Building products with untrainable skills

It's all too easy to seek out potential employees with a cookie cutter, boiler plate, mind numbing list of job requirements:

  • At least N years of professional experience
  • Must have experience with X, Y, and Z technologies
  • Bachelors degree, at least

We obviously value experience in candidates generally across industries and experience is not negligible in any way, but it's also not rare or difficult to obtain. In context of software and product development, I don't value experience as highly as most.

One will weave the canvas; another will fell a tree by the light of his ax. Yet another will forge nails, and there will be others who observe the stars to learn how to navigate. And yet all will be as one. Building a boat isn’t about weaving canvas, forging nails, or reading the sky. It’s about giving a shared taste for the sea, by the light of which you will see nothing contradictory but rather a community of love.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

In Citadelle, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry clearly explains why experience isn't as important in the long term. A team of the best craftsman in the worlds can join forces to design and build a ship, but they are not inherently better than a tight knit group of hobbyist ship builders who love the craft more.

This quote is commonly misinterpreted as "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.".

If that's a little old school for you, take a look at any modern sports franchise. Taking the top 10 best basketball players in the world and sticking them on a single team doesn't guarantee championships. Chemistry, ego, greed, passion, and sportsmanship can and typically do play significant roles in a specific teams ability to win.  "One bad apples spoils the bunch" very much applies here.

Building products is no different.

Hiring untrainable skills is critical to developing a championship winning product team. I can pick up talented graduates and on-board them with technical skills required to succeed but I can't convince them to care, stick around, value the work we're doing, be patient, be empathetic, or get along with coworkers. Those untrainable qualities are priority number 1 when building complex, detail focused software like an ERP system.

Taking a look at the best teams around, including at your own company, and reverse engineering the untrainable qualities is crucial to developing a criterion of must-hire qualities unique to your team and culture. Plus is starts wonderful conversations internally.

Thanks for reading

Appreciate you reading this.

If you're feeling extra nice today, give us a follow on LinkedIn or Twitter to stay up to date with stories and updates about my business, or try out the free trial of our ERP software focused on small businesses.

Holden, Founder of Buster Technologies

Show Comments

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.