Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
Fun things I love about business
Business has many pleasures. The post-Omicron return to interstate travel has reminded me of one of the things I love the most about it: finding smart new up-and-comers.
And having a system that lets them develop faster without the usual barriers to progress: mandatory career paths laid down by HR, too many layers in the job title pyramid, departmental turf wars, nostalgic staff who white-ant newcomers.
We visit our businesses interstate, meet new people we’ve hired, and think: damn, you’re bright and engaging. I’m proud that you’ll be out there representing our company.
All the new ones are a delight to meet. And with some, you can just sense future stardom right away.
It feels great.
Smug, malicious glee
Part of the joy is watching people achieve their full potential. But it’s not all selfless support. There’s also the smug, malicious glee of knowing other businesses didn’t spot that talent.
Our place was built on finding a cluster of young champions in our early years. Each had a tale of not being recognised elsewhere. They got the same “wait your turn, junior, nobody gets special treatment” from generic bosses.
Tired of being hostage to mindless application of process, they left. We were lucky enough to find them.
I’m pretty sure those bosses will be huffing about fickle generations. If you believe any characteristic is purely down to age groups, the problem is you.
Sorry for the brag but in fifteen years we’ve never had one of our crew voluntarily leave us to work for a direct competitor.
One of our young stars became an equity partner in one of our businesses at age 22. Some would have told us not to dilute our equity, but we did it anyway. Eight years later that business is three times the size. Everyone won.
Whatever your age, if you’ve got it, you’ve got it.
(Having it is something for others to judge, if you’re an up-and-comer please don’t tell people you’ve got it. Someone I know told his boss at a social event:
“You are the past, and I am the future.”
She didn’t make a scene at the time. But he was not the future.)
The clearest sign of future stars
How do you tell if someone’s got it? For me, there’s one characteristic above all others. It’s the questions they ask.
We’ll be discussing some issue in the office with a group of our technical crew, and one will ask something wise about the client’s business strategy or personal motivations.
Something that has nothing to do with the specifics of what we do. It’ll be the precise question you’d ask if you had a decade of business experience and you were doing some deep detective work on how clients behave.
You think: how did you know to ask that question? At age 21, after working here for six months?
A good sign is asking why questions, rather than just how questions.
Keep an eye on those people and give them projects that stretch them.
Some managers respond to why questions like it’s questioning their authority. Don’t be like that.
Interest beyond the tools
I spoke to a young guy who had just finished school and started as an apprentice carpenter. He eventually wants to own his own business, and someone gave him a copy of my book.
There are a bunch of other apprentices working in the same business. They’re all focused on learning how to get on the tools (and what gigantic predatory ute they’re going to buy).
He’s learning the tools, and wants the ute, bad.
But since he read the book he’s watching the two owners of the business. How they deal with customers. How they manage their staff. He’s taking mental notes and asking questions. He’ll get there.
Look for interest beyond the tools, even if those tools aren’t physical ones.
How do you get the most out of future stars?
The best thing to do is listen to them. Because they like it. And also because you’ll get at least as much out of it as they do.
They’re giving you handy information about what matters to them. That keeps you in touch with trends you need to know, if you’re to stay relevant to your staff and customers.
What happened to you is not relevant. Young staff are not interested in your yarns of what things used to be like. Why the fuck would they?
If they want stories about how you had to stand in the hall to call your friends on a landline, they can go to Facebook. And that’s one reason why Facebook has started its slow but inevitable slide to being the online VHS.
Comparisons about how easy it is now compared to the olden days have zero relevance. The only comparison that matters is the experience of working for you vs somewhere else.
Let them work alongside you when the opportunity’s there. They learn from you, you get a sense of their skills and how far you can extend them.
It’s not just an age thing
Any infusion of new perspectives is good for your business.
A major upside of COVID for us was the move toward TV studio techniques in events. We owned TV cameras. We also learned quickly that event technicians having a red-hot go at camerawork looks like a clown show.
TV camerawork is a zen art. Craft skills aside, it takes years of shooting cricket all day to develop the flow and mental stamina. We assembled a grizzled posse of camera and director veterans to work our studio, and their teamwork is like watching ballet. Plus they’re entertaining to listen to.
Working alongside them in other roles for the last two years, the rest of our team has soaked that knowledge up. And it’s taken them to another level of skill for this new era.
It raises the question: when you’re recruiting, don’t just ask what they need to learn to do the job. Ask yourself what you can learn from them.
Try it, you’ll make more money and enjoy your working life much more.
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For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: