One of my colleagues in Silicon Valley shared an experience with a programmer who wanted to work on a project. The programmer was quirky in the extreme; he wouldn’t look the project lead in the eye and spent most of his time staring intently at his own shoes. The interview was awkward, with the programmer talking at length about his video game play, while responses on work topics were monosyllabic.
So the interviewer decided to hand him a small, difficult project that had stumped others at the company, and that he knew the interviewee was not familiar with. The interviewer asked him if he could get this to function properly. The interviewee, without pausing, sat down, plugged into the application, and became lost in the screen. After twelve hours, he got up, went back to the interviewer, and said, “It’s done.”
The interviewer showed the fix to one of the members of the team that invented the application, who, in an exasperated voice, said, “We’ve been trying to do that for a month and still haven’t got it working!” The interviewee figured it out in twelve hours. The lesson here is to judge the output rather than the person/worker.
Until you embrace your quirky people and look beyond their surface failings, it’s often difficult to grasp the true value they may provide. By embracing quirky people, we have the opportunity to think, act, and create differently, which will accelerate innovation. I hear more about this at my keynote speeches than any other subject.