Homogeneity in an organization breeds failure

for innovation hire generalistsExcellence is contagious. A business is only as strong as its people, which is why it’s so crucial to hire the right ones.

A recent experience triggered this post, one that comes up all the time in the world of entrepreneurship and innovation: how to maintain a culture of excellence.

In my experience, it all starts with vision and values, and that determines the type of people you will bring in to help you reach that vision. Very straightforward, but most of the time the “people” part is kicked to the curve in favor of “people who can come in and fill a void” to get things done as efficiently as possible; whether or not they fit the culture (if there is one). 

Like you, I have friends I hang out with. But, I also hang out with people who are older and younger than I am; more importantly people who are not like me. I deliberately do this because I get quite bored of my friends; you can predict their topic of conversation.

Like personal relationships, in most organizations your get comfortable with the people you work with and might even develop friendships with them. And while this makes for a stable work environment, routine thinking and conformity quickly sets in and quietly starts becoming a hindrance for new ideas.

As an innovation leader, a common way to battle routine thinking is to be on the lookout for signs of “comfortableness” and then assess how to deal with it. This places a lot of pressure on leaders, but another way to battle comfort is by hiring the right people in the first place; people who like a little bit of chaos in the life.

Great talent often doesn’t look and think like you

Hiring for innovation is different from hiring for specialized roles. For innovation, a good rule of thumb is to hire more generalists; and less specialists.  Why? In the corporate world there is quite a lot of “sameness” in the ranks, people who we like; but that aren’t necessarily essential to the success of the organization.

When hiring in traditional organizations, a common rule of thumb is “Hire people you would want to have a beer with”. Actually, if you want to innovate and remain relevant; only hiring people you like will lead to failure. More of the same people creates myopia, so a multiplicity of viewpoints (diversity) is your best defense against it. That means you must hire for brilliance: Mavericks, weirdos, lunatics; are the people who challenge that status quo.

While they may be difficult to work with, I assure you that you will stretch, learn and achieve more with them than with people you like to hang out with because of the common interests you share. It is really simple, if you are to create and sustain a culture that challenges the status quoreach for uncommon goals and outcomes you must hire uncommon peoplepeople who are genuinely interesting . 

By interesting I mean people who are not dull, but dynamic. Who have other skills and attributes beyond their experience. People with wide range of interests, not square pegs that fit easily into specified roles. People who have no experience, but who get excited about new challenges. People who are learning machines, and that believe that nothing is impossible.

Bottom line: Remember, “Where all think alike nobody thinks very much”. Hire for brilliance; not dullness.