TO HIRE INNOVATORS, CAST A WIDE NET
By Anne Fisher, Crain’s New York Business
Ever feel as though finding just the right new hire is like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack? Pete Maulik, partner and chief strategy officer at Manhattan-based Fahrenheit 212, has been there. Over the past year, the company advertised 10 job openings—and got 4,000 applicants. “Most candidates come from creative fields and have ideas they want to put into action,” Mr. Maulik said. “They want to work here because what we do is exciting.”
Fahrenheit 212 develops and launches new products and services, taking them all the way from the initial concept to the marketplace, for clients such as PepsiCo, Warner Music Group, Citibank, Gucci Group and Goldman Sachs. “We don’t just advise and leave. Since we get paid for performance, our ideas actually have to work,” Mr. Maulik said. “So we need to hire people who understand both the creative side of innovation and the practical business side—what we call the magic and the money.” In a recent conversation, Mr. Maulik explained how he spots those people.
What characteristics do you look for in would-be innovators?
We look for people who are intellectually restless and who have a proven track record of pulling the trigger on something completely new. They also need to show a willingness to commit to something bigger than themselves, something inspiring, whether it’s a religion, a cause or a sports team. At its core, innovation is about believing in something that doesn’t exist yet. Breakthroughs, by definition, can’t be proven beforehand. So you need to be able and willing to direct all your energies toward an untested innovation.
When you’re interviewing someone, how can you tell whether he or she is capable of that?
When you sit down and talk with a genuine innovator, that person’s energy and desire elevate the conversation. You start believing in their vision. One marker is the word “should,” as in, “This product should work this way.” People who see what doesn’t exist yet are just naturally driven to improve things. They can’t help it. It is almost a personal crusade.
If someone has that, then we look for how they’ve applied it in the past. A candidate who has made an innovation work in the real world knows what it takes. They know the blood, sweat and tears that go into making it happen.
We don’t look for a particular employment history or educational background. People with the amazing ability to inspire a team to achieve something really new can come from anywhere.
Where did your current team of 44 employees come from?
Engineering, investment banking, sports, acting, architecture, stand-up comedy, filmmaking, fashion design, ethnography, psychology—we’ve hired people from just about every field you can imagine. That means we can apply exactly the right mix of knowledge to any situation. One of our clients called it “a mosaic of talent, instead of a class picture”—where everyone looks more or less the same.
Besides passion and a track record of innovation, what else do they all have in common?
We look for a sense of humor, which is a wonderful marker for intelligence. I don’t mean funny people necessarily, but they have a knack for combining things in unexpected ways. Humor is also disarming and creates social cohesion. It’s a sign of a person you would enjoy working with, and that’s important. Smart is great, but nice is better.