The article explores different cases of integrating "disruptive people" with software and creative teams and how it impacts search for innovation and business continuity.
Several years ago, I got promotion as a marketing team lead with a U.S.-based custom software development consultancy. My initial task in a new job role was to build an inbound team from scratch. Having defined key roles without which I wouldn’t be able to reach our ambitious goals, I dived deep into candidates search, selection, and interviewing. While it was a breeze to find and hire a UX/UI designer, a market researcher and a marketing assistant, finding and hiring a good SEO specialist with at least basic webmaster skills turned out to be a nightmare. I had to reject every single applicant without exception. Reasons were many, from very poor English to skyrocketing wage expectations to high SEO budget requirements.
I was about to lose my hope to hire someone internally and outsource SEO function to an agency when our recruiters sent me the very final candidate to interview. And half an hour in the interview, my decision to hire him was almost made.
Unlike dozens of other candidates who grimaced each time they heard about our tight marketing and SEO budget, Ian (let’s call him like this) smiled all the time, was very optimistic and enthusiastic about the tasks and goals anticipating him in this position. I wanted to be as fair with him as possible and told him about all possible showstoppers and barriers we might face along our marketing journey, but nothing scared him. At the end of the interview, he was determined to help us generate inbound leads and take over and manage our SEO function.
Having analyzed later what attracted me in Ian so much, I concluded it was that hustler mindset and the ability to think outside the box without fearing any challenges. “No big budget - no issues, let’s do guerilla SEO instead!” I was impressed with his attitude and decided to give him a try. And I never regretted that decision.
As a matter of fact, Ian’s professional background was pretty unique as he came from gambling and betting where he, as an SEO guy, had to employ many black- and grey-hat practices. This particular experience instilled Ian’s growth hacking mindset, which made a positive impact on our inbound marketing, allowing our team to generate up to 25 MQLs a month and brought in clients and opportunities worth of a 7-figure in estimated value. Most of this success was due to Ian’s on- and off-page optimization efforts and automation. To cut it short, Ian’s hustler mind and growth hacking approaches helped us keep a marketing budget low, while our web goals completion rate was skyrocketing. In less than six months, our traffic went from literally zero to several thousand unique and returning visitors. And we paid almost nothing for backlinking, as Ian’s hustler nature helped him place links to highly credible resources fast and without any hassle. He was really very good at bargaining with bloggers and admins.
Ian never used any black-hat practices that could boost our SEO very quickly at the cost of compromising competitor web properties or harming their backlink profiles. It was our agreement from the very beginning, and he never violated it although most of the ideas he shared were illicit.
Would I have been able to achieve my team goals if I’d hired a person with a traditional mindset and accustomed to using typical and classical approaches only? Probably yes, but at a much slower pace and with a substantial budget! In our industry, cost per click on certain keywords is very high ($100+ per keyword) and so is links placement with a trustworthy publication.
What does it mean to hustle?
The word hustle has way too many definitions, but I like how it’s defined in the book “Misfit Economy” by Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips.
“We define hustle as making something out of nothing. To hustle means getting your hands dirty, being lean and facile, working hard, being resourceful and resilient, and showing or having gumption, chutzpah, or mojo”.
Hustlers never have any master plan: they improvise and respond promptly to whatever life throws their way. It’s all about spotting an idea and going for it. Hustlers are the best innovators because much of innovation comes from constraints such as scarcity or challenge. In my case, I had a very scarce SEO budget, a website built from scratch and with no history, and a very tight deadline. It was the reason why so many SEO guys I’d interviewed before Ian eventually withdrew: they feared the challenge and budget absence. Ian didn’t as he was able to see a huge opportunity for himself and our brand! And he did have gumption, chutzpah, and charisma, which made me want to attract him to join my team.
Why is it critical to have disruptive people in technology and creative teams?
I guess the answer is obvious – these people will be key drivers of your project, they’ll help you deliver a state-of-the-art product and optimize/save budget, which is essential for the survival of any small company or startup.
Today, we can observe a tendency when some companies intentionally replace their well-organized employees with disruptive, or highly disorganized individual. Why? Because "disruptive people" are invaluable and indispensable when it comes to cultivating innovation and improving day-to-day quality of professional life.
In 2014, SAP, a German multinational software corporation that makes enterprise software, experimented with hiring people with autism disorders and placing them in technical and creative roles such as software programmers, testers, and designers. The idea was that these people have a unique ability to focus on the details.
The experiment turned out to be successful: at the time of writing, SAP employs over 150 people with autism in 23 different roles, from software development and customer support to HR and data protection, across 13 countries and 28 global locations.
SAP’s Autism at Work program inspired over 250 companies to learn how to implement a similar program for the integration of the differently-abled with work processes and corporate cultures. Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, EY, DXC Technology, and Ford are among the companies seeking to hire disruptive people to add value to their business.
Other companies tend to hire people with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These people can’t stay focus for a while and usually jump from activity to activity. But because they get bored quickly, they become sources of new fresh ideas and conjure up new scenarios and abilities.
"An ADHD brain is a perfect match for high-tech jobs because an under-stimulated frontal lobe gets jump-started by always-changing technology." ADDitude Magazine
As such, people with ADHD are a perfect match for both independent and highly dependent job roles. As computer technicians, they rove through the company working with stakeholders and other departments to solve computer issues. As programmers, they can code and troubleshoot code issues independently, which is another important virtue many software development teams can harness for own benefits.
Black-hat hackers turned software and hardware engineers
If you want to build a highly-disciplined, self-organizing, and truly committed team, don’t be afraid to hire a hacker! Just like pirate communities in Somalia, hacker communities are highly engaged, loyal, and autonomous, which enables collective genius and self-governing nature of the team. All hackers have rules, norms, and etiquette, which makes them perfect for cultivating and instilling self-discipline and positive work cultures.
There are many examples when black- and grey-hat hackers got legit jobs from their exploits. Several years ago, Facebook hired then 21-year-old George Hotz (aka Geohot), a famous PlayStation hacker who’d spent four months in court disputes with Sony.
Another famous modder Johnny Chung Lee was a computer scientist who once hacked a Nintendo Wiimote using infrared light and a few pens. He was later hired by Microsoft to develop Kinect, a line of motion sensing input devices.
Today, there are platforms like BugCrowd that help connect hackers with customers, i.e., businesses looking to leverage their illegal skills for legit purposes. The hacker hiring phenomenon has yet to be explored, but demand is evident and acute.
The more silver bullets you have in your black hat, the more solutions will come out of your white hat – the logic is pretty simple here.
To wrap up, when you need to build a team from scratch (marketing, software development, data science, etc.), always think proactively about who’ll be driving it from inside and who’ll help you, a team leader, do your job well and reach your crucial KPIs faster and more effectively. As such, do think about finding and attracting people with a mindset different from the rest of the world. Such mindsets are often developed in illicit hacker and hustler communities or as a result of a mental or behavioral disorder. Even looking for people with juvenile delinquency background can work to your benefit. It was found that “those who had been involved in aggressive, illicit and risky activities in their teens” are more likely to become successful entrepreneurs and professionals in the future.
Innovating means building upon what’s already been built and improving what already exists. Hackers and hustlers don’t invent anything new; they automate things out of laziness and create non-trivial solutions out of boredom. At the end of the day, it’s your business that wins!
And what about you–have you ever considered hiring hackers, hustlers or differently-abled to boost your software development, spice up your creative processes, and find unconventional solutions to your challenges? If yes–please share your experience in the comments!
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