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How Innovation Starts with an Honest and Open Dialogue with Yourself

How Innovation Starts with an Honest and Open Dialogue with Yourself
You just don’t fit into our company culture.

Ever heard this? Chances are, you're not alone. Chances are also that the problem isn’t you.

Cultural fit often implies hiring, promoting, and working with people who are similar to oneself. Similar in the sense of sharing a common cultural or educational background, age, gender, or the mutual enjoyment of drinking an after-work craft beer. In its essence, it's about having personal rapport. Either you have it, or you don’t.

The actual cultural fit, however, has nothing to do with the above. Cultural fit is about a shared sense of enthusiasm for a company's mission, a mutual approach to project work, and a common way to make consensus when two opinions are clashing.

Hiring based on culture fit doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation. What may seem like a logical and good idea in the first place can turn out to be a limiting factor when it comes to innovation, which requires out-of-the-box thinking.

If a company consists vastly of the same stereotype, there is a lack of diversity. This translates into homogenous teams who are not able to generate a portfolio of fresh ideas. This lack of diversity also implies a lack of inclusion.

Instead of asking “Would I get along with this person?” we must shift back and rephrase to “Would this person deliver value and bring in fresh ideas?” By getting a new perspective on things, innovation can come to fruition.

[Related: How to Create a Free Flow of Information Between Leaders and Employees]

Moving from “I” to “we.”

Though innovation starts with the individual, it's executed through collaboration, with diverse teams and communities. It happens with “we.”

To reach innovation, teams shouldn’t be formed solely based on skills and culture, but by personality types. Employees don’t have to fit into one personality type, though there should be a good balance between types, such as the following four:

  1. Visionary.
  2. Executor.
  3. Strategist.
  4. Designer.

Difficulties and incompetence along the way.

Being “the odd one out” and the unconscious bias that comes with it make it significantly harder to be recognized and rewarded as the “way things are done around here” is disrupted. The final destination in this repetitive circle is the rising level of incompetence inbreeding for the company consisting of the same persona.

To highlight levels of incompetence, competence in the sense of a fresh perspective must be present. Change must happen, which forces leaders to take on a new way of thinking and doing when it comes to hiring and managing practices. Avoid the circle of hiring, promoting, and working with like-minded individuals.

Connecting the dots when looking for talent.

With Industry 4.0 happening, each of us must reinvent faster and more frequently than ever before. Certain skills are being augmented, whereas others are being replaced by machines. Automation is increasing and 10% of the workforce are in jobs that are likely to grow, whereas around 20% are in jobs that will likely shrink. Around 70% are currently in jobs where we simply cannot know for certain what will happen.

This means some job descriptions will no longer exist, while new ones are being created. When looking for talent, recruiters and leaders must learn how to connect the dots by bridging skills and experience from the past and applying them to the uncertain future. Thinking beyond any drafted job description and seeing the bigger picture of how an individual can contribute with a particular set of skills is essential.

For example, artificial intelligence is already able to draft press releases and news articles, which could make a number of journalists redundant. However, the unique skill set of a journalist may be useful for the Head of Business Behaviour, which is on the rise due to their capabilities to research, interview, and keep sensitive information confidential.

With new job titles coming out, we need to identify individuals to take on the challenge, not as a single person in a role based on their CV, but rather someone who can solve multiple problems by learning and applying a variety of skills. The earlier we start connecting the dots, the better we get at identifying the right talent.

[Related: Valuing Values Drives Results]

It’s the generalists’ time to shine.

Familiar with the term "Jack of all trades, master of none?" If you are a generalist, you probably heard this at one point with a negative bias to it.

Generalists' capabilities tend to be challenged more often, as they lack a set of credentials that would make them perceived as more "credible" in their knowledge of a certain topic. But because generalists have a diverse skill set, interests, and capabilities, they have the ability to be the ultimate creators and problem solvers. Given the fast and ever-changing world of today, generalists are likely to adjust well to ambiguity and pick up new knowledge, which can be leveraged across organizations.

Take a look in the mirror.

Can you say that you never made a biased decision on whether you want to recruit, hire, or work with a certain individual? Or do you even believe that bias doesn’t exist? The latest research by the University of Exeter revealed the paradox that bias is kept alive by precisely the people who think it's no longer an issue.

It's up to all of us to stop bias from happening, not just because it's inappropriate and unfair, but also because it's hindering us from innovating. Without innovating and reinventing ourselves, we are in for a rocky future.

Companies have been advertising for a while that they're looking for “out-of-the-box” thinkers and fresh perspectives. It's time to walk the talk — for companies and individuals alike.

Steps to take.

  1. Companies need to thoroughly define “their culture.” This requires more than a “diverse and inclusive” mission statement, especially when the numbers don’t add up to it.
  2. To reduce bias in the recruitment process, assign candidates a creative task to complete before meeting in-person. This can help in selecting relevant, creative candidates for a role.
  3. Reach out to generalists instead of judging them, as they can support vast business fields and bring in fresh ideas. The world is changing rapidly. Having a high proportion of workers who have multiple interests and talents is a gift. Use it.
  4. Ensure the panel of interviewers mixes well with the candidate profile being interviewed.
  5. Be aware that bias is alive and speak up when you spot it.

[Related: Lessons Learned From Leading a Women's Group for Ten Years]

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Saleema Vellani is the Founder and CEO of Ripple Impact, teaches Entrepreneurship and Design Thinking at Johns Hopkins University, and is the author of Innovation Starts With “I.” Sign up for her free biweekly newsletter, Impact Insights, and follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram.

Sarah Gädig (MBA) is an executive consultant and coach. She is helping people and organizations by enabling and guiding them through their transformation journeys. She has a passion for bringing out the best in people and in helping individuals to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life at ease - privately and professionally. Connect with her via LinkedIn and her website.


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