How to Hire like a Psychopath

Whatever can be said for the genius of Adam Smith, he was only a man, and because he was a man, he was wrong about some things.  The first of them was that labor alone creates value (it doesn't).  The second was that businessmen act like Homo economicus (they don't).

It may be safely said that nobody ever has ever acted like Homo economicus.  It may be strongly hoped that no one ever will.  Homo economicus at the bottom of the matter isn't really a man, but a machine, and like all machines, it has a singularity of purpose.  A man does business for glory or vanity or dominion or liberty or riches or security or to support a family or to avoid his family or to get a lot of lovers or a collection of cars.  He can do it for some, and he can do it for all.  A machine has no humanity and therefore does business for the sake of doing business.  Homo economicus has only one purpose, and that is the bottom line – the personification of avarice.  Beneath Adam Smith's idea of a businessman, he had all business and no man.  He saw an interest in profit and forgot to include the possibility of other interests.

Writers for both The Atlantic and The New York Times believe on some level that Homo economicus is a good thing, and that's why they want machines to do our hiring.  They believe that business exists for the sake of business, and anyone who can do a job better will do a better job for a company.  In fact, this is not true.   The best man for a job is not the best man for the job, but the man who can help turn a profit while making his boss and his coworkers happy.  The boss is always the customer.  He has in a sense to be romanced like a woman.  You fail at this, and you've failed at your business, which at the end of the day is selling yourself.

The writers for these magazines believe that your business is not yourself, which is why they believe that you should not attempt to be sold, and so they plug a bunch of your personable variables into a machine and believe that the machine should decide where to put you.  They don't consider whether you make your boss feel safe or comfortable, or whether you can make him laugh, or whether you remind him of his brother or he just likes your manners or the way you view life.  This proletarian hiring machine would send you to him because of some inscrutable formula that evaluates all the things it thinks a boss wants, without letting him judge what he feels he wants.  The people who would benefit from this most are the people who would benefit from the state choosing our "optimal" lovers.  It would be people with tolerable I.Q.s and no criminal records and "compatible" personality profiles whom we would never make love to.  But I say show us the pictures.  Let us hear the sound of a voice and watch the way they move and see whether they're well bred.  Let us hear their stories, nonsense or not, and even look at a standard résumé.  But let us see the woman before we even think about marrying her.

Montaigne once told a story about a man getting a divorce.  This man had been married to a beautiful woman whom everyone wanted, who was chaste and responsible and industrious and well bred, and one day, when a friend asked him why in the world he would get rid of this woman, the man, tired of hearing everyone ask him the same question, stopped in his tracks and pulled off his shoe.  "You see this?" he said.  "This shoe is expensive.  Look at the stitching.  It's made by one of the finest cobblers out of the finest of leathers.  You look at this shoe, and you wonder how anyone couldn't want it, but only I can tell you where it pinches me."

This is the world of business, not a profile in a machine.  A business is an organism that thrives on relations.  It means people choosing people who get along with certain kinds of people, whose faces you are glad to see when you walk in the door, whom you can trust with your life's work, whose goals you respect, who speak to you on a level you can't quite categorize or express, and (perhaps most importantly in a litigious society) who you believe are unlikely to sue.  Some bosses – the best bosses – know people, and because they know people, they can build a good company.  Others don't, and because they are bad at judging people, they end up failing their businesses.  Some genius realized this one day and decided that the solution was making our hiring impersonal.  He believes we ought to get rid of bias, the one thing you can never and should never get rid of.  We say fire him.

The bottom line is important, but except maybe in rare cases of mental disorders, there is no 100% businessman who cares only about it.  Those men who throw nearly everything aside for the bottom line are most usually shallow, untrustworthy, boring, traitorous to their friends and their countrymen, and either ignorant of or hostile to the better parts of our nature.  The Telegraph rightly calls these men psychopaths and then says they can be good for our businesses.  But unlike the enlightened folks at The Telegraph, we don't want a psychopath for a boss or a lover or a neighbor, and we don't want a machine to hire our coworkers like a psychopath.  We want a whole man.  A whole man makes decisions that the robots and the editors of The New York Times and The Atlantic disagree with precisely because of his humanity.

Let life bleed into our businesses.  Let our bosses pick people instead of statistics.  Give us bias or give us death.

