Aesthetic-Analogy and Hiring

Pedro Ribeiro Simões - "Nature morte (Fernand Léger, 1938)"

What is a great violin?

A great violin has a great build, great sound, great heritage and a great history, but is a great violin what makes a great violinist so remarkable? Why does Joshua Bell own the Gibson Stradivarius? Is it because he needs it to play his signature great performances?

No. Bell owns it because he was skilled and successful enough to be able to pay $4 million to Norbert Brainin for the instrument. Joshua Bell could play a mind-blowing performance on a cheap Chinese factory-made violin. It would be better than what almost anyone could expect to play on the best violin that exists.

What am I getting at here?

Your company is the violinist and your new-hire is the violin.

You may perceive your company as a virtuoso in its field, but you are not yet wealthy enough to go out and buy a bunch of Stradivarius graduates as juniors. You need to be able to work effectively with someone who may not have…

  • “Great Build” - An attitude befitting the kind of work they will perform
  • “Great Sound” - The fully developed skill-set you want
  • “Great Heritage” - A prestigious education
  • “Great History” - An impressive C.V.

There is something they must have though, or they are a non-starter.

Great Aesthetics.

Here is where my violin metaphor becomes too stretched. Let’s get down to brass tacks.

Aesthetics Matter

If you have aesthetics in a domain then you have a heuristic that will save you when you are down-and-out. You have a means to harshly criticize yourself, and others. You will develop a language to communicate your ideas with passion and conviction. You can paint in broad strokes your intentions for an undertaking and fill in the blanks later. You can see a path through adversity. You can imagine how to change a broken construction into a functional and beautiful one. There is no limit to what a powerful aesthetic will improve.

If you don’t believe this then watch someone with stunted aesthetics in any of the situations described above. You will become a believer.

If a candidate has a strong aesthetic in our problem domains then I would take them over someone with any of the “Great” points I listed earlier. However, that dilemma will likely never eventuate because if someone arrives with Build, Sound, Heritage and History, then they will most likely have a good aesthetic too. Still, test this.

Translated Aesthetics

It’s too much to ask that a new-hire, especially a junior will walk in the door with a fully-developed and finely tuned aesthetic directly related to the problem domains that they will be working on. Obviously if they have it, then that’s just wonderful, but it is unlikely. It is even more unlikely if you are breaking new ground in your work and discovering and creating new problem domains.

Well then, what can you do about it?

Here is where I start speculating because I’m at the beginning of my journey with this experiment, but I believe that the key is to find an aesthetic seed. I’m guessing that if someone has a very-strong aesthetic in ANY area; Music, Art, Sport, Literature or what-ever, then this can be translated far more easily to another domain than trying to build an aesthetic from scratch.

A First Aesthetic is Hard-Won

Building a first aesthetic is something like a 10-year task. It is just not possible to do quickly. The primary reason for this is that the main way that an aesthetic is developed is through negative-reinforcement. A dissonance with the core of the existing aesthetic that is already possessed. If there is no core, then through primitive means - such as reward or punishment.

I won’t stray too long on this point, as my conclusion is that it is just too hard to develop a ground-up aesthetic in a new-hire. It will take too long, be too painful, and drain too many other people’s time. It is a bridge too far. If you find that your candidate does not have a very strong aesthetic in ANY other area, then they better be able to do some job you have in mind immediately, or it is a no-hire situation.


Translating an aesthetic from on domain to another is a large effort, but Archimedes said:

Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

If you wish to be able to perform this aesthetic translation, then you need a lever and a fulcrum. The fulcrum is analogy, and the moving the lever is examples, extension of those examples, and vetting the student’s own examples.

Instead of focusing on style, results, or something like that when you are training, put a huge focus on the junior developing a strong aesthetic in the field. This could done by waxing lyrical about the aesthetic at regular intervals, in between layers of solid examples, tying them back to the junior’s own areas of strong aesthetic-sensibility. Also, while getting them up to speed on the more concrete details of the trade via small projects, etc. You can help develop their partitioning filter about what has good or bad aesthetics at first, but later, dropping the notion of good or bad and trying to simply understand what an existing project’s aesthetics are of themselves.

Lighting a Fire Inside

The outcome of a developed aesthetic in a field is that the owner of that aesthetic will no longer be directly dependent on others to train them to mastery in that field. By using the aesthetic as a heuristic, they should now be able to train themselves. They will know when they need to seek out help and when they are on the right path. They will know when a piece of work that they have done is a acceptable pragmatic compromise that needs to be revisited later for improvement. They will know when they have crafted something beautiful.

A translated aesthetic from a pre-existing passion of theirs to your field will light a fire within them that will sustain itself. Its fuel will be the work in front of them and with each day they will grow, even without prompting.

This is the goal.


I’ve been thinking a lot about hiring lately. I want to enable our company to grow. This seems like a no-brainer, but there are three reasons why growth is a very dangerous thing…

  • Poisoning Culture
  • Dilution of Talent
  • Limited Time for Training

The ideas I’ve been exploring here are intended to target the latter two points. I want to develop a new way to hire and train. One that lets us become effective very quickly with new hires. One that lets us impart a kernel of understanding in the new-hire that will allow them to train themselves in the logistic-details, and one that will allow us to filter for the candidates where this idea is possible.