Thoughts on entrepreneurship, startups, and tech.


Choosing Emotion Over Skill

When I’m out & about and run into street musicians, one thing always comes to mind; was it their raw skill that made me stop and listen or the emotion they conveyed to everyone around them.

Sure everyone has their tastes in styles of music, lyrics and looks but after a few beers and some passionate debate, folks generally come to agreement on what artists are better than others at touching our hearts and spirits. Whatever your inclination, names like John Mayer, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash or Aretha Franklin should touch your soul in some shape or form.

I’m not a musician but those around me that are, tell me that the names above started off pretty miserably on the pure technical proficiency scale and it took them years to develop even the slightest mastery of their chosen instrument. However, what set them apart right from the start was a “distinct gift of generosity, energy and soul” as Rolling Stone wonderfully frames it. Emotion is the key success factor in the creative space, it’s about what you give and what you’re remembered for.

I’m asked every day about a similar dilemma facing many startup founders when recruiting; choosing between people & creative talent and raw technical skills. There’s no debate in my mind to choose the former if your goal is to pave your way through the endlessly growing, mind-numbing number of digital — internet based apps & services. Your potential customers or users are bombarded with app marketing everyday whether through popular social networks, media or friends and I dispute the common onboarding techniques, reasons and metrics in favor of what Seth Godin marvelously captures “Belief. Belonging. Mattering”. These attributes are not hard wired. They cannot be achieved by repetition or coldly acquired. They emanate from people who care and give wholeheartedly. This is what get’s people excited and engaged in your product or service. It’s where your endeavors success lies.

Don’t get me wrong. Choosing an unskilled artist over a confirmed JavaScript or Ruby Developer when filling a back-end position is naive, but when ability is equivalent — choose the one who makes you vibrate.

It’s these types of people who can bring and help build an inestimable ‘purpose’ in your startup because they’re able to readily connect with people and naturally convey emotion at every level and role in your company.

That’s what makes the difference on street corners. Emotion trumps skill every time.