Genius Just This Side of Crazy

As an executive search consultant that specializes in technology, I frequently encounter genius candidates. It is my job to determine which ones are top performers. While it is easy to be blinded by brilliance, successful geniuses must do, in addition to think. Still, genius is as magnificent to behold as it is awkward, as this scene from HBO’s Silicon Valley captures so well.  Here, the genius of venture capitalist character Peter Gregory is revealed through his process.

Genius — or insanity — is the ability to see what others do not.  With genius, what you see is real.  It just hasn’t been made manifest yet.  Geniuses make connections that elude everyone else, as was the case with math prodigy and schizophrenic John Nash Jr., on whose life the movie A Beautiful Mind is based. Remarkably, Dr. Nash is able to discern which imaginings are delusions and which are intellectually transcendent. While in a bar, Russell Crowe’s Nash discovers what later became known as Nash Equilibrium in game theory.

In Rainman, Dustin Hoffman’s Raymond Babbitt is an autistic savant with the ability to memorize part of the phonebook . . . when there were such things as phonebooks.

Yet Babbitt’s stunning ability to memorize has little practical application in the real world.  We have computers with the ability to store vast amounts of data. Employers don’t need a human to do that, particularly if that human lacks social skills. Far more important is our ability to reason, to extrapolate, and to play nicely with others — unless the others aren’t so nice in return, as is the case in this scene from Good Will Hunting.

As is also the case in the movie Social Network. Here the Mark Zukerberg-like character portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg verbally shreds his opponents in a lawsuit.

Of course, if you weren’t born a genius, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.   You may simply be a late bloomer, as Malcolm Gladwell’s article in The New Yorker details.

Yes, there was Orson Welles, peaking as a director at twenty-five. But then there was Alfred Hitchcock, who made “Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window,” “To Catch a Thief,” “The Trouble with Harry,” “Vertigo,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho”—one of the greatest runs by a director in history—between his fifty-fourth and sixty-first birthdays. Mark Twain published “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” at forty-nine. Daniel Defoe wrote “Robinson Crusoe” at fifty-eight.

While IQ can play an important role in determining one’s success, research has found one cannot succeed on genius alone. Wisdom is required.

Cybersecurity Search Firm Picks Top Silicon Valley Scene

Cybersecurity Search Firm Picks Top Silicon Valley Scene

As a cybersecurity search firm, The Good Search, recruits top cybersecurity executives and technologists. We are cybersecurity headhunters. That’s what we do.

Because we conduct senior executive and technology search in the software security space, I spend a lot of time talking to the most brilliant engineers and executives who keep this Internet of ours up-and-running.  It isn’t easy and often, it isn’t pretty.  But the Gilfoyles of the world get it done and, for that, we salute them.

Gilfoyle is a character on the hit HBO television series Silicon Valley. Actor Martin Starr plays Gilfoyle with nerdy precision and the requisite expletives. In this scene, he details exactly what Gilfoyle does.



Agenda Week | Boards Recruit Using ‘Moneyball’ Tactics

Boards Recruit Using ‘Moneyball’ Tactics

By Amanda Gerut May 26, 2015

Human resources information systems that give companies reams of data about employees’ tenure, trajectories and retention patterns, plus years’ worth of executive assessments, are giving rise to new insights in talent development and CEO hiring.

Welcome to the world of big data and succession planning.

Consultants say progressive companies and boards are beginning to use big data as well as smaller data sets in hiring C-level executives and even recruiting new directors. Data analysis is also being used as a means to verify — or bust — long-held myths in companies’ hiring practices. Search firms have also entered the market and are rolling out new tools and research systems designed to complement traditional methods of vetting CEO and director candidates.

Krista Bradford, founder and CEO of The Good Search, has been using data analytics in the executive search process for nearly 15 years. Bradford says using data related to executives’ actual performance and results can give companies more information to help determine which employees are strong performers and which have potential.

“There’s a boatload of data out there outside of traditional résumés and your standard social media profile that speaks to who is good,” Bradford says. “Big data is bandied about a lot these days,” but companies don’t necessarily need to “go big” to leverage a set of data, she adds.

(To read the rest of the article, you must log into Agenda Week here.)

Top Technology Recruiting Scenes on HBO’s Silicon Valley

Top Technology Recruiting Scenes on HBO’s Silicon Valley

As an executive search firm that revels in recruiting technology talent of the highest caliber, we find the HBO TV series Silicon Valley filled with insight and delicious nerd humor. True, we wish the show’s bro-grammer cast featured more female characters, just as we wish the real Silicon Valley featured more women senior executives. To the show’s credit, it does tackle the issue in scenes with the startup’s lone female engineer.


I highly recommend the show to anyone in technology recruiting or to anyone who has lived, breathed, and worked in software at the intersection of venture capital. That pressure cooker attracts brilliant people who are often eccentric or a bit awkward. Most of the time, I find the quirks endearing, though they do present challenges in job interviews.

