Jordi Muñoz was born in Ensenada, Mexico, didn’t speak English well, didn’t go to college and, at 19 years old, was newly married with a baby on the way.
5 years later, he became the the CEO of a multi-million dollar robotics company founded by Chris Anderson, best-selling author, speaker, and former editor of Wired Magazine.
How did the editor of Wired ever find a 19 year-old robotics engineer from a high school in Tijuana? How did he know he would be the right person for the job?
Answers to those questions may mean a lot for how your firm finds talent – and how you find your next opportunity.
How does your firm find talented people?
For a long time, the most common way to find talented people was to go to prestigious places, typically famous universities or companies. Everyone knew that, so there was a “War for Talent” at such places. Investment banking analysts used to refer to MBA recruiting events as “shrimp wars” as firms tried to outdo each other with bigger buffets just to attract attention.
There may be fewer shrimp now, but firms are still relying on schools, brokers, and executive search firms to filter candidates. When firms use LinkedIn or monster.com, it’s still typically HR that’s doing the searching and acting as an intermediary. And if managers hire directly, they rely heavily on their personal networks, which are incredibly small compared to the pool of qualified candidates.
So you either have the wrong people looking or you’re looking in the wrong places.
A different way
Jordi and Chris didn’t use a broker or LinkedIn. Their was no one who connected them. Instead, they were connected by their interest in robotics, more specifically in drones.
Chris had become interested in drones (auto-piloted aircraft) as a hobby and started an online community called DIYdrones.com, a place where other hobbyists could share information and learn from each other. In “Makers”, he describes how he first noticed Jordi in that community based on the designs he was contributing. (“I made an autopilot for my RC [remote-controlled] helicopter with accelerometers extracted from the NunChuck of Nintendo Wii”.) Jordi would apologize for his poor English but other hobbyists cared more about his designs which they said were “excellent” and “cool”.
Chris was impressed with his contributions, corresponded with him, and then collaborated with him on some projects. When Chris later decided to start a company, he decided to ask Jordi to co-found it. And it was only then that he learned about his background.
“Why wouldn’t you start a company with people with whom you were already working well, who had already proven their mettle? It seems so much riskier to take a flier on someone you don’t know, just because that person has a degree from a good school.
This is the Long Tail of talent. The web allows people to to show what they can do, regardless of their education and credentials. It allows groups to form and work together easily…”
The story of Jordi Munoz is an excellent example of someone working out loud and shaping their reputation (or, in this case, creating one) via their contribution; of someone leveraging an existing community to create new possibilities.
Go where they are. See what they do.
In large companies, there’s a lot of talk about the need to attract and retain the best and the brightest. But, for the most part, the “Talent War” is a lot of sound and fury that doesn’t add up to much. The system is optimized for filling slots, not for quality of the match between the person and the job. (For many positions, excellent people are already employees of the firm but the system for filling jobs has no good way to find them.) The use of brokers combined with an outmoded, woefully simplistic interview process leads to mediocrity.
If you’re a firm, you need to go to where there are people already doing the kinds of work you’re looking for. Internally, that means role-based communities of practice. Externally, it means groups like DIYdrones or professional on-line communities. If those environments don’t exist, then you need to create them.
If you’re an individual, you need to find communities you care about and contribute. For whatever role you have at your company (or want to have), there are internal or external communities where you can contribute, shape your reputation, and build a purposeful network. Just like Jordi did.