to offer a full spectrum of organizational challenges, yet small enough to remain nimble in this volatile technology market.

In our conversation, Victor pointed out that competitive advantage comes down to the quality of the people. Talent is everything. When it comes to hiring, and placing the right people in the right roles at Evite, Victor thinks in three dimensions.

Skills and Capabilities
First, do they have the skills and capabilities to do the job, and are they willing to constantly learn and gain new capabilities. As he described, it’s certainly important that people arrive with great skills for whatever role they are applying for, but more importantly he looks for a constant willingness to learn, grow and develop new capabilities along the way. This is the growth mindset every top contributor needs.

Points on the Board
The second criteria Victor considers is how much contribution are they making to organizational goals? It’s something Victor refers to as “points on the board.” That is, how many hard, measurable contributions are people making toward the company’s vision. He’s patient with this criteria. It can take time and inertia to put points on the board.

Energy Accretion
The final criteria Victor looks for is something he calls “energy accretion.” Accretion is a fancy word simply meaning “to build gradually” or “to grow.” His expression means how much do people in the organization contribute to, and accelerate, the positive energy of those around them. If “points on the board” is the science, then “energy accretion” is the art.

Victor defines “energy accretion” as one’s ability to build a positive sense of curiosity, enthusiasm, and can-do attitude on the team. Victor views this subjective, and hard-to-quantify trait as the most important characteristic.

Victor has the least patience with those who disrupt the chemistry in the organization. The other two factors about skills and contribution, he is more forgiving and patient. Here’s why: Skills can be learned and developed, and points on the board can be coached, and often outside factors can get in the way of contributing hard results.

Bad chemistry and negative mojo can quickly spoil the energy of an entire team. In Victor’s opinion, this is where many leaders can often get sidetracked. In his experience, leaders and managers often hold measurable contributions in highest esteem.

This is an easy trap to fall into. After all, if we want results, who cares how it gets done, right? This is a mistake. When we start to reward results by any means, at any cost, we celebrate lone heroes, and place individuals above the team. Because in the long run, it’s teamwork and collaboration that will create breakthrough results, not lone wolves.


Shawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful elearning courses based on the work of thought-leaders and authors. He is also the author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Nobody Else Knows What They Are Doing Either

“I don’t belong here. I have no idea what I’m doing. They’re going to figure out I’m a fraud.”

Have you ever believed you are not deserving or worried people will reveal you as a fraud? Have you ever thought someone else could do your job better, or thought you got that bonus or promotion by luck?

Have you ever been in a hurry to leave before someone finds out you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about?

Olivia Fox Cabane teaches at Stanford. Each year, she asks her incoming group of freshman this question: “How many of you in here feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Each year, over two-thirds of the students raise their hands.

It’s human nature to compare. In any given situation we often look around and make comparisons. And these comparisons make us feel inadequate. We know that the less we focus on comparisons, the happier we will feel about ourselves, but we can’t help ourselves anyway. Someone else is smarter, prettier, funnier.


Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization, once said, “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.”

The immensely talented and brilliant Maya Angelou authored 11 books in her lifetime. She once said, “but each time, I think ‘Uh-oh. They’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”

Kate Winslet won an Academy Award for her role in Titanic. After receiving the award, she said, “I’d wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and think, ‘I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.’”

“Why compare yourself with others? No one in the entire world can do a better job of being you than you.”

The interesting thing about Imposter Syndrome is that the more successful you become, the greater the likelihood of encountering more bouts of self-doubt. The reason is because as you enjoy greater and greater success, you encounter increasingly successful people for you to compare yourself against. Here’s the secret: They don’t know what the hell they are doing either. They’re just winging it too.

Social media doesn’t help. We all get to see the happier, more beautiful side of everyone else online, instead of the moments of doubt, sleeplessness, and insecurity. Sure, they know something about something, which is what got them there in the first place. But when under the influence of a self-doubt attack, you begin to believe those around you must be brilliant.

Try to remember these truths: You do deserve to be here. It wasn’t luck. It was your tenacity and hard work. Ambition is a good thing. Strive for more. It’s OK to ask. And stop comparing, it’s self-defeating.

You are a better version of you than anyone else.


Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

We See the Company Through the Lens of Who We Work For

Whatever industry you are in, you have competition. The only thing that differentiates you from anyone else in the long term is the people inside the company.

I recently started a new business building beautiful eLearning courses specifically so thought-leaders, authors and speakers could scale their minds. I thought it was unique, one-of-a-kind. I thought no one had ever thought of this idea. Of course I was wrong.

I only had to start talking about our new company and service to someone in the industry, and sure enough they would say to me, “Oh, that sounds a little like so and so. Have you heard of them?” And it’s true, we do have competition, but our secret sauce is our people.

And the bigger and more successful your business is, the more likely you are to have competition. You probably have a slightly different product, slightly different pricing, and maybe slightly different service. But ultimately what makes your brand X different from brand Y is the people in the company.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Generation Y is expected to keep their jobs for just two years, only about half the amount of time spent in professional jobs by the current American worker. According to, seventy per cent of recent college graduates reported leaving their first job within two years. “For millennials, it is more a matter of career exploration than climbing the traditional ladder,” said Emily He, CMO of the talent management company SABA.

