Where Science Meets Muse

Tips for Spotting, Hiring and Retaining Innovative Talent

Posted by Plish on March 15, 2009


Do You See People in Black and White or...?

Do You See People in Black and White or...?

In the Mid 1980’s, Lotus was having a tough time coming up with new products.  In spite of the new influx of talent, many with MBA’s and resumes that included the likes of Procter and Gamble and Coca-Cola, Lotus was losing its luster and many of the original hires were jumping ship because they no longer felt they fit in.

CEO Mitchell Kapor and  Head of Organizational Development and Training, Freada Klein, decided to look more deeply at the hiring practices to see if maybe something had changed.

In a brilliant experiment, they took the resumes of the first 40 people hired and doctored them up to disguise the identities contained therein, while leaving untouched more unconventional aspects of their resumes (such as their experiences as clinical psychologists, community organizers, meditation teachers, etc.)   They then submitted these people to the applicant pool to see what would happen.  Incidentally, Kapor’s resume was also included.

The result?

None of the original 40 employees were asked for an interview!

Lotus was screening out the innovative, multi-talented people and had created a narrow minded culture.

This scenario is hardly unique to Lotus.  It’s all too common in the corporate world.  Yet, at a time when innovation is needed more than ever, multi-faceted individuals need to be appreciated for what they bring to the table.  The result will be the building of a culture that is intellectually diverse and able to tackle the unique problems of the day.

So, what can managers and hiring personnel do to make sure they don’t slip into the Lotus trap? 

For that we turn to Margaret Lobenstine, author of: The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One.   (The  following in PDF format is here):

DON’T MISS Such Potentially Valuable Employees:
• Don’t automatically rule out resumes that show a “checkered work history”
especially if the references are all positive
• Be careful about the questions used in interviews. For example, the familiar
question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” rarely brings out the best in
Renaissance Soul candidates. They are far more likely to get good ideas for next
steps as they move along rather than having a set plan for themselves that goes
that far into the future. While this flexible quality may produce a stilted answer in
the interview, it may be your company’s key to staying alive in an ever-changing
work environment.

PLACE Renaissance Souls Where They Can Be The Greatest Asset:
• in the brainstorming, product creating, ground-breaking areas of your business;
• as inter-departmental team leaders
• where creative trouble-shooting is needed

Think About STAFFING PATTERNS For Such Employees:
• Consider using Renaissance Souls as mentors for employees who need help
developing their ability to see the big picture, to problem-solve, to innovate
• Pair Renaissance Soul employees with detail-oriented, follow-through staff and
get the best from both!

Focus In On WAYS TO KEEP Valuable Renaissance Souls:
• Pay more attention to the language used in work assignments. Instead of
implying a singularity of focus “Find out the cause of this problem and fix it!” try
framing things in terms of multiples: “What combination of things do you think may
be causing this problem and what solutions can be applied?”
• Allow as much flexibility as possible in terms of when and where the
Renaissance Souls work; in the long run, they are far more likely to be workaholics
than shirkers if given free rein to follow their own rhythms
• Often times Renaissance Souls will be more interested in a horizontal move that
offers them a chance to learn a new area of the business than in a vertical one,
where they are essentially doing the same type of work, only with greater
responsibility. Create ways to make such horizontal moves as respected and
rewarding as vertical ones.
• Encourage asking Renaissance Souls to explore a variety of relevant
journals/periodicals/web sites and funnel relevant info to the right people in the
• Give help in areas of typical weakness for such employees: distractibility,
tendency to take longer than expected on projects that they find interesting
because they get too interested

What other practices would you recommend for making sure you’re hiring and retaining innovative people?


2 Responses to “Tips for Spotting, Hiring and Retaining Innovative Talent”

  1. […] View post:  Tips for Spotting, Hiring and Retaining Innovative Talent […]

  2. […] about corporate cultures,  how can they support this? Some great info here, but the bottom […]

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