hipster_manbunEvery day we read about wildly valued startups imploding. They call the success stories, “unicorns” as if there’s something magical or even lucky about launching a successful product. If you look at the average demographic makeup of a tech startup, you will see people that reflect the qualifications criteria on their job listings. Young (mid-20’s through mid-30’s), mostly male and white. Skinny jeans, designer eyeglasses and a man-bun are a plus.

I get it; people want their peers to be “like” them, a culture that reflects their own comfort zones. Craft beers. Foozball. Flip-flops and free-roaming ferrets. Not a grown-up in sight. Burning through hundreds of thousands of dollars a month. Job boards are full of listings for senior-level people, yet define “senior” as “3-5 years experience”. Do a job board search for a “Sr. Vice President” in any tech space and you’ll see plenty of examples.

Copying code or working with an SDK isn’t “emerging technology”. Its “existing technology”.

Here’s a reality check. If you hire a Sr. VP of Mobile with only five years’ experience, that means the first time this person’s used a smartphone in a professional setting was the year the iPhone 4 was released. The only experience this person has with developing mobile applications has been with mature operating systems, SDKs, robust developer communities and tons of code examples ready to download from gitHub. That’s a heck of a safety net. Have they ever been first to do something? Have they ever operated without the comfort that comes from prior examples? Let me be clear: copying code or working with an SDK isn’t “emerging technology”. Its “existing technology”. Five to seven years’ experience isn’t nearly enough to qualify someone to lead an innovation team. (An iteration team, perhaps.)

If you hired a millennial, this person grew up in the generation of participation trophies, time-outs, everyone’s special, I’m the greatest, everyone’s opinion is equally valid and no corporal punishment in schools. They know neither failure, consequence nor leadership without a committee. They likely have huge student loan debt and never worked a job to pay for college.

This article in Forbes describes how millennials are woefully unskilled – especially in tech problem-solving.

You have to grow up with failure. Experience a LOT of it. Be allowed to lose. Know how to extract value from losing. Take time to solve problems with trial and error. Failure is not a bad thing; those who have experienced it can save the company. They have collected more hard-knocks lessons than “attaboys” in their life.

When hiring someone to lead your mobile products strategy, consider someone who built mobile products before there were app stores and freely-available, copy and paste app templates that let anyone publish an app. Innovation comes from experience. Experience without failure is just inevitable failure.