This interview with Wendy Kopp, founder and chief executive of Teach for America, reveals some interesting parallel thinking with ideas 37signals has also discussed.

Kopp on the pointlessness of planning…

I also had this revelation that we were no longer going to go through all this development of strategic plans. We would go through this massive process of creating these endless strategic plans and reviewing them. And I don’t know how many years we did that until I said: “Forget it. We don’t even need to do this anymore. Let’s figure out our priorities and how we are going to measure our success. And then we’re going to let people run after those goals.” And that just freed up all the energy.

Related: Don’t write a functional specifications document and Eliminate unnecessary paperwork [Getting Real] and The only plan is to learn as you go [SvN].

On the importance of saying no…

There are certain lessons…One of them is the importance of focus, the importance of saying no.

There was so much good momentum and we were asking all sorts of good questions and launching new, good ideas. But ultimately, they took away resources and energy from the fundamental core of what we do, which we came back to believing was the most powerful thing. The obsession with truly staying focused on our core mission, I think, came from that.

Related: Start With No [Getting Real] and The most powerful word is no [SvN]

On test-driving employees before hiring…

I used to hire people and then realize within two days whether someone was going to thrive or not. So I said, “Let’s actually find out what we’re going to know two days in, before someone starts.” We just send them a bunch of stuff that they would get otherwise on their first day and say, “Here are the challenges of the day.” And we ask them to write up their answers, and then actually engage with them deeply so that we understand whether they have the skills that a particular role is going to require.

Related: Work with prospective employees on a test-basis first [Getting Real].

On the importance of hiring people who take ownership of challenges…

We’ve done a lot of research on the characteristics of our teachers who are the most successful…The No. 1 most predictive trait is perseverance, or what we would call internal locus of control. People who in the context of a challenge — you can’t see it unless you’re in the context of a challenge — have the instinct to figure out what they can control, and to own it, rather than to blame everyone else in the system.

Related: Hire managers of one [SvN].

On the power of inexperience…

And also, I just think there’s actually a huge power to inexperience. In the context of deeply entrenched problems that many people have given up on, it helps to not have a traditional framework so you can ask the naïve questions. That can help you set goals that more experienced people wouldn’t think are feasible.

Related: Years of irrelevance [SvN].

Great to see someone applying similar concepts to a different arena and finding success.