THIS question is similar in character to the old familiar refrain—why do kamikaze pilots wear helmets? They’re on a suicide mission, so why bother to wear helmets? In case you don’t know why these sorts of questions are being asked in the first place, then let me tell you this: They’re those devious, trick questions asked in job interviews by major organizations that are on the forefront of innovation.
Take the case of Google and explore the answers to the following questions: One, how much would you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle? Two, a man pushed his car to a hotel and lost his fortune. What happened? Three, it is difficult to remember what you read, especially after many years. How would you address this? Four, explain what a database is to your eight-year-old nephew, using only three sentences. And lastly, you have 25 horses. How many horses do you need to find the fastest three horses? You don’t have a timer, and you can run only five horses per race.
William Poundstone says, “Everyone knows Google’s doing a good job at hiring smart people.” Poundstone, author of the 2012 book “Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?” quotes Amazon’s hiring manager Steve Yegge who claims that Google pirated a good number of their key officials and bright boys. Google’s trick of the trade is to do technical recruitment like no other has done it before.
The traditional way of hiring people is to go out by announcing job vacancies in print and social media, hoping to attract, hire, and retain the cream of the crop. The more job want ads you release to the general public, the bigger the chance you get the candidates. The trouble is that you get an ocean of job applicants, which becomes an administrative nightmare for any hiring manager.
And that’s not the way Google does recruitment. That’s because it’s not an old-fashioned organization. Instead of Jurassic ways, it uses reverse psychology so much that smart people are challenged, they would troop to Google because of prestige and not the money, although “it churns out employee-millionaires” in the process.
Poundstone explains that Google is being portrayed “more like an elite college or think tank. But colleges are about theory, and Google is about practice. It offers the heady challenge of creating the new digital universe.”
In the manufacturing industry, Google is somewhat akin to Toyota’s style of attracting people, whether employees or customers to its famous corporate battle cry —“good thinking, good products.” Taiichi Ohno, the creator of the Toyota Production System said people go to Toyota, not to work but to think and create innovative vehicles and products of the future.
Toyota however clings to its traditional way of hiring people straight out of college and by doing traditional hiring procedure including asking sleepy questions like the following: Why would you like a position at Toyota? What is your favorite car model we make? What kind of challenges did you face on your last job? How did you assign priorities to jobs? Do you have any friends or relatives working at Toyota?
I wish Toyota can ask job applicants one big question—“How would you move Mt. Fuji?” which is also the title of the 2003 book by Poundstone. Anyway, applicants who are interested to work for Toyota can even do mock interviews on the internet by answering 23 basic questions found on its website. You can also analyze the best answers as chosen by other job applicants.
If you think it’s cheating for job applicants, then I will tell you right away that it’s not. This reminds me of a famous university professor who gave the same final test questions to students who flunked the course before. The students complained: “Professor, this is the same test you gave us last term!” The good professor replied: “Yes, of course, but that’s what insanity is all about—doing the same thing all over again and expect different result.”
Even if Toyota remains a traditional company in a certain sense of the word, it has the advantage over Google because the former practices lifetime employment and it retains almost 95 percent of its original recruits, unlike, as I can imagine, all other major companies. And yet Toyota relishes enjoying the best of both worlds—being innovative and old-fashioned at the same time.
Now, that you’ve reached this far reading this piece, what’s the answer to our topical question—why do flat-chested women wear bras? This is a business article and I don’t want to offend some people. The correct and not-so incorrect answers can be found elsewhere. Google it, seek and you shall find.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to email@example.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter for his random management thoughts.