Hiring for Innovation

With all of the businesses I’ve run I can’t remember ever asking anyone for a resume. Of course I want to know that the person can do the job, but I’m much more interested in other qualities, like creativity, curiosity and enthusiasm. If someone comes in for a job interview and doesn’t know anything about my company, that’s kind of a red flag. Shows they weren’t interested enough to learn anything about what we do.

One way to get a huge jump start on solving problems down the road is to hire creative employees from the beginning. Employees who have a great resume but no curiosity will do what they’re told, but not as likely to help your company grow and innovate. You need to know about hiring for innovation.

You can find a dozen quotes from successful business people like Steve Jobs and Richard Branson about how you should hire people smarter than you. I’ve also found that to be true with the successful business people I know. I would also add that you should hire people more creative and more curious than you if you’re hiring for innovation.

Curious Employees

Curious employees are probably the ones who are going to be good problem solvers. You want employees who will help you solve problems when the business is in trouble and will also help you constantly innovate to stay ahead of your competition.

The world is changing at a staggering pace, and if your competition out innovates you, you can be left behind. A great resume and previous experience may not be enough to stay ahead of the curve. Part of being able to grow is to seek out new markets for your products and services. It helps to have creative people who bring in new perspectives. 

Also, your most creative employees will bounce ideas off of each other to accelerate the innovation process. They will all think differently and have unique solutions to add to the conversation.

Examples of Hiring for Innovation

Here are some examples of companies who know about hiring for innovation:

“In a world where video marketing is becoming more and more pivotal and common, a fantastic out-of-the-box way to recruit creatives is to make a recruitment video for the role you are advertising. Then, share it across social media using the appropriate hashtags to reach the right people and the widest audience.

A fun and quirky video which shows off your brand and the perks you offer, and what you are looking for in an employee, is a brilliant method of putting faces to a company name. Introduce some of the staff the successful candidate will be working with, talk about the amazing work your company has already done and how the new employee will fit into helping the business achieve even more in the future.

This shows you to be a creative brand. Therefore likely to gain the attention of equally creative people. It also works as an innovative marketing tool to share on social media which promotes your brand and your accomplishments.

If you’re not in a hurry to fill the position, you could even go one step further. Ask the candidates to create their own video application and share that with you via social media. They can sell themselves and explain why they’d be perfect for the job.”

Matt Dunne – Hiring Manager at Africa Travel

Creative and Analytical Employees

I lead Growth Engine, a boutique innovation agency based in Westport, CT. Since we are an innovation agency, the nature of our consulting work requires we have employees who are both creative and analytical. At once detail-oriented but also able to see the big picture. And passionately interested in learning new things AND having the self-confidence to tackle problems that they know nothing about.

The single question that I created to determine a candidate’s:

a) willingness to attack a problem they know nothing about

b) demonstrate curiosity and creativity as well as

c) reveal how their strategic/analytical thinking process is

You are on a yacht in the Pacific Ocean, over its deepest point, the Mariana Trench. You accidently drop a cannon ball over the side of the boat. How long does it take the cannonball to reach the bottom?

How you think about the answer

I’m not concerned about the candidate’s actual answer, and whether they are even close to getting it right, but rather how they think about it:

  • Do they take a wild guess because “there simply isn’t enough information to solve the problem” or
  • Do they get overly bogged down in the details: say the temperature or salinity of the water

… or are they able to zero in on the two most important components of this problem. Namely, how deep might the Mariana Trench be, and how fast might a cannonball fall through the water. And then most importantly, hazard an intelligently-reasoned guess based the possible answers to these two criteria.

It always disappoints me when most candidates simply make a wild guess. It’s as if, if they couldn’t be 100% right, it wasn’t worth it trying to be 95% right.

Here’s the answer:

The Mariana Trench is approximately 5.7 miles deep, and a cannonball will drop at a rate of approximately 10 feet per second, so it will take the cannonball approximately 63 minutes to reach the bottom.

Fermi problem

This is an original example of what physicists will recognize as a class of thinking challenges known as a “Fermi problem,” in honor of Enrico Fermi, the physicist who won the Nobel prize for his work in elementary particle physics (and four years later produced the first sustained nuclear reaction (under the squash courts at the University of Chicago leading ultimately to the development of the atomic bomb).

Fermi invented “Fermi problems” to help his physics students learn to think for themselves. What makes a Fermi problem unique is that unlike most brain twisters or logic problems, a Fermi problem does not have contained within it (much as in life and in business) all the information you need to solve the problem. So, you’re forced to make a guess. The key though is the willingness to make an educated guess.

Note: The most famous Fermi problem is: “How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” To make an educated guess, you might ask questions in the following order: How many people live in Chicago? How many people per family? Do these families own pianos? How often might a piano need tuning? How many pianos could a piano tuner tune in a day? Then, with all these guesstimates (by the law of averages, some guesses will be high, some low). There’s a good chance you might arrive at a guess that’s pretty close to reality: approximately 25 piano tuners.

We often work with HR departments to help them incorporate creative thinking skills in their company’s workforce. A good example of this is work we’ve recently done with Amazon. We help their talent recruiting teams generate more and better solutions to address their recruiting and retention challenges. We’ve also worked with HR departments to help them deliver “mission, vision and values” projects for their company as a whole, as well as specific divisions.

Bryan Mattimore

Cofounder and Chief Idea Guy

Growth Engine Innovation Agency




Twitter: bryanmattimore1

Linked In profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/bryan-mattimore-2aa04b1/


Send Job Listings to Schools


Finding creative employees is very difficult. A few years ago, we were having trouble finding actually creative candidates. A lot of people say they’re creative, but don’t have a body of work to back it up. It’s tough to find people who bring truly unique, out-of-the-box ideas to the table when you’re hiring for innovation.
So, here’s what I did:
I started sending job listings to art schools around the country. Those schools have career service centers, just like any college or university, and a lot of their students are desperate for jobs.
The results were astounding. Even though these kids major in painting and ceramics, a lot of them are brilliant. They think completely outside of the box. They might not have professionalized degrees, but you can teach them how to work with a marketing team or draft up a project proposal. They’re bringing creative ideas to the table, and that’s what is really important.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of creative people coming out of traditional marketing fields. But some of them are too stifled to let their ideas go wild. They’ve read too many business books and they’re too obsessed with the “rules”. When a client needs ideas that are so crazy they just might work, I send their job listing to the art schools.
Name – Ellen Mullarkey
Title – VP of Business Development
Company – Messina Staffing Group

Company website – https://www.messinastaffing.com/