Everyone wants innovative teams. But how do you recruit innovative people? And once you think you’ve found strong candidates, how do you judge whether they’ll be great travelers along the innovation path? How do you know they’re capable of delivering the next big wow?
At innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212, we have wrestled with these questions while scaling our team, and learned from a few missteps along the way. What we’ve found may help you raise the stock of your innovation talent from both inside and outside your organization.
Why is innovation a difficult talent to recruit for? The skills and attitudes that lead one to excel are hard to gauge. They’re not easily certified. No Six Sigma Ninja, Marketing 101, Supply Chain Best Practice, Technical Doctorates necessarily signal that you have found the correct skill sets.
Innovation as a separate and discrete element of a business is also a relatively new discipline that has not yet standardized an expected skill set. There is no Innovation University or Dial-an-Innovator service.
And the talents critical to delivering breakthrough innovation are diverse and unusual combinations that in most instances will require more than one person. Innovation, unlike entrepreneurship, is very much a group activity.
Taking a class at Harvard Business School on Innovation Best Practice is not the same as having a genuine capability for creating and understanding the new. Intellectual firepower certainly helps solve thorny problems, but an ability to dazzle at exams doesn’t predict how someone will respond to an innovation challenge, a blank page or a team of expectant peers.
Choosing people who have already practiced innovation, pre-qualified as it were, was not as simple as we hoped. We have hired strategic consultants, branding experts, industrial designers, and media planners, all of whom could credibly claim innovation experience. What we found is that only some have the ability to leave their past behind and deliver the marriage of creativity and commercial strategy (what we call Money and Magic) that is key to unlocking big, fast and doable ideas that work in market.
What about seeking entrepreneurs who’ve successfully delivered innovations? We’ve found their skills are often up to snuff, but the entrepreneurial mindset can be a poor match for the team dynamics needed to make breakthrough innovation a replicable outcome rather than a serendipitous event.
However, after much trial and error, we did land upon an approach that’s served us well.
We look for restless, enquiring minds. We seek those with proven excellence in one area but openness and interest in others. And we pursue candidates who demonstrate collaborative, congenial personalities that thrive on teams. How?
We read the whole resume, including the “Interests” section. That’s not to say a love of synchronized swimming wows us. But in talking to prospective hires, we find that pushing into the realm of their passions is critical in understanding what makes them tick and how they might respond to the structured stimulus of innovation.
One fellow we recently interviewed put “plays the banjo” on his resume. Little did he know he’d picked the one office equipped with a banjo. Sadly, we were not treated to a bluegrass medley, let alone the theme from “Deliverance.” We do, however, often refer to this great moment in our HR history as the banjo lesson.
Play well. Hire better.