Recruiting for Innovators? Hire Angry People!

It’s About More than Passion

Many firms already target passionate people who love their work, but passion by itself doesn’t always breed discontent for things that are no longer working as they should. Individuals who are professionally angry are often not only passionate, but also possess a relentless drive to innovate around practices and approaches that no longer accomplish what the organization needs done. They differ from rebels who often resist authority, and have a track record of successfully overcoming resistance to change and barriers to execution. If they can be faulted for anything, it’s that they are often unhappy even when they succeed because they are relentless about doing things better. While sometimes difficult to deal with, organizations should stop trying to change or fix such individuals and instead consider them as corporate assets and celebrate how they drive innovation.

Examples of Angry Leaders

There are many notable angry people in the business world, including:

  • Steve Jobs, who gets angry over mediocre products.
  • Jack Welch, who built a great company in part based on his anger towards bureaucracy and boundary builders.
  • James Dyson, who was so angry at his own vacuum cleaners design that he endured through more than 5,000 design revisions before he was satisfied with it.
  • Tiger Woods, who gets frustrated with himself whenever he lets the competition get to close.
  • Tony Hsieh, the CEO of, who gets angry at mediocre customer service.
  • Tom Peters, an angry strategy consultant frustrated with the slow rate of change in management. Incidentally, Tom is by far the strongest and most vocal advocate for hiring and retaining angry people. He recommends that you seek out leaders who are “Angry people! [angry with the status quo].”

The Benefits of Hiring Angry People

There are many reasons why you should hire, retain, and listen to angry people. While generalizations are just that, for the most part professionally angry people are:

  • Self-motivated — they don’t need a lot of pep talks in order to get excited. They are perpetually excited about winning, and then winning again.
  • Frank talkers — there’s little hesitation when they see something wrong and they won’t pull punches or lie to you. If you want direct “Simon Cowell” type feedback, they deliver.
  • Relentless about searching for answers — even if they don’t devise innovations needed on their own, their drive leads them to seek out solutions from others wherever they may reside.
  • Driven to best the competition — they are not satisfied with merely meeting goals or being the best within the firm; they focus on developing solutions that are superior to every other firm in the industry.
  • Able to overcome barriers — while many may be tolerant of delays and roadblocks, these individuals expect to push through these barriers. Their approach can be characterized as “we must get this done, we must find a way.”
  • Able to learn from mistakes — angry people are most always risk-takers, so they invariably make mistakes. Fortunately, they don’t let their mistakes slow them down, and they learn rapidly from each error.
  • Undervalued — angry professionals may be periodically unemployed as a result of their frustration with managers or vice versa. However, most are employed but relatively easy to recruit away because so many managers either under-appreciate their value or tire of having to tell them to be patient. Tony Fadell, the science engineer behind the iPod, is an excellent example. Unable to garner funding to build a hard-disc based music player on his own, Tony joined Real Networks only to leave for Apple weeks later.

Angry People Are Easy to Find

In most cases, individuals with professional anger are easy to find. Of course these individuals don’t list anger on their resume, but you can find them through a variety of traditional and nontraditional recruiting channels, including:

  • Employee referrals — your employees probably already know individuals with professional anger and will identify them for you if encouraged to do. Make courting such individuals a high priority in your referral program and clearly describe what characteristics you’re looking for (i.e. a vocal proponent, a track record of pushing through barriers, someone who is not totally satisfied after achieving success, someone who’s never complacent, and an outside-the-box thinker with extremely high expectations, etc.)
  • Ask your own angry people — go directly to your own angry employees and ask them where you would find other people like them. Ask them what they read and watch, where they can be found on the Internet, and what events both social and professional they frequent. Then ask them to be an “angry professional talent scout.”
  • Social networks — encourage your own angry employees to make it quite visible on their social network profiles that they are angry professionals. Encourage them to form network groups that angry professionals can join, and leverage network contacts to attract these individuals.
  • Forums and chat rooms — if you post a problem or situation on a professional forum or chat site highlighting your deep frustration, you can be assured that others with a similar frustration level will comment.
  • Blogs — many angry professionals find the need to vent their anger and a significant number of them do that venting through blog postings. Have your recruiters and employees let you know whenever they read an angry blog covering your industry or functional area.
  • Vendors — ask your vendors and consultants who frequently visit other firms to provide you with names. Also ask temps who are working for you (but who have also worked in other firms) to supply you with names.
  • Corporate alumni — encourage those in your alumni network (former employees) to be on the lookout for the best angry professionals.
  • Videos — YouTube videos containing impassioned comments or even rants will often garner responses from similar-thinking individuals.
  • Speakers and writers — encourage your employees to let you know whenever they encounter a column or a speech from an angry professional in the functional area where you’re recruiting.
  • Assessing them during the interview — it will take some well-scripted probing questions to get references to reveal that an individual is professionally angry. You should also ask candidates during the interview “what professional situations have made them angry?” Another option during the interview is to give them a verbal simulation that covers situations where they might become frustrated and ask them, “what steps they would take to overcome the barriers?”
  • Where you won’t find them — their awareness of the high likelihood of a slow or no response as a result of applying online via your website almost guarantees that they will avoid it. They might have a similar level of suspicion about large job boards and career events.

Potential Issues to Be Aware of

There are obviously risks associated with hiring and managing angry professionals, but if you target the right ones, you’ll find that they have an extremely positive ROI. Obviously, during the candidate assessment process you need to make sure that their anger is restricted to professional issues and that they can reasonably control their anger. You should also make sure that they have the capability of working through barriers and those resistant to change while not causing total chaos. Finally, after they are hired, they need to be placed with a manager and a team that knows how to effectively harness and direct professional anger.

Final Thoughts

I should come clean with the fact that I love working with angry people because in part, I am myself an angry person. I admit it and I’m proud of it. I am angry at people who change at the “speed of rock.” I am angry at people who “whine” and try to instantly sabotage new ideas with phrases like “we tried that and it didn’t work” or “that will never work because … blah blah.”

I’m not against also hiring “Ned Flanders,” librarians, and accountants in addition to complacent “vanilla” people, but there is a need for a small percentage of employees who foster and drive innovation. Yes, they may be pushy and less tolerant, but their high expectations and relentless demand for excellence are an absolute requirement if you want to dominate your industry. If you yourself want to become an angry professional, never be satisfied, believe that you can overcome the impossible, and continually push for faster, cheaper, and better in everything you do!

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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