Don’t Judge An Innovator By Their Job Title

Innovators are not limited by their job description.

Guess what? Last week’s post on hiring mistakes organizations make when hiring innovators hit a nerve. Many people chimed in, discussions happened afterwards and I added a couple more ideas to the original list.

Today I’m going to dig into another mistake established organizations make: Don’t judge an innovator by their job title.

The main problem with this mistake is established organizations are highly specialized, they hire optimizers. But hiring for innovation is different, you’re looking for people who are highly curious; explorers. This is culture shock for an established organization because they’re used to optimizing what already works, and a good way to judge that is by looking at someone’s title. You see, everyone’s title comes with a load of details about what they do. They see everything through that lens. So when people are seeking a job they’ll double down on focusing on those specifics, some will even go as far as highlight any certificates they’ve attained on their own.

None of this reflects ability, because innovation is all about surprises and navigating them.

Simply showing a certificate doesn’t mean anything. For example, I’ve taken over 20 courses on Coursera, Udacity and Udemy; including gamification, archeology, gastronomy, astrophysics, writing and music composition. Imagine I present my Coursera certificate on Archeology to a job provider, does it make me an archeologist? I’ve never been on a digging expedition, would love to, but does a simple certificate validate my skills?

No!

Innovators are not limited by their job description

I’ve done many innovation workshops and have been asked to give certificates, I’ve always declined because a certificate based on an 8 hour or 48 hour workshop does not make you a game-changer; that’s on you to do so. But people love to collect these things because in their world it gives them some validation of ability; and organizations value them because it implies certainty.

This is a big mistake because, as my friend Sunil says “there are many people out there making a living from selling design thinking” and certifying people; but certifications don’t make innovators.

For perspective, companies, especially smaller ones, will expect employees to fill several roles including innovation / new product development. Product and even brand managers can be expected to grow their lines and brands through innovation, which can demand most of their time. Not being tied down to a specific job description is what’s fun about working on startups because you will have to put many skills to practice; this scenario is more likely to drive innovation than one where people “are limited by their job description”.

Transformative ideas can come from anyone

The reason you have Chief Innovation Officers, Innovation Managers and other roles with innovation on it, is large organizations are pressured to change. And consultants have come in to propose ideas for how to do so. A popular tactic is to create a role for someone who is directly responsible for it. A person’s job title doesn’t imply certainty, rather accountability. It’s interesting because innovation inside established organizations is career suicide.

Though there are consultants out there advocating for treating innovation as another job, innovation isn’t a job; and it’s no single person’s job either. Whether it’s a sales person who figures out a better way to connect with prospects, or a marketer that thinks up a more impactful way to use certain channels to reach customers, or a product manager that defines a way to make a product more simple to use and adopt; transformative ideas can come from anyone.


Key Takeaways
  • One hiring mistake organizations make when hiring innovators is to judge them by their job title; but innovators are not limited by their job description.
  • Innovation is not a 9-5 non-surprise activity; you have to evaluate it that way.
  • Having “innovation” in your title doesn’t mean anything because your title doesn’t define you.

 

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