I’m here at Startup School and there is a really interesting contrast between the presentations of Mitch Kapor and Mark Zuckerberg. Lotus was one of the fastest growing companies of all time, and was widely heralded as one of the best working environments, and Mitch has been involved with some really interesting tech revolutions over the years. Mark Zuckerberg is of course the founder of Facebook.
Mitch’s presentation was one of my favorite of the day, and one of the thing he emphasized was that you should hire for diversity because diverse groups of people innovate more. Diversity here is defined as a function of experience, background, family status, as well as the traditional definitions like gender, et al. He says that one of the most common mistakes entrepreneurship makes is building “mirrortocracies” instead of meritocracies, meaning they tend to hire people like themselves rather than hiring the best people regardless of backgrounds, and the company suffers as a result.
Almost on cue, Mark started out by saying that the two most important things for a company is to have people who are “young and technical,” and his explanation of such was actually the entirety of his prepared remarks. (He arrived shortly before his presentation, so AFAIK hadn’t heard any of Mitch’s.) He made some fair arguments for biasing toward a technically inclined workforce, even in roles like marketing and support, however he didn’t really say anything compelling in support of youth, besides some vague references to many great creators and chessmasters being between 20 and 35 years old. But in no uncertain terms, he said they have a bias toward hiring young people at Facebook.
I’m inclined to agree more with Mitch. Biasing your decisions based on something completely out of someone’s control, specifically the year they were born, seems as likely to have correlation to talent and success in a company as gender, race, or anything else that everyone knows doesn’t matter. It’s not what you’re born with, it’s what you make of it. However in defense of Mark, you can think of Frank Sinatra’s Young at Heart. There’s youth, and there’s youthfulness. The latter could be described as a set of qualities, and could definitely something you look for when hiring, but make sure you’re targeting the right things.
What do you think: Is there something inherent in age that’s valuable? What’s the most important thing you look for when hiring?