Unconventional Leadership Lessons from Jeremy Lin

| 17 Feb 2012 | 12:31 PM ET


How can several multi-million dollar basketball teams overlook Jeremy Lin, a dormant star player who was on their own teams?

Well, he didn’t have any experience as a star. He didn’t graduate from a university with a history of producing basketball stars.

Additionally, the fact that there aren’t many Asian stars in American professional basketball probably played a role too.

In other words, according to “conventional basketball wisdom”, Jeremy Lin shouldn’t be a basketball star!

Unfortunately, conventional wisdom and thinking routinely prevent managers from finding, hiring and/or utilizing star players at companies around the world. Experience and education are overused as selection criteria, which hurts innovation and competitiveness.

Experience is a poor indicator of what has been learned in the past and what can be done in the future. Driving is a good example of how experience often fails to produce learning and expertise. Many people who have been driving for years, and therefore have ample experience, are still poor drivers.

The weak relationship between experience and expertise is evident in many organizations as well. Anything that one does admirably today, one did not know how to do in the past, so experience was not a valid predictor of future success. Therefore, for the same reason, it is unreasonable to use experience indiscriminately as a selection criterion.

Organizations depend on new ideas and innovation for survival. Since innovation is by nature something new, prior experience in often irrelevant. Some of the most creative and successful entrepreneurs had no experience at all in their fields when they started their firms.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream was started by two friends who knew nothing about the ice cream business. Ted Turner didn’t have a journalism education or any experience in the news business when he launched CNN . Richard Branson has created numerous unrelated ventures, which have made him one of the richest men in the world, despite the fact that he didn’t possess any experience in most of his businesses.

Unconventional leaders are similar to entrepreneurs in that they are willing to try new ideas and take risks in their quest to beat the competition. Unconventional leaders think outside the box, so they find stars with unexpected backgrounds, something their competition would never consider.

What are good selection criteria for finding unconventional thinkers who can work in a dynamic environment?Seeking people who are open to new ideas, have a vision similar to the company’s, and are comfortable with ambiguity is likely to yield better results than focusing on how much work experience applicants have or whether they have a university education.

The ability to learn quickly and adapt are both particularly important as well. Each organization should devise its own selection criteria and process that is matched to its culture and strategy. Keep in mind that the process created is not static, it should be adjusted over time.

When using an innovative selection process, it might take much more time to find and select personnel. That is the price to pay for doing things differently. For example, Google interviews are a day long affair, or more. Google is also one of the most unconventional companies in the world.

Don’t make the mistake of the New York Knicks, who discovered Jeremy Lin by chance. Break with conventional wisdom and do something different when looking for talent. A customized and innovative selection process will help you find and select unconventional thinkers who can help your company beat the competition.


Isn’t this the story of Steve Jobs? How many of us have had the experience in a job interview where only the number of degrees have been the measure of our ability? It seems that this topic of unconventional is more common but the truth of the matter is that things not only have not changed, but become more difficult. People are less willing to take a chance or be guided by their intuition.



        by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.


The story behind this chateau is one of hubris. Constructed while Versailles was underway. He invited the king to visit; Louis, the sun king, was not blind to the beauty of the Chateau and promptly imprisoned his host.














Interestingly these photos all relate to offshore sailing…on “Carina”.  I sailed two transatlantics, two admirals cups, 2 fastnet races, 2 channel races, one bermuda race and many other races on the 48 foot McCurdy and Rhodes design.

I still contend we had more fun in that era. There were so many characters with so many stories.


Whale towing yacht out to sea by the anchor line  .. .

The quirkiest story of the week happened just off Fraser Island in Queensland: A whale picked up an anchor line and towed a yacht and its two crew 1.5nm out to sea. The whale, no doubt, was just as alarmed as the crew – with the rope in his mouth, dragging an anchor on one side and a yacht on the other. They finally cut the line and lost both whale and anchor. Can you imagine filling out the insurance claim form for the loss of that anchor? Or the reaction of the insurance assessor?


I had intended to post about the america’s cup, but this event in Cowes is worth seeing. Honestly, it is surprising that more collisions don’t occur during cowes week. I have been amazed how well ships and boats seem to co-mingle on the solent. Obviously this is one time where things did not go so smoothly. No blame should be put on the ship.