If You Don’t Value Brilliance, You Don’t Value Innovation

A small team of A+ playerscan run circles around a giant team of B and C players

Talent hits a target no one else can hit, genius hits a target no one else can see. In a perfect situation, you have both on your side. On most situation, you have neither.

No traditionally managed corporation would ever hire a Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or Larry Page type of person. Why? Because genius needs to be left alone, to be unleashed, to operate in chaos. And corporations want to put a leash on anything that challenges the status quo; they are afraid of genius because they can’t predict and control it.

But, black sheep are precisely the type of people you need if you truly want to innovate. It’s the truth.

Certified people don’t equal innovation

I was recently asked to propose for a digital transformation engagement with a large business in Mexico. My team and I were the front runners to land the gig because of our well rounded team of experts and all-around innovativeness. But we didn’t get the gig.


Though I was the first one to engage and spent a good 4 months going back and forth with the organization about their challenges, we lost the gig because another team presented some development certifications to go with the proposal; that turned out to be the trigger.

I wasn’t surprised by the outcome because most mexican companies are biased about “certifications” in some form or another. To me, certifications don’t equal innovation; they equal more of the same.

The bottom line is that true innovators are not certified, neither are real talents. Most leaders of traditionally managed organizations can’t notice the difference between talent and competence because they never hire for talent; they hire for safe and predictable.

Safe and predictable doesn’t lead to innovation

Instead of playing to win, hiring black sheep, most large businesses play not to lose by hiring the “safe and predictable” people. But competence at repetitive task execution is not a sign of innovativeness; it is a sign of eventual stagnation if that person doesn’t aim for bold ideas.

You see, hiring more of the same people creates sameness of opinions and perspectives; it creates homogeneity. And homogeneity in organizations breeds failure.

When everyone thinks in similar ways and sticks to dominant norms, businesses are doomed to stagnate. And you don’t avoid stagnation by operating the same ways you’ve always did; you need fresh minds to disrupt yourself.

To fight that inertia and drive innovation and change effectively, leaders need sustained original thinking in their organizations. They get it by building a culture of nonconformity, by cultivating and rewarding bold thinking from the inside as well as the outside.

That means hiring for brilliance, not dullness.

There’s a reason why traditional leadership doesn’t drive innovation, it is based on consensus and getting along. It’s not enough. Innovative leadership, the type incumbent businesses need, is all about being bold.

That means you understand, like Steve Jobs, that bold ideas and actions don’t come from normal people. It means that there will be debate about how to achieve a challenging outcome by challenging the status-quo, conflict will be embraced; it’s not an environment most people like to hang out in, but it’s the place where talent and genius reign supreme.

Bottom line: Hire and surround yourself with people who are 10x better than you and anyone else. These people don’t think and act normal, they could be seen as crazy and weird. That’s a good sign.