“there’s a real difference between someone who is obsessed with the work that they are doing and someone who is simply skilled at the work they are doing. I will take the obsession and teach the skills over getting the skills and having to teach the obsession.”
That’s an excerpt from a great chat between two of my favorite thinkers and writers, Tyler Cowen and Ezra Klein. The context is a discussion about finding and hiring good people, as Klein continues to build Vox.com.
This is something that resonates with me. Since I found journalism a few years ago, I’ve filed stories while on exchange in Germany, on holiday in Sri Lanka, and even from the practice nets while attending the Brisbane international. My mind doesn’t shut off. I’m always looking for stories. Even thousands of miles from my job.
Nowadays, I never go anywhere without a notebook and a recorder. I’ve been late to classes after stumbling across protests that interested me, put off projects because I needed to study for an interview. I have read farther and wider than was required, arming myself for as many eventualities as possible.
I loved every minute of it.
What I do is a part of me. It’s a mission. And it’s something I bend an extraordinary amount of effort towards. Far exceeding the little monetary reward I have received so far. But this is not something I can really show or receive credit for. I’ve been passed over for a lot of jobs, ostensibly for lacking skills, experience or contacts. The fact that I have the drive and burning desire to pick up all of this is repeatedly discounted, in favour of candidates with more polished credentials.
Both sides have missed out from this. I might not be ready now, but my ceiling is far higher than most. You can teach skills. You can’t make someone’s eyes light up when they explain what they do. This is something Klein acknowledges here and I hope more bosses start to do the same.
I’ve recently found an employer who has looked past my youth and inexperience and seen the fire. If only all my fellow obsessives could have the same luck. We would all benefit.
In case you’re interested, here’s the entire question and answer:
TC: We all are looking for other talented people to work with and you’ve had a bunch of great ones. Matt and Melissa, Dylan Matthews and a whole bunch of others, some of whom I don’t know. But what’s your best talent finding tip?
EK: Look for people who are desperate to be doing the thing that they are doing. I have often found really great people by finding people who seemed, who either were literally doing what they need to be doing for free, because no one was yet paying them for it. That’s an ethos that comes out of, I did that as a blogger and I found Dylan Matthews doing that kind of thing. You can teach a lot of things but you can’t teach obsession. And there’s a real difference between someone who is obsessed with the work that they are doing and someone who is simply skilled at the work they are doing. I will take the obsession and teach the skills over getting the skills and having to teach the obsession.
I listened to this yesterday and it has played on my mind so much that I came back and found it while sitting on the train. If there’s any problem in the transcription, this is the reason – it was all done on an iPhone at 6 in the morning. If you have the time, I very much recommend listening to the entire chat.