Recruiting for Innovators? Hire Angry People!

We are looking for professionals who are unhappy/angry with the status quo, and who are willing to confront barriers and “find a way” to help us lead our industry. If you’ve got passion for your profession, well-thought-out ideas about a better way, and are angry with antiquated approaches that no longer work, submit your anger statement to our career website at –Fictitious website

This might sound like an outrageous idea on the surface, but I’m recommending that as part of your recruiting strategy you target hiring “angry people.”

I’m not talking about grumpy people who kick puppy dogs or scream at slow changing traffic lights, but rather people with “professional anger.” Recruiting professionals who are angry with “the way things are currently done” and who have a track record of overcoming resistance and making quantum improvements can help your organization break free from the status quo and innovate.

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:

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  • 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!

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website and on He lives in Pacifica, California.



21 Comments on “Recruiting for Innovators? Hire Angry People!

  1. One of the best pieces on recruitment I’ve read. Anger often equates to passion, and when it can be channeled into a passion for developing and finding solutions — it’s a very desirable quality.

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more!

    It’s the old 80/20 rule where 20% of your employees are directly responsible for 80% of your revenue.

    A good place to start in implementing such a winning strategy is in targeting internal recruiting talent that possesses those characteristics.

  3. I liked this too DrJ. One criticism: No women in your examples.

    Women can be angry too, trust me. I’d yank out Tom Peters from your list as he’s getting rather tired and repetitive. Meg Whitman, CEO of E-Bay would be a great replacement.

    She’s also running for governor of California. And if an organization ever needed anger, the California state government would be it.

  4. Thanks Dr Sullivan… The tide is turning in this forum and this post reminds me of speach delivered by Nelson Mandela and written by Marianne Williamson….

    Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?

    You are a child of [the Divine].
    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

    We were born to make manifest the glory of [the Divine] within us.
    It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
    And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)
    Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.
    We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
    Actually, who are you not to be?

    You are a child of [the Divine].
    Your playing small does not serve the world.
    There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

    We were born to make manifest the glory of [the Divine] within us.
    It is not just in some; it is in everyone.
    And, as we let our own light shine, we consciously give other people permission to do the same.
    As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (~ Marianne Williamson)

    Thanks again.. Brian

  5. Often, I am not in complete agreement with your writing, though this is an exception. You are speaking to me, Doc! Business needs innovators and rebels who do not stop the first time they are told, “No, we can’t really do that here”.

    The difficulty is less in identifying them, or even getting consensus that their type is needed. The difficullty is getting them through the myriad tunnels and obstacles of most hiring processes that flat-out discourage such candidates from the process. It is almost an oxymoron to recruit an innovative, passionate, hard-charging, rebellious thinker, then put them through a two or three month vetting process involving interviews with everyone from the C-level overseer to the mail room clerk.
    The passion of the candidate will wither before all the faux “decision makers” can come to agreement.

    Great article! Great ideas! Now we need a plan of execution…..

    Oh, btw, great comments from all, especially Gregg. Excellent insight.

    Jim Cargill

  6. Interesting way to turn the view of “negative candidates” on its head! I wonder how many recruiters or managers have passed on individuals and labeled them “complainers” instead of probing more into what the candidate’s response is to their unhappiness; those who offer suggestions are innovators and passionate, those who have nothing to offer beyond complaints are “victims”. I also see yet another aspect of the interview process useful to the candidate to see if the organization or manager is a good fit.

  7. Your not talking about Government workers or managers!! These types of people are despised by government management. In fact this type of attitude gets you fired if your a new hire by government. You are talking about “real change” something that government talks about but doesn’t do.

  8. Dr. Sullivan,

    Right on! While I’m not sure I am angry, I am at least frustrated or irritated by the way so many hiring processes are set up.

    Once on an interview at Google, I said something like “there’s always at least one jerk on the team, and you have to be able to handle that”. I was rejected as a candidate, and that was given as the reason. Unfortunately, it is true and especially as a project manager, one needs to be able to handle such people, but google just didn’t want to hear that. Apparently it was politicly incorrect.

    I have seen so many similar instances of screening for the wrong things, especially in Silicon Valley, that it makes me almost angry. Your’e analysis is correct. What companies need to start doing, is to look for and hire people who will not just say the “correct” things, but who have the experience and drive to find out what is wrong, and have the drive to change it.

