Problems with “Fit”

I’m troubled by the concept of “fit” and how it works with growing a company and hiring employees.

It’s not a new concept, and I should have figured it out, by now, since I’ve watched Palo Alto Software grow from nowhere to 45 employees.

But I haven’t. And I don’t think it’s just me. I think there are two very different sides to the same idea, one perfectly logical, the other sinister, and threatening.

The good side of fit is what you look for when you invite a new employee to join a small company. You want a good fit with team spirit, cooperation, and working together. Values are extremely important. One of the best ways to build a company is to build it around values — like a mantra, a meaning, how your company makes the world better — and to bring together people who share those values.

Flickr; photo by BenSpark
Flickr; photo by BenSpark

The dark side of fit is a rationalization, a code word for favoring one kind of person. It’s code for discrimination. It gets used as a catch-all phrase to exclude people who are different.

The answer to the puzzle of fit is that a good fit on a team is not sameness or similarity. A strong business grows through diversity, finding people who bring new skills, new ideas, and new points of view. As you move from a one-person company to finding that second person, you want somebody different, not somebody like you. That’s the foundation of the business value of diversity.

It’s scary to me how often diversity ends up as a political football, and “fit” as an excuse. Diversity is not just good policy, it’s also good business.

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