“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.” — Steve Jobs
In 2015 when my wife, Kay, and I were thinking of a business to set up, we tossed our observation that there’s a dearth of sales professionals in the technology sector as evidenced by companies and headhunters often asking us to refer sales professionals. Traits commonly cited by hiring managers were aggressiveness, drive, and never-say-die attitude.
As we reflected on how we were as salespeople and how we saw successful salespeople win large deals despite the odds, one single striking trait came to mind – hunger or “gutom” in local parlance, or fire-in-the-belly for others. This is the insatiable drive to reach an outcome.
Hence, we named our company Hungry Workhorse with the original intention of supplying tech companies with hungry workhorses. It has since evolved into a digital and culture transformation firm but hinging on individual and organizational hunger to drive transformations.
In biological terms, hunger is the urge to eat. It’s common misconception that it comes from an empty stomach. Fact is, most of the biological feeling of hunger comes from the brain in a structure called the hypothalamus.
Applied to the workplace, “someone who’s hungry is someone who’s going to do whatever it takes to excel … and that’s invaluable”, said tech startup founder Pat Murray which appeared in Inc.com’s latest issue.
In other words, it’s like being deprived of the basic need of eating – you will “do whatever it takes” to eat especially in extreme hunger. It’s the single biggest sought by many tech startups in Silicon Valley, trumping experience, talent, and enthusiasm.
An example cited by Inc.com is Justin Yoshimura, CEO of CSC Generation. He is coming up with his own algorithm to determine fit when hiring. “Again, they have nothing to do with past experience, and everything to do with hunger”.
Yoshimura’s logic is this. “With unemployment at record lows, the competition for top talent has literally never been greater. This has caused large companies to dramatically increase their compensation packages for ‘obvious’ candidates. As such, we realized we needed to be contrarian in our hiring practices — finding and empowering the non-obvious candidates.”
One of the interview questions asked by CSC, along with other creative and critical thinking tests is “Who paid for your college education?”
“While some look like “normal” interview questions, it’s worth looking at,” Inc.com recounted. “If you put yourself through college, what does that say about you? Well, a lot. You had to balance school with work, so you learned how to manage your time as a young adult. You probably had to work when other people were partying, which means you know how to delay gratification.” The point is this: “If you put yourself through college, you had to want it.”
Other interview questions of CSC are “What did your parents do for work?”, “What do you believe about the world that other people don’t?”, and “What has been your biggest failure in life?” – all designed to elicit the answer to the ultimate question: How hungry are you?
Personally, when I interview candidates I ask similar questions. Most people who are hungry come from difficult conditions which they overcame, such as being a working student or being a young single parent. Others have experienced successive setbacks.
Hungry people draw strength from past difficulties, failures, and rejections which drives them to succeed. The world of business is abundant with examples such as J.K. Rowling, Walt Disney, Elon Musk, and so on. They wanted to move up, push their limits, and question established norms.
Hungry people also inspire those around them by clearly and relentlessly communicating the vision of a desired outcome.
Hunger combined with skills makes a perfect mix for hiring top talent in this era of the 4th Industrial Revolution, where competition becomes fiercer and startups attracting the best pool.
The author is the President of Hungry Workhorse Consultancy, a digital and culture transformation consultancy firm; and Co-Founder and Counsellor of Caucus Inc, a data privacy consulting firm. He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.