3 Questions To Ask When You’re Hiring Someone

This comes from Sam Altman, the president at Y Combinator, in the Stanford CS183B class “How to Start a Startup,” which I’m currently working through. You can find the video lectures and course materials here.

Here are the three questions:

  1. Are they smart?
  2. Do they get things done?
  3. Do I want to spend a lot of time around them?

They all sound simple, but I’ve seen job interviews stray far from trying to answer these questions. Altman says if you can answer yes to all three, chances are good the hire will work out.

3 Documentaries To Watch

I know I’m not going out on a limb with any of these — one won an Academy Award, another a Peabody, and the other is considered a classic — so call me late to the party. But they were well worth my time.

League of Denial: The NFL’s Concussion Crisis: I’ve followed the NFL since I was a kid, back when I ran around the house in a plastic Miami Dolphins helmet pretending I was Dan Marino. Watching this, however, made me feel somewhat ill at ease with being a fan of something so purposefully violent. The full version is available on the PBS website.

Inside Job: Illustrates how the individuals responsible for causing the financial crisis in 2008 were also the ones who ended up profiting from it. Some of the interviews are so unbelievable they’re laughable. In the end, though, it left me feeling angry. I couldn’t find it streaming on Netflix so I had to rent it from Amazon.

Pumping Iron: Considered a classic bodybuilding film, it chronicles the weeks leading up to the 1975 Mr. Olympia competitions, which Arnold Schwarzenegger won for the sixth consecutive year. Schwarzenegger’s focus is incredible — when his father died, he chose not to go to the funeral because it would have messed with his head two months before a competitions — but at the same time, he’s supremely confident and relaxed. He spends most of the time teasing Lou Ferrigno. Available on Netflix.

“9 Innings: The Anatomy Of A Baseball Game” by Dan Okrent

I first came across Dan Okrent in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary (in which he’s brilliant) and again while reading about the history of fantasy baseball (he invented it).

He was also the best at chronicling the fall of Detroit, which now seems to be behind Time magazine’s paywall.

His 1985 book “9 innings” is a insider look at baseball through analyzing a single regular-season game between the Brewers and Orioles in June of 1982. The beauty, of course, is that he uses the seemingly random game as a platform to examine more macro baseball ideas: the amateur draft, scouting, labor relations, broadcast rights, journalism, team ownership, etc.

Also weaved in and out of the narrative is a long list of facts I either never knew or had once known and since forgotten. Also, some great anecdotes:

  • Paul Molitor played just 64 minor-league games — all in Class A — before debuting in the majors in 1978, when he was named the AL Rookie of the Year. (Robin Yount played the exact same number of minor-league games before becoming the Brewers’ starting shortstop at age 18.)
  • Luis Tiant once said that Milwaukee outfielder Gorman Thomas was so ugly he “could be anything in the jungle [he] wanted to be, but not the hunter.” (Proof.)
  • The Brewers’ iconic logo from the early 80s was chosen in a fan competition. The fans got that one right.
  • Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Ozzie Smith were high school teammates.
  • In the attempt to lure a major-league team to Milwaukee, Bud Selig‘s ownership group convinced the White Sox to play 10 “home” games at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1968. (Selig eventually got his team when the group bought the Seattle Pilots in 1970.)
  • Baseball actually went 80 years without a major rule change, from the time the pitcher’s mound was moved 60 feet, 6 inches from the plate until the designated hitter was instituted in 1973.

The Brewers won the game and continued to win in 1982. They went on to advance to the World Series that year, where they lost to the Cardinals in seven games. As Okrent notes, the franchise fell off quickly from there (and actually didn’t advance to the playoffs again until 2008).

There was one move, however, that could have prevented that. At the 1981 winter meetings, Brewers general manager Harry Dalton declined a trade that would have sent 33-year-old starting pitcher Mike Caldwell to the Phillies for Ryne Sandberg, who at the time had just six major-league plate appearances under his belt.

Caldwell pitched just three more (sub-par) seasons while Sandberg, of course, won an MVP with the Chicago Cubs and has since been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A dozen seasons with Yount, Sandberg and Molitor in the infield would have likely changed the landscape of the American League.

Journalism Friction

When done right, journalism is fulfilling its civic responsibility of giving a voice to the voiceless.

The biggest source of friction between journalists and those who consume their work is caused by:

  • The general public’s failure to recognize the above truth
  • Journalists inability to explain it