    Thanks for the great article. I hope it starts to change some hiring people’s approach.


  9. I don’t consider myself an angry person, but I completely relate to the descriptions listed here. One (status quo loving, innovation-averse and passion-killing) boss actually told me that my performance standards and expectations were too high and that I shouldn’t get so passionate about such things!

    For reasons I will never understand a mediocre, bureaucratic and pathetically out of touch existence was far more comfortable and satisfying to them. Silly me, trying to implement, initiate and inject progressive thoughts and process improvements into a stale, inefficient workplace. Clearly a mismatched employment environment!

    Being self-motivated, frank, relentless, driven and (unfortunately) undervalued are familiar themes – now how does one find a suitable opportunity to put those traits to use where they will be valued and encouraged rather than squashed?

  10. Mr. Huether,
    You hit the nail on the head! Being “Politically Correct” is the mantra of government and CA leads the way in that type of thinking. I hold out little hope that this way of thinking will change goverment approach on hiring. Being stuck on stupid is alive and well!

  11. Mr. Blokdijk,
    There are more passion killing bosses out there than you can shake a stick at. Be afraid-very afraid of govenment employment as your thinking processes are definitely out of touch with their mind set.

  12. Thank you, Dr. Sullivan.

    As our friends at wisely say:

    It’s best to avoid standing directly between a competitive jerk and his goals.

    However, they sound exactly like the kind of people you want/need in your sales team.

    Also, IMHO: the organization that would encourage people like this sounds very “Mad Men-Era” to me, not particularly inclusive, and probably highly political over a veneer of hard-charging “intrapreneurship”.

    If you want to work for/with these folks (many of whom seem like driven, Type-As who are unpleasant to be around-my apologies to those on the list who aren’t this way), be my guest.


    Keith “Not Quite the Sterling Cooper Type” Halperin

  13. To Dr. Sullivan and Then Mr. Huether

    Thanks Dr. Sullivan for your timely piece. I was encouraged that it is more than passion that you are looking for, however, thanks also for clarifying what you mean by anger. Maybe a clearer word, or to clarify it for me is dissatisfied or dissatisfaction.

    Mr Huether: I appreciated your post about dealing with being rejected for saying something very specific. What little I know about Google though, I wonder if they feel they never hire jerks. With all due respect toward feedback as a recruiter, maybe the approach in an interview may be better to say the same thing seasoned with salt. For instance, it is well known that many managers have situations where 20% of the workers of some companies give you 80% of the problems and hence a lot of time involved in solving those problems.

    Companies like Google may be looking for ways to increase the hiring of top people and they want to hear ways to do that along with your day to day management of people. I would be interested in hearing what the question was that prompted your response. Thanks for your candid view though.

    Joe Slevin

  14. Dr Sullivan,

    I whole-heartily agree with your perspective and recommendations for hiring; but with some caution.

    I also agree with Maureen’s comment: “It sounds like you’re talking about entrepreneurs”.

    I have always been the “angry” employee (dissatisfied with the status quo, management’s policies/methods, inflexibility, etc) wherever I worked, starting with my first job at IBM right out of college. The “black sheep” so to speak. My recommendations for improvements or personal success (in spite of) were usually seen as a threat in some form or fashion both by peers and management. And I was fired twice for just that. Not something I am proud of…it was born out of principle.

    Yes, I am an “A” type, perfectionist, driven, independent-minded, intelligent and strong. Yet it took me thirty years and “covert” age discrimination in securing a job personally which prompted me to take the ultimate risk and go into business for myself. (And even after my Dad told me 16 years prior I should have my own business). I wish I had followed his advice then!

    My point being usually those you describe as “angry” may still be unhappy working for someone else. The qualities you describe could also be those who truly won’t be happy or satisfied until they are at the helm of their own company.

    Just a word of caution to those looking to hire “angry” people…


    Judy Kerns
    Executive Sourcing Group
    San Francisco

    P.S. To James–My guess is GOOGLE prescribes to the same hiring practices as IBM; hiring bright, conservative thinkers and doers who can be “managed” or “molded” by others.

  15. YES YES YES finally someone said it. I 100% agree! being angry & frustrated at the system is a GOLDEN quality. I can say myself that it is 100% true. great people are not complacent, but hiring managers are deftly afraid of any sign of a spine in an employee!

    thank you for posting this!

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