The show’s tech dialog and plot come across as believable for a number of reasons — the actors are nerds off the screen, the imaginary formulas have been concocted by serious computer scientists, and well known technology luminaries put in cameo appearances on the show. The following clip details how committed the show is to making the technology details real.

The Good Search is a technology search firm for a reason. Passion. Technology luminaries provide an intriguing glimpse into the future because they are the very people shaping it. Since the bubble, I have recruited senior executives to the hottest startups backed by top-tier venture capital firms that include Kleiner Perkins, Benchmark, and Sequoia. For the past decade and a half, I have had the good fortune to have mind-blowing conversations with some of the most brilliant technologists of the century. Not everyone gets to do that. Like many of those we recruit, my imagination was captured by my first computer (an Apple IIe). I haven’t looked back since. That is why I look forward to the next episode of HBO’s Silicon Valley.  May it live long and prosper.


Why Executive Searches Fail and What to Do About It

Why Executive Searches Fail

It doesn’t matter whether executive searches are conducted internally or externally. The rule holds true either way: executive searches will continue to fail at high rates because the recruiting industry has not invested in the kind of expertise required to find good candidate data. For executive search to be good — not bad — it must match force with the explosion in the amount of data available on candidates, companies, and industries.

That data are scattered like buckshot across the Internet. And if you think you can find it simply “googling it,” you’d be sorely mistaken. A great deal of valuable information is tucked away in databases not visible to search engines. It lies hidden in the Invisible Web. It takes someone who can do more than Google a candidate’s name to find it.

The Rise of Anarchy in Candidate Data

IDC estimates the amount of digital data will grow 40% to 50% per year. By 2020, IDC predicts the number will have reached  40,000 EB, or 40 zettabytes (ZB). The world’s information is doubling every two years. By 2020 the world will generate 50 times the amount of information and 75 times the number of information containers.  In fact, Michael Walker, the Managing Partner of Rose Business Technologies, describes the what we’re witnessing is the Rise of Data Anarchy.


Data is the Forest: Candidates are the Trees

As data order gives rise to anarchy, increasingly, executive recruiters can’t see the forest for the trees.  The wonders of LinkedIn put aside for a moment, most senior executive searches and C-Level technology searches fail because candidate research and sourcing best practices haven’t changed in more than 50 years as roles have become more specialized. Recruiters are still searching for the proverbial needle in the haystack. The problem, though, is that the haystack now resembles Mt. Everest.

As a result, too many important executive searches languish unfilled because a star candidate that could have been hired was not. Our retained search firm The Good Search and our recruiting research practice Intellerati are frequently called in to rescue “hard-to-fill” searches where previous efforts have hit the wall. In every instance, we discover traditional search firms had overlooked A-players standing in plain sight. For them, too much information got in the way.

The amount of candidate data available to those of us in executive search is, undoubtedly, the mother lode. So many amazing executives are a boolean search string or a LinkedIn connection away.  But if you stop to think about it, the manual and traditional work of recruiting still remains — the heaving and lifting required to determine whether a candidate is qualified, interested, able to relocate, and (yes), sane. In addition, more channels and methods of communication — social networks, texting and tweeting, along with an ungodly amount of email —  have multiplied the amount of communicating we do. So recruiters are busier. They look productive. However, there’s an extraordinary amount of wasted effort. Some recruiters realize their workload is greater, but cannot manage the onslaught of candidate data and technology to grab it.

Moreover, the candidate tracking systems rarely keep up with the shifts. It’s hard to get information in and information out sometimes. If you really stop to think about it, there isn’t yet a way to dial up a list of the best candidates who are available . . . or is there?

Eureka, I Found It

Think Nate Silver. (You can check his RBIs (Runs Batted In) and ERAs  (Earned Run Averages) that when crunched in the right way can lead to incredible game-changing hires. That’s where the big data bus is headed. You either climb on board or risk getting left behind.

Executive Search “Best Practices” Outdated

Widely accepted executive search “best practices” have become hopelessly outdated given the data explosion. Candidate identification and development processes were established before the rise of the Internet and have changed little since then. Yes, technology has made advancements, but the work flow and the way we think about executive search have changed very little in the past fifty years. Executive search research — so-called sourcing — began as a secretarial chore. Eventually librarians were brought in to organize the classify the data, and so what emerged was a pink collar ghetto of female researchers. They frequently identified, developed, and recruited the candidates that the search partners subsequently placed with clients. They rarely got the credit and had no path to partner.  The research consisted of checking industry information, assembling target company lists, and target candidate names. The researcher or associate would then call through the list of names, and produce a slate of candidates. It is an approach that continues to this day, but it is so very wrong.

One of the biggest problems with traditional sourcing is its obsession with assembling lists of candidates. The approach never examines other sources of data. It hyper-focuses on gathering information, but rarely pauses to determine what it all means. It doesn’t go to the trouble of connecting the dots.  That’s like buying a book, but refusing to read it, all the while insisting that simply having the book made you smarter. It simply doesn’t work that way.

