How To Recognize an Innovator

With the passing of Steve Jobs, I am thinking about innovation and how powerful it is.  In business, innovation is creation tied to productivity.  In other words: money.  As a business owner or manager, take 100 innovators for every pragmatic operator.  Because innovation is what will differentiate your company enough to keep ahead of competition.  Whether you will have the taste and the foresight to recognize profitable innovation is another question.  But to begin: hire innovators.

So, as you scan through a pile of resumes, what are the indicators that someone may be an innovator?

Innovators are curious.  And their resumes reflect a diversity of experiences.  Rarely are people who have focused on a single function innovators.  A person who has a marched up the line from analyst to Vice President in a single function (Supply Chain or Merchandising) is rarely a creative thinker.  Likewise, the person with a history in a single industry may not have enough diversity to be a true innovator.

One of the best software developers I know has a degree in geology and is a part-time professional photographer.  A serial entrepreneur I know is a pilot and scuba diver who plays piano every day.  A social website owner I know is also a lawyer who runs triathlons.

At first, you may look at them and say they are simply achievement oriented.  But the truth is they excel because they are curious and have diverse interests.  Their multiple lenses allow them to see problems and solutions from many angles.

When I meet someone I eagerly ask them about their taste in music, movies, food, hobbies and books.  In part because I am always looking for the renegade who veers far from what would be expected.  Someone who reads poetry, went to France to study culinary arts and is a CPA is someone who is likely to look at financial solutions differently than the CPA who loves James Bond movies and has season tickets to the local NFL team.  (I realize that is a generalization –my apologies to James Bond fans – but those “passions” are pretty run of the mill.)

Picasso said that “good artists copy but great artists steal. “  What he meant is that great creation comes from the genius who can look at a solution from one area and morph it into a ridiculously clever adaptation in another area.   To bring that kind of talent into your organization, you need to be looking for a person who keeps up with a mixed bag of interests, gives them deep thought, drives for excellence and is infatuate with the allure of the NEW.

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