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah.  He welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.

Whatever can be said for the genius of Adam Smith, he was only a man, and because he was a man, he was wrong about some things.  The first of them was that labor alone creates value (it doesn't).  The second was that businessmen act like Homo economicus (they don't).

It may be safely said that nobody ever has ever acted like Homo economicus.  It may be strongly hoped that no one ever will.  Homo economicus at the bottom of the matter isn't really a man, but a machine, and like all machines, it has a singularity of purpose.  A man does business for glory or vanity or dominion or liberty or riches or security or to support a family or to avoid his family or to get a lot of lovers or a collection of cars.  He can do it for some, and he can do it for all.  A machine has no humanity and therefore does business for the sake of doing business.  Homo economicus has only one purpose, and that is the bottom line – the personification of avarice.  Beneath Adam Smith's idea of a businessman, he had all business and no man.  He saw an interest in profit and forgot to include the possibility of other interests.

Writers for both The Atlantic and The New York Times believe on some level that Homo economicus is a good thing, and that's why they want machines to do our hiring.  They believe that business exists for the sake of business, and anyone who can do a job better will do a better job for a company.  In fact, this is not true.   The best man for a job is not the best man for the job, but the man who can help turn a profit while making his boss and his coworkers happy.  The boss is always the customer.  He has in a sense to be romanced like a woman.  You fail at this, and you've failed at your business, which at the end of the day is selling yourself.

The writers for these magazines believe that your business is not yourself, which is why they believe that you should not attempt to be sold, and so they plug a bunch of your personable variables into a machine and believe that the machine should decide where to put you.  They don't consider whether you make your boss feel safe or comfortable, or whether you can make him laugh, or whether you remind him of his brother or he just likes your manners or the way you view life.  This proletarian hiring machine would send you to him because of some inscrutable formula that evaluates all the things it thinks a boss wants, without letting him judge what he feels he wants.  The people who would benefit from this most are the people who would benefit from the state choosing our "optimal" lovers.  It would be people with tolerable I.Q.s and no criminal records and "compatible" personality profiles whom we would never make love to.  But I say show us the pictures.  Let us hear the sound of a voice and watch the way they move and see whether they're well bred.  Let us hear their stories, nonsense or not, and even look at a standard résumé.  But let us see the woman before we even think about marrying her.

Montaigne once told a story about a man getting a divorce.  This man had been married to a beautiful woman whom everyone wanted, who was chaste and responsible and industrious and well bred, and one day, when a friend asked him why in the world he would get rid of this woman, the man, tired of hearing everyone ask him the same question, stopped in his tracks and pulled off his shoe.  "You see this?" he said.  "This shoe is expensive.  Look at the stitching.  It's made by one of the finest cobblers out of the finest of leathers.  You look at this shoe, and you wonder how anyone couldn't want it, but only I can tell you where it pinches me."

This is the world of business, not a profile in a machine.  A business is an organism that thrives on relations.  It means people choosing people who get along with certain kinds of people, whose faces you are glad to see when you walk in the door, whom you can trust with your life's work, whose goals you respect, who speak to you on a level you can't quite categorize or express, and (perhaps most importantly in a litigious society) who you believe are unlikely to sue.  Some bosses – the best bosses – know people, and because they know people, they can build a good company.  Others don't, and because they are bad at judging people, they end up failing their businesses.  Some genius realized this one day and decided that the solution was making our hiring impersonal.  He believes we ought to get rid of bias, the one thing you can never and should never get rid of.  We say fire him.

The bottom line is important, but except maybe in rare cases of mental disorders, there is no 100% businessman who cares only about it.  Those men who throw nearly everything aside for the bottom line are most usually shallow, untrustworthy, boring, traitorous to their friends and their countrymen, and either ignorant of or hostile to the better parts of our nature.  The Telegraph rightly calls these men psychopaths and then says they can be good for our businesses.  But unlike the enlightened folks at The Telegraph, we don't want a psychopath for a boss or a lover or a neighbor, and we don't want a machine to hire our coworkers like a psychopath.  We want a whole man.  A whole man makes decisions that the robots and the editors of The New York Times and The Atlantic disagree with precisely because of his humanity.

Let life bleed into our businesses.  Let our bosses pick people instead of statistics.  Give us bias or give us death.

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah.  He welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.