Pirates vs. The Navy

January  19,  2012 / By Taylor Blog

Just when I thought the Steve Jobs articles were fading away, along comes “An HR Lesson From Steve Jobs” on Fast Company’s Co.Design blog. And instead of inspiring the designers or tinkerers among us, this one is for the HR department.

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The article is an excerpt from What Would Steve Jobs Do?: How the Steve Jobs Way Can Inspire anyone to Think Differently and Win, that, like most things at Apple, mixes equal parts human nature and simplicity. Jobs’ HR advice? To avoid becoming a big, boring company (like rival IBM), hire more pirates, because pirates embrace change and challenge convention. IBM was the Navy; Apple aspired to be pirates.

The takeaway here is the power of diversity, in Apple’s ability to find people, of course, who are smart and passionate about success, but also people who bring a range of backgrounds and experiences with them. But think about your own company for a second: if a 22-year-old Steve Jobs applied for a job, his resumé would include hacking computers, quitting college after one semester and many months walking around India. Would any kid with this resumé, regardless of how smart he was, even get an interview? I doubt it.

I have a similar story about my first job. I never studied advertising in college; I majored in History and studied a lot of Theater and especially loved writing plays. It wasn’t until a year out of school that, in response to an ad I saw in the Sunday Times for a copywriting position, I sent an ad agency two one-act plays I had written. A few days later, they called me in. There were dozens of portfolios in the interviewer’s office, all waiting to be reviewed, but my plays got me in the door and got me the job. “We don’t know if you can write ads,” they told me, “but we like how you think.” The agency was DDB, at the time still respected as the most creative agency in the history of the business. That they hired someone with absolutely no experience told me I was in a good place.

At Taylor, I’m happy to report diversity is very much a part of our culture. There is a wider mix of folks here than I’ve ever worked with at any agency, colleagues from all corners of the country with unique backgrounds and interests and certainly that comes out in the work. As a sports and lifestyle agency, in the course of any given week, our target audience could range from NASCAR fans to Olympic Moms to food and wine connoisseurs. And to develop insights and ideas for such a wide swatch of consumers, and to execute in every possible traditional and digital channel, you need to work alongside people who have actually been behind the wheel of a race car, who have been to the Olympics Games, who plan their whole year around their foodie vacations. Here, we have law school grads working with designers, digital strategists at the same table with seasoned PR teams, interns working with managing partners, folks from the music industry working with guys who like to write plays. I think this diversity is what makes Taylor unique, and one reason we’re able to develop an incredible range of ideas. And while I don’t think we’re hanging the Jolly Roger off the Empire State Building anytime soon, our tagline, “We’re Built Differently,” certainly is truth in advertising.

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In the end, the key to Jobs’ hiring style is asking potential employees: “Why are you here?” It’s a great question. The next time I interview someone, I’m stealing this. As the article concludes, it’s not the answer that matters, per se, but the experiences behind the answer. By asking “why are you here” of all potential candidates, by embracing people with unconventional backgrounds, by looking for folks with a history of stepping up to challenges, soon enough, any company can have a team of diverse, well-traveled, highly skilled pirates.

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