Benefits of Gene Pool Engineering
The goal of startups is to create products that disrupt an established industry with its own rules and product lines. The founders cannot do it alone, so they require a team to help them do both: build the product and disrupt the industry. Most urgently, though, the founders are looking to gain acceptance with their product in the shortest amount of time for the greatest amount of impact. To ensure both, the founders require diversity in their team. Not diversity in the generic sense, but diversity in specific dimensions: age, professional record, academic background, and mindset. By maximizing diversity along these lines and applying it specifically to address identified key risks to the next acceptable product iteration, the team leaders ensure alignment between their first hires and their startup’s first challenges. This risk-tuned diversity manifests in the product through the reduction of time, energy, and resources to achieve the first key iterations. What an un-engineered or imprecisely-engineered team might have to learn through product iterations (each of which could take months), a precisely-engineered team could learn through conversations (each of which could take a few minutes). The risk-tuned diversity manifests in the startup’s disruption potential by assembling – through the people’s previous industry experience – not only a comprehensive outline of the industry rules, but also a comprehensive understanding of their existence, requirements, and rigidity. In this way, the precisely-engineered team does not have to run up against them through inappropriate design or uncomfortable industry discussions. The team can instead steer the startup in the right direction from the get-go. The overarching goal and benefit of gene pool engineering is to mix the professional expertise and industry understanding of the experienced hires with the entrepreneurial energy and innovative ideas of the founders. The result is a startup culture that produces products with higher disruption potential faster while simultaneously opening the startup to opportunity-tuned side hiring.
Mix the professional expertise and industry understanding of the experienced hires with the entrepreneurial energy and innovative ideas of the founders. Before explaining each step in detail using examples, it is important to understand what the benefits of gene pool engineering are in a more tangible sense. How does the kind of diversity we hire for play out in the innovation process? Let us model the innovation process in a startup with four simple steps: problem identification, solution brainstorming, solution prototyping, and solution testing. The value added – beyond hiring talent tuned to risks and opportunities – we look for from our engineered diversity comes from the diversity of the team (backgrounds), experience (problem-solving portfolios), and dynamics (personalities/mindsets). Diversity in terms of the backgrounds ensures that knowledge from different fields can come together in the process of solving similar technical problems. Here, it is important to find scientists and engineers not from the same field, but from different fields that utilize similar chemistry or physics or other knowledge bases. This background is not enough, though. Each addition to the team brings also a problem-solving portfolio not necessarily from the field they were trained in. The wider this range of solutions produced, the wider the range of problems encountered. The collective range of problems and solutions engaged by the entire team opens the door to finding potentially new problems and solutions the team has seen in different contexts outside of their current field. Communicating and wrestling with these issues requires myriad yet complementary personalities that can work together in such an environment. Beyond working together, varied ways of thinking trigger broader dialogue that usually inspires never-before-seen possibilities. This– “soup” is the best way to describe it – is the lifeblood of any successful startup.
It is important to clarify the difference between risks and components of any given technology venture. Building a computer system requires software and hardware, for example. Within hardware, there might be design, manufacturing, and materials components, but not necessarily risks. Proper risk identification is the key to this process, given the founding team, current technology, and best practices, certain things like design and manufacturing might not be risky at all. It could be, however, that the materials component (say heat management) that has never been applied before in this space might be extremely risky. Therefore, recruitment tuned to risk minimization leads to hiring specifically to counter risks in heat management versus “hiring to handle manufacturing” which is more traditional. It is important to understand how the hiring process should complement the role of the innovator. The innovator tends to be the naive risk-taker, who develops and pursues his idea for disruption. Some of the first hires should, therefore, bring in a comprehensive understanding of the to-be-disrupted industry, its requirements, and history of past failed disruption. This way, the innovator’s idea can be leveraged fully against the industry biases to maximize its disruption potential. In outlining the process below, we consider a venture that is risky in multiple components, so that the example is as comprehensive as possible.
The innovator tends to be the naive risk-taker, who develops and pursues his idea for disruption.