In the February 22, 2014 edition of The New York Times, there was a fascinating article by Thomas Friedman entitled, “How to Get a Job at Google.” It was written from an interview with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president in charge of hiring at Google, one of the world’s most successful companies.
In the hiring process Bock says, “GPA’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring and test scores are worthless; we found they don’t predict anything.” He then proceeds to share what they are looking for in the prospective new hires that come to interview with Google. One of the primary attributes they desire is humility. They are looking for courageous leaders who, at the appropriate time, will step up and lead but also, at appropriate times, be willing to relinquish power. In other words, they need to be humble enough to step back and embrace the better ideas of others.
Bock also stressed the importance of having intellectual humility for if you do not have this, you will be unable to learn even from failure. Too many proud people believe they are a genius when something good happens; but when something bad happens, it is someone else’s fault.
Google seems to understand that truly humble people are what Jim Collins called, “a study in duality: modest and willful, humble and fearless.” Bock declares that they are looking for people to take firm positions and who will argue like hell. However, when they learn a new fact, they need to let go of their ego and be willing to change their point of view.
Bock recognizes that in an age of innovation, their work is increasingly a group endeavor. In order to work well and effectively in the group, you have to be humble.
This is in line with something I read in Ryan Holiday’s book Ego is the Enemy. The nine-time Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning jazz musician Wynton Marsalis offered this advice to a promising young musician on the mindset required to become a great musician:
Humility engenders learning because it beats back the arrogance that puts blinders on. It leaves you open for truths to reveal themselves. You don’t stand in your own way . . . Do you know how you can tell if someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve. They don’t assume, ‘I know the way.’
Holiday says that humble people are students for life and that they seek to learn from everyone and everything. It might be from people you beat or from those who have beaten you. Wherever you are in your life journey, there is the opportunity to learn. This is the perspective humility brings into your life.