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3 Ways to Hire Innovators

Whitney Johnson

Thinker, Writer, Speaker, Advisor, Doer

If you've never had the chance to gulp a bottle of Hint Water, you soon will.

It's the flagship product of Hint, Inc., founded a dozen years ago in Silicon Valley by a tech executive, Kara Goldin, during a career hiatus while expecting her fourth child. She started making unsweetened, fruit-flavored water at home. It tasted good and satisfied her desire for a healthful beverage, but it wasn't convenient. How great it would be if she could grab a bottle ready-made from the market shelf?

So that's what Kara did: She asked her local Whole Foods if they would be willing to stock her product, got a verbal commitment and went home and launched development with a self-imposed deadline to be ready by the time the new baby arrived. She dropped the first cases of Hint Water at Whole Foods en route to the hospital. You can hear the full (amazing) tale on my Disrupt Yourself Podcast.

Meet with the Experts, But Follow Your Gut

Even with all the beverage and water products available in 2005, there was nothing in Kara's niche: real fruit-flavored water, with nothing else added. But she didn't have expertise in the beverage industry, so she sought the advice of experts.

"There's always multiple [opinions] around any idea," she says. "There was a soda executive who had told me that he didn't believe the world wanted or basically was interested in water and he believed that consumers really still loved sweet and therefore my product wouldn't ever make it."

While she valued the time she spent with the executive, she also believed in her idea. She saw the "competition" as taking a right when she took a left at the fork in the road: "I viewed it as 'I'm going down one fork; he is going down the other fork.' And once I heard how he viewed the world, I thought, 'I'd better go fast because he may turn around quickly and come down my fork.'"

A Fork in the Road

I like this fork-in-the-road metaphor. In an age of innovation, it's a good idea to pursue "the road less traveled"—and look for people who value innovative thinking.

Everything has to be thought about differently—and HR professionals are not exempt. It may require a battle with leadership; it may require eschewing the common tactics of competitors. With fresh thinking and refreshed approaches to hiring, you'll naturally hire people with fresh thinking and refreshed approaches to work.

Here are a few techniques I advocate for:

  • Rethink position requirements and descriptions. Rewrite postings every time a job opening is advertised. Think about the current and future needs of your business, not the way the job was filled in the past; if nothing's changed then something is amiss.
  • Hire for high-potential and room-to-grow in a role. Advertising for the highest degree of competence possible discourages many potential talents from applying. Hiring the most qualified candidate for a job posted in this manner means hiring a person who will be bored in short order. It's a welcome mat for poachers.
  • Assume market risk by hiring where other businesses aren't. Open minds and doors for adventurous applicants wanting to switch domains. Explore the potential of unconventional hiring pools—job sharing, part time, remote, on-ramping, the non-traditionally educated, interns and contractors, retirees etc. All of these kinds of people bring expertise and are often hungry for a chance to contribute. Hungry means more economical options for you.

When all the fishermen and fisherwomen are working the same pool, it gets depleted fast (and the most alluring bait is required). Big fish swim in all kinds of waters; drop your line where the competition is scarce and you may reel in a trophy with merely a worm.

Header photo: Twenty20

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