How do you do something new in an organisation?
How do you build something of value?
These are some of the topics that the founder of PayPal, and first outside investor in Facebook, Peter Thiel, addresses in his book ‘Zero to One – Notes on Startups, or, How to Build the Future’.
It’s also the inspiration for our essay this week, as we see what we can learn about how to do things differently in our club or charity, to help us achieve different – better – results.
THE CHALLENGE OF THE FUTURE
Thiel starts his book with a chapter entitled ‘The Challenge of the Future’. This is what he says on page 1:
Whenever I interview someone for a job, I like to ask this question: 'What important truth do very few people agree with you on?'.
This question sounds easy because it's straightforward. Actually, it's very hard to answer. It's intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agreed upon. And it's psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular. Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius...
A good answer takes the following form: 'Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x'.
...From the Founding Fathers in politics to the Royal Society in Science to Fairchild Semiconductor's 'traitorous eight' in business, small groups of people bound together by a sense of mission have changed the world for the better'.
Why do you do what you do in your own organization?
Aren’t you trying to change the world for the better?
(If your answer to that is ‘no’, you might want to put the kettle on, make a cup of your favourite tea or coffee, and contemplate about a better use of your time going forward. That’s a conversation for another day I hope).
TAKE NOBODY’S WORD FOR IT
What’s the Royal Society that Thiel refers to?
Well, it’s full title is: The President, Council, and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge.
‘Nullius in Verba’ – Take Nobody’s Word For It'.
The society's motto, Nullius in verba, is Latin for "Take nobody's word for it". It was adopted to signify the fellows' determination to establish facts via experiments and comes from Horace's Epistles, where he compares himself to a gladiator who, having retired, is free from control
AN IMPORTANT TRUTH
Many people believe that a successful vetting check of a volunteer is a metaphorical ‘thumbs up’ that they’re a good person to volunteer in their organisation, but the truth is the opposite of this.
The consensus view is that once someone has passed successfully through the Garda vetting process, that they’re ‘good to go’ and start volunteering.
But we take the contrarian view.
LOWERING THE DRAWBRIDGE
Counterintuitive though it may sound, over-reliance on vetting can cause an organisation to ‘lower its defences’ and unwittingly relax its approach as to how it recruits persons wishing to become volunteers in your organisation.
We explored this area in detail in an earlier essay: The Biggest Problem with Criminal Background Checks and How You Can Fix It.
SURE IT’S GRAND, HE’S BEEN GARDA VETTED
So, what’s the ‘received wisdom’ where you’re sitting?
As I travel around the country, I meet many clubs and charities who place significant emphasis on the outcome of a vetting check.
In and of itself, this is not a major issue.
However, where it can become an issue, and does become an issue, is when the vetting check (the check of the statutory criminal record check register) is done to the exclusion of carrying out any other safe recruitment practices.
A TYPICAL CONVERSATION
A conversation might go like this:
Q: Can you describe how you recruit new volunteers into your organisation?
A: Well, we pretty much always get someone Garda vetted.
Q: Do you do anything else?
A: Well, we would send them on a training course usually.
Q: Do you get them to complete an application form for your organisation?
A: Not usually.
Q: Would you ever get character references for people to vouch for the persons applying to your organisation?
A: Only very occasionally, to be honest, if at all.
Now I should hasten to add that this is not the way that all the conversations we have go.
But, nor is it as rare as it should be.
QUESTIONING RECEIVED WISDOM
Peter Thiel is part of a group that, over time, became colloquially known as the PayPal Mafia. Originally brought together during their work in establishing the company known as PayPal, after PayPal was acquired by eBay, these original PayPal founders went on to establish some of the most successful and ground-breaking companies of the last 15 years.
THE PAYPAL MAFIA
Now you don’t have to be a fan of capitalism or indeed of Silicon Valley to be able to try and objectively assess the innovations that these companies have produced.
Members of the PayPal Mafia on Fortune magazine dressed in mafia-like attire. From left to right, top to bottom: Jawed Karim, Jeremy Stoppelman, Andrew McCormack, Premal Shah, Luke Nosek, Ken Howery, David Sacks, Peter Thiel, Keith Rabois, Reid Hoffman, Max Levchin, Roelof Botha, Russel Simmons
David O. Sacks, founder of Yammer, Steve Chen – co-founder of YouTube, Chad Hurley – co-founder of YouTube, Dave McClure – founder of 500 StartUps, Reid Hoffman – founder of LinkedIn – these are all people who came from a culture of refusing to accept received wisdom.
Because what they all have demonstrated, in different ways, is how important it is to ‘take nobody’s word for it’.
VETTING IS NOT A PANACEA
And so the question I ask here, like the motto of the Royal Society, is this: in your own organisation, what are you taking someone’s word for?
Is your organisation placing an over-reliance on Garda vetting as being your ‘green light’ to allow someone to volunteer in your organisation?
Garda vetting is not the panacea it’s portrayed as.
Is it an important step in your volunteer recruitment process?
Are you negligent in your approach if you fail to carry it out, when you should be carrying it out?
But should you be relying exclusively on it as the green light as to someone’s suitability and eligibility to volunteer in your organisation?
But does your organisation rely upon it as the green light?
Answer:.. that’s for you to work out.
Hopefully it doesn’t.
But if it does, this is my challenge to you: whose word are you taking that the way you’re currently doing things is the way that you should be doing things?
Is there a contrary view that you need to consider?
I’ll finish not with my own words, but Peter Thiel’s.
In your own organisation, what important truth do very few people agree with you on?
This essay is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice.
Specific legal advice from a firm of solicitors should always be sought on the application of the law in any particular situation.
Whilst reasonable endeavours have been made to ensure the accuracy of the content, no liability whatsoever is accepted for any omissions or errors or for any action taken in reliance of the information in this essay.