Big Data Requires Big Expertise

Serious research transforms data into actionable intelligence. It speeds time to hire and increases the quality of each hire. It’s not the kind of work that can be handed off to off-shore sourcing teams at 5-dollars an hour. It’s not the kind of work you give to an intern, unless the student resembles one of these kids. It is not the kind of talent drawn to executive search and recruiting. If you have a knack for investigating and finding things out, if you have the ability to spot patterns others have missed, if you have a passion for information science, data mining, computer-assisted research, or competitive intelligence, you aren’t going to wake up one day filled with the impulse to become an executive recruiter or even a sourcer. Boolean search strings are not going to hold your interest. The best research talent goes elsewhere where they develop expertise as they grow their experience. And that’s okay.

Employers who want to take executive search to the next level simply need to dip into those talent pools or partner with the right executive search research firm with investigative expertise recognized outside the world of recruiting.

Search Firm Versus LinkedIn | Google Trend Comparison

We google what we think.

Examining your Google search history  — what you’ve typed into the Google search box whenever you go looking for something on the web — can be, well, eye-opening. Your Google search history does a pretty good job of documenting what what’s been on your mind. In answering our every question, Google has become an online catalog of our thoughts.

When you view someone’s Google search history, it is as if you are peering inside that person’s mind. Consequently, when you examine search-string usage of all searchers over time, you are now peering into the minds of everyone who has ever Googled since Google began.  You tap into the Google Zeitgeist,  the collective consciousness that defines who we are.

I google, therefore I am. 

Google Trends is a rabbit hole I highly recommend exploring.  It provides mesmerizing documentation of the rise and fall in popularity of anything that can be “googled”. Of course, “rise and fall” is just the flip-side of “supply and demand”.  So it is not surprising that Google Trends is being used for stock market investment. And it has other interesting applications. Spikes in flu symptom keywords usage have help public health professionals tract the flu and predict its spread.

While brings me to the topic of this particular post. Google has captured an intriguing trend that should raise questions, if not serious concern, in the world of executive recruiting. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.  So I offer the trendline comparison up to you, the reader, for your analysis and commentary.

With that background, what do you make of the comparison of Google search trends in news headlines for “Search Firm” and “LinkedIn”:

Search Firm


“Search firm” goes from a high of 100 in 2004 to 16 today. (Google explains that the number represents search interest relative to the term’s highest position on the chart. So, if at best 10 percent of searches for the given region and time frame were for “pizza,” the word pizza would be rated a 100. It doesn’t indicate raw volume.)  Still, it forecasts a drop to 12 on the interest Richter scale by January 2016. Interesting. Let’s check people’s interest in using Google to search for LinkedIn, shall we?


The trend line goes from 1 in January of 2005 to 86 today. Interest level is expected to reach 112 by January of 2016.

Now let’s compare the drop in interest to things that have gone the way of the dodo.

“Compact Disc” is, unsurprisingly, not as popular as it once was. In January 2004 its interest number was 100. Now? Fifteen.

Compact Disc


“Blockbuster Video” is in the same boat. In January 2004, it was 100. Now it’s a sad little two.

Blockbuster Video

On the flip side, if you check the trendline on MP3s or Netflix, you get practically the opposite result.

So what does this mean? Does it always mean that interest in one thing drives down interest in another? Is there always a causal relationship? No way. In the case of “search firm,” it might be that people don’t use the term as much as they used to — but they’re still looking for the service. They might use “headhunter” or “recruiter” instead, both of which fare better in Google Trends.

It’s a topic worth exploring more, I think.  I’ll return to it in another post.  But in the meantime, give Google Trends a try. Let me know what you think about the Search Firm and LinkedIn trends.  What does the rise and fall of use of those terms in Google search tell us about the respective rise and fall of executive recruiting and LinkedIn?

Demand Rises for Top Advertising Executives

Demand Rises for Top Advertising Executives

What’s Hot: Top Advertising Executives

Advertising is a talent-driven business and demand for top advertising executives is on the rise — a trend that is being fueled by the resurgence of the advertising industry. Total spending by the 100 Leading National Advertisers has topped pre-recession levels — it reached a record $108.6 billion in 2013, passing the previous spending peak set in 2007. Spending for the U.S. advertising is on track to top the 2007 record in 2015. (more…)

How to Recruit the Right Executive

How to Recruit the Right Executive

How to Recruit the Right Executive

I have recruited top executives and technologists for the past decade and a half.  Over that same period of time, I have also made hires to my own team.  I can tell you with absolute certainty that one of the most devastating mistakes a business can make is picking the wrong person for the job. Every hiring executive I know  — myself included — has made bad hires. In fact, according to a recent Corporate Executive Board survey of hiring executives, every fifth hire is a mistake.  A whopping 20% of candidates should not have been hired in the first place.