In an excerpt from the book Warren Buffett’s Management Secrets reprinted by TIMESONLINE, Mary Buffet and David Clark talk about Buffett’s obsession with obsession: “In Buffett’s world the perfect manager is someone who gets up in the morning thinking about the business and at night is dreaming about the business.”  Obsession is more important than intelligence, education or background, and to that end, Buffett will ask questions in an interview about how the candidate got into business.  If he ran a lemonade stand as a kid, that’s a better indicator than whether he went to college. 

I love this idea, for a whole lot of reasons, such as:

  • Obsession is defined as loving what you do, not as being work/life balance-challenged.  And who doesn’t love to work with, do business with or be served by someone who loves what they do? 
  • It supports our diversity initiatives.  A key point in seeking diverse recruits is to be willing to ignore traditional “qualifications” like what college someone went to or what company they worked for in order to cast a wider net.
  • It supports the concept of strength-based hiring and training put forth by the Gallup organization.  Figure out what people love to do and you’ll be much more successful in hiring, placement, learning and development, succession planning and performance management.
  • I also like that it brings Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers to mind.  In this fascinating book, Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule; research has shown that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become truly an expert at something.  No one is going to put in that 10,000 hours unless they’re obsessed. 

When I think back to some of my own career moves, I realize that I’ve been the beneficiary of this concept myself.  When I first got into HR, I was lucky to work with a senior HR executive who recognized that my obsession was more important than the fact that I was still a rookie.  He put me in a corporate position that I was hardly qualified for in terms of experience; but I was obsessed, and I worked and studied at a doubletime pace for a few years, gaining experience quickly and giving back to the organization with my time and energy.  I got up in the morning thinking about HR and I dreamed about HR at night.  Had we hired an experienced nine-to-fiver with less engagment, I don’t believe we’d have made the same strides in the organization, which was going through a high-growth period at the time and needed someone with a whole lot of energy.

Have you had an experience in which the love of what you do counted for more than experience and education?  Have you hired or mentored someone based on this same concept?   How do you recognize obsession in a candidate?

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