#85 Win The Recruiting Wars With Vulnerability and Delusion: Hard But Doable

When I interviewed at Goldman Sachs I was told they were the finest Wall Street Bank in the land. Gold-plated kingmakers. My ego ate it up and I signed on - only to hate the place.

When I interviewed at Oracle Corporation I was told they were invincible. No one could stop them from dominating the world of database and technology. My ego ate it up and I signed on - only to hate the place.

When I interviewed at Powersoft, an unknown startup, I was told something different. Different and intoxicating.


My first interviewer told me the place was a long shot - they were trying to thread a needle at high speed. But, he also added that he believed this team could pull it off.

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My second interviewer was a tech guru assigned to show me the details of the product. It was an unfinished piece of software, and I'd seen plenty of these kinds of demos. Typically they tiptoe around avoiding the landmines that might lock up the computer. It was known as putting lipstick on the pig.

But not this guy, he was fearless. He showed me every snag and hole and even had to reboot the computer a few times. And then he assured me that this development team was the best he'd ever seen. And that if anyone could build the product to take on this market, this team could pull it off.

My third interviewer told me we'd be heading into a war. There’d be other startups fighting with us tooth and nail for survival. And only one or two of us would make it. Then, assuming we got the market established, the real battles would begin. The big boys would jump in with huge marketing budgets and sales forces and take us on. The exact phrase he used was "they'll try to slash our throats". It sounded risky, but it was clear that he relished the idea of the battle. And it was also clear that he believed this team could somehow pull it off.

My fourth interviewer pretty much summed up what everyone else had already said. It’s a long shot, but we have the team to pull it off.


The one thing my Powersoft interviewers were right about was that the business was a long shot. Here’s some data on startups from Daniel Kahneman and his book Thinking Fast and Slow (page 256)…

“The chances that a small business will survive for five years in the United States are about 35%.”

Flipping that around, there is approximately a 2/3 chance that your business is going to fail. Not only that, Kahneman offers evidence that you’d be better off financially if you didn’t hang out your shingle…

“The financial benefits of self-employment are mediocre: given the same qualifications, people achieve higher average returns by selling their skills to employers than by setting out on their own.

But folks ignore the facts and go for it anyway. Here’s more Kahneman…

“Fully 81% of the entrepreneurs put their personal odds of success at 7 out of 10 or higher, and 33% said their chance of failing was zero.”

So in a very real way, people that start businesses are delusional. And that’s a great thing. 

If it wasn’t for their delusions we wouldn’t get the amazing economic shot in the arm and job growth that they create by taking on the odds.

And their delusion might also be the key to their future success. Here's a quote from pollster and author Marcus Buckingham and his book The One Thing You Need To Know (page 106)

“The state of mind you should try to create in (the employee) is one where he has a fully realistic assessment of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of him, and, at the same time, an unrealistically optimistic belief in his ability to overcome it.”

Sound familiar? The people at Powersoft didn't beat their chests and tell me they were unstoppable. They said this is a nearly impossible minefield, but for some crazy reason we believe we can pull it off.

So their mindset was perfect for the task ahead.

Good for them - but what was it about their approach that had me dying to be a part of their team?


I’ve quoted psychologist Brené Brown many times on the topic of vulnerability. And here are a couple more of her gems that I don’t believe I’ve shared in the past…

“Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you.”

“The intention and outcome of vulnerability is trust, intimacy and connection.”

These two quotes explain the spell that Powersoft cast on me. The vulnerability that my interviewers shared about their situation looked great on them. It grabbed my attention and rapidly earned my trust - I felt connected after just a few interviews. 

Past employers had been less than forthcoming about the internal and external challenges they faced. And I’d been left feeling hoodwinked and disconnected. But that wasn’t going to happen at Powersoft. They weren’t hiding anything. The long odds were laid right on the table for me to consider. 

So the sincere vulnerability drew me in, but they weren’t finished. Next they followed with a move straight out of the Marcus Buckingham, who I introduced above, playbook (page 67)

“the key thing about leading is not only that you envision a better future but also that you believe, in every fiber of your being, that you are the one to make this future come true.”

That’s exactly what the people of Powersoft did. They saw a path to a better future for software developers and they believed, with every fiber of their being, they they had the right stuff to bring it to reality.

So their honest vulnerability drew me in like a magnet. Then their calm, delusional confidence set the hook.

Those of you that have been following this blog know that at this point I was ready to make the leap. But, my wife still had to help me get over the issue of swallowing a large paycut, which she eloquently did. And the rest is history. I spent the next 10 years with this same core team and the results were two IPO's and my early retirement.

Maybe this vulnerability stuff really IS all it’s cracked up to be.


(This site is all about building a Map that will help me do work and life better. So at the end of each post I check in to see if any changes / insights come to mind.)

During my recent Map(s) redesign I somehow managed to leave out the word vulnerability. Really dumb because I believe it’s the fundamental first step in getting to a useful Map. Until we let down our guard and admit to ourselves that we're surrounded by Wrong Stories, we're going nowhere.

So vulnerability is now on my new and improved Work Map as part of the IF. I placed it in a sentence with freedom and feedback because these concepts are the “how to’s” that sit beneath Aligned Growth & Connection. Growth comes from freedom and feedback, and connection comes from vulnerability.


And while I was there I made one more important addition. I decided that gratitude, an anchor of my Self IF, also belonged on my Work Map. In my experience gratitude, seeing and appreciating my blessings, goes hand in hand with vulnerability. So I decided to update both my Work and Self IF’s to make them identical. Here’s how they now read…

“Prioritize gratitude, vulnerability, freedom, feedback.”

I like that a lot…

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