But why do they quit? According to a new survey by Ernst & Young of 9,700 full-time employees in the world’s big eight economies – the United States, Brazil, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China and Japan – the top three reasons are:

  1. Stagnant wage growth
  2. Lack of career development opportunities
  3. Excessive overtime and inability to escape work

But the data suggests that retaining top talent is more complicated than simply giving aggressive pay raises, installing ping pong tables, or offering to pay for night classes. The entire system is creating stressful environments around the clock. From the time we wake up to check email at our bedside smartphone, to marathon meetings, lack of sleep, and “finding time for me,” professionals today are under more duress than ever before.

Consider, almost half (46%) of managers globally are working more than 40 hours a week. Millennials (64%) and Gen X (68%) have the highest levels of spouses working full time as well – doubling the stress of balancing home and child obligations.

Almost 70% of Millennials and Gen X claimed that “getting enough sleep,” “finding time for me.” and “balancing work and home life” were becoming problematic. And it’s not just the American white collar worker. According to the study, things are even worse in Brazil, India, UK, Japan, and Germany.

I had an interview with Tom DiDonato, Chief Human Resources Officer at Lear Corporation. He says it takes constant tweaking, and adjusting. He says there is no magic formula for balancing pay, flexibility, special benefits, supporting educational opportunities, or early-release Fridays.

He says there is only one secret weapon to attracting and retaining top talent.

“Ultimately people view the company through the lens of the person they work for. They don’t say ‘I work for Company XYZ, and even though my boss, and their boss aren’t role models for me, I really love the company.’ I doubt you will ever hear that…

If you view your boss as a role model, you probably think really well of the company. I believe that to my core. That’s the one thing you don’t have to tweak… keep getting great leaders. Keep developing great leaders. Keep having those people in your company that others view as role models, and you’ll have that sustainable culture that attracts the kind of talent that everybody is vying for.”

Grow the greatest leaders from the inside, and the strongest talent will come knocking to work for them.


Shawn Hunter is the Founder of Mindscaling and author of Out•Think: How Innovative Leaders Drive Exceptional Outcomes. It’s about how to lead joyfully in life, and also to lead cultures in your company to drive great results.

Twitter: @gshunter
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Your Expertise Might Be An Illusion

Here’s an old brain trick: Look below. Which line is longer? You know this trick. They are the same, right?



But I changed the trick. Here are the same lines as above but I took the fins off. Look again.



Yes. You see they are different now. Ten percent different.


Maybe you weren’t fooled because you anticipated a trick. But your brain still recognized that old familiar illusion. It’s called the Müller-Lyer illusion. Even when you know it’s a brain trick – a visual illusion – it’s still hard to see it differently. In your mind you know they are the same length because you have learned that the lines are the same, despite what you see.

But visual illusions are different than cognitive illusions. We can mentally adjust to what we think we see, but it’s much harder to adjust or change what we think we know. Cognitive illusions can be more persistent and harder to dispel than visual illusions.

Years ago, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman was invited to give a lecture at a financial management firm that specialized in managing portfolios of very wealthy clients. Before his presentation, he was given a spreadsheet which reflected the previous eight year investment performance of the top twenty-five financial advisors at the firm. Each year’s annual performance was the basis of each advisor’s bonus. The better the return, the higher the yearly bonus. Using the data, Kahneman could easily compute the correlation coefficients between the advisor rankings in each pair of years. So he could compare year 1 with year 2, then year 1 with year 3, year 1 with year 4, and so on for each advisor at the firm.

Kahneman anticipated that he would find only small differences in persistence of trading skill over the years between the top twenty-five advisors. But what he found instead exceeded even his own expectations. The average of all correlations comparing all advisors’ performance over an eight year period was .01, or effectively zero. In other words, the firm believed it was providing bonuses based on trading skill, but in fact the data showed nonexistent, or negligible, difference in skill between the top twenty-five advisors. The firm was clearly rewarding luck, not skill.

Armed with this bomb, Kahneman gave his presentation to the executive team and the response was yawns around the room. It was as if he had reported some obscure statistic which was irrelevant to their work. Kahneman thought the financial executives would be shocked and astonished to discover there was virtually zero statistical difference in their skill as traders, and furthermore their own reward system was based on a fallacy!

The reaction of the executives was instead blasé. The audience clearly believed the results that Kahneman presented – how could they dispute facts? But their reaction was as if the information was peripheral or entirely unrelated to their work. They reacted as if it was meaningless and extraneous information.

The reason is the illusion of expertise, or what Kahneman calls the Illusion of Validity. When we, as highly trained experts and professionals in our field, are presented with information that is contrary to our deeply ingrained experience or way of doing things, we ignore or invalidate the information. We dismiss the finding as extraneous and unconnected. And these persistent beliefs are further reinforced by the professional cultures we work in.

The point here is that high levels of confidence, when highly subjective and only reinforced by homogenous cultures, can be unreliable sources of accuracy. When weighing a decision, get not only second and third opinions, but get them from different perspectives and areas of expertise. Or as Daniel Gilbert advises in his book Stumbling on Happiness, get the advice from people who have actually experienced what you are contemplating.