David Kelley: Hire Great People | Summary and Q&A

May 23, 2011
Stanford eCorner
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David Kelley: Hire Great People

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In this video, the speaker emphasizes the importance of hiring great people and building effective teams. He mentions the need to be creative and spend more time on the hiring process, as well as the significance of individuality and diversity within teams. The speaker also discusses the idea of having an unfair advantage in hiring, such as a strong partnership with a renowned university. He highlights the importance of having a clear point of view on who to hire and the value of finding individuals who possess an "attitude of wisdom." The speaker concludes by mentioning that IDEO's growth is driven by finding and adding one exceptional person at a time.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does the speaker believe many people often overlook in the hiring process?

The speaker believes that many people don't dedicate enough time and energy to hiring great people. They tend to rely on conventional methods or HR departments without investing in creativity and alternative approaches to selecting the right individuals for their organizations.

Q: According to the speaker, what is the key to building effective teams?

The speaker states that building effective teams involves including individuals with various disciplines, both generalists and experts in different areas. He references Hal Levitt's book on hot groups, emphasizing the importance of creating teams small enough (around eight to twelve people) to function well. This optimal team size helps ensure better communication and collaboration.

Q: How does IDEO gain an advantage in their hiring process?

IDEO has the advantage of a close relationship with Stanford University, which strengthens their hiring process. The speaker suggests that other companies should establish closer relationships with local universities, emphasizing the benefits of such partnerships.

Q: What is the speaker's point of view regarding hiring for the company?

The speaker suggests that it is crucial to have a clear point of view on who the company wants to hire. He argues against solely focusing on grades or technical competence and instead suggests looking for individuals who possess what he calls the "attitude of wisdom." This characteristic includes having the confidence to voice ideas and the humility to accept and improve upon others' ideas.

Q: How does the speaker differentiate between technical competence and the "fit" he is seeking?

The speaker acknowledges that technical competence is relatively easier to find compared to the desired fit for their company. While technical competence may be more visible, the speaker finds it essential to focus on finding individuals who strike a balance between being assertive in presenting their ideas while remaining open to the improvement and contribution of others.

Q: What is the speaker's perspective on the growth of IDEO?

The speaker clarifies that IDEO's growth is not driven by financial considerations or profit goals. Instead, the company grows by finding and adding exceptional individuals to their team, one person at a time. This approach allows IDEO to maintain the quality and effectiveness of their teams.

Q: What observation did the speaker make about dotcom companies during their growth phase?

The speaker recalls being on the board of some dotcom companies during their growth phase. He observed that as these companies expanded and approached the total population of the United States, they would, by definition, have average people in their company. This highlights the importance of scalability and ensuring that each member possesses exceptional qualities.

Q: What is the significance of a t-shirt representation for a good group?

The speaker uses the presence of a t-shirt representation as an indication of belonging to a truly exceptional group. It implies that a t-shirt is a symbol or identifier of an organization or team that is recognized and respected as being of high quality.

Q: How does the speaker describe IDEO's growth strategy?

The speaker describes IDEO's growth strategy as incremental and based on finding exceptional individuals one at a time. From starting with just two people, the company has grown to around 430 individuals solely through the careful selection and addition of extraordinary talent.

Q: What is the speaker's view on the article that suggests hiring the right people solves everything?

The speaker acknowledges that he has been quoted in articles containing the notion that hiring the right people solves everything. However, he clarifies that it is not entirely accurate, although it makes for good journalism. While hiring great people is crucial, it is not the sole solution, but it does significantly impact the success and effectiveness of an organization.


In this video, the speaker emphasizes the need to invest more time and creativity in the hiring process to find exceptional individuals and build effective teams. He highlights the importance of individuality, diverse expertise, and the "attitude of wisdom" in potential hires. The speaker also highlights the benefits of having close relationships with universities and the need to maintain manageable team sizes for improved collaboration. Furthermore, the speaker discusses IDEO's unique growth strategy, driven by finding exceptional individuals rather than financial considerations.

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