The talent to innovate

How companies can find the smart, creative employees they need

innovation
Innovation

Many Americans know from watching the 1995 movie about Apollo 13, featuring Tom Hanks, the story of how that space mission averted disaster for the astronauts.

But what most Americans don’t know is that the real reason they made it back to Earth safely was an unknown contribution by Dr. Ken Cox, a NASA scientist. His formal title was manager of primary flight control systems.

In their book “Agile Innovation,” authors Langdon Morris, Moses Ma and Po Chi Wu documented the Apollo 13 crisis, in which the astronauts’ lives were at stake when it was discovered in the middle of the flight that an oxygen tank had exploded, creating problems for the propulsion system, the navigation system and all power generation.

Cox had worried that the main digital control system on the spacecraft had no backup in case of failure. He made an impassioned plea for the addition of a contingency system called a backup analog system. Top brass vetoed the idea, but Cox surreptitiously figured out a way to embed it in the spacecraft. So, when the explosion occurred on Apollo 13 and the main propulsion system became inoperable, it was his backup analog system that came to the rescue and ultimately saved the lives of the astronauts.

Every CEO often asks employees to “think outside the box.” But that can’t happen unless the CEO has recruited innovative leaders to his or her team.

How do you find people as brilliant and innovative as Ken Cox?

In their book, Morris, Ma and Wu argue that recruiting individuals who have arrived at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy is critical. Those are individuals who are focused on self-mastery and reaching their full human potential. Whatever they take on they aspire to be the best.

Consequently, it’s critical that certain qualities be embedded in every search for creative leaders. The authors suggest looking for individuals that:

  • Are passionate about solving important problems.
  • Have empathy for the human condition.
  • Are motivated internally and not by external authority.
  • Most importantly, they want to accomplish great things with their lives.

How do you find these people?

There’s no substitute for using a quality search firm that can identify those candidates. So when you select a search firm make sure you look for those with a track record of hiring creative talent. Ask what systems they have in place to identify those types of candidates.

In Milwaukee, there are two firms that excel in this. Scott Seefeld and Jonathan Reynolds of Titus Talent Strategies put in place a process that helps identify those kinds of leaders. They have a two-step process:

  1. The briefcase, which identifies the key qualities and credentials candidates must have to meet the requirements of the job.
  2. The heart, which determines what motivates individuals internally. Are they self-actualizing people that Maslow’s identified as at the top of his famous hierarchy? They have tests that reveal individual motivation, hence understanding their heart, not just their mind.

Titus also provides a series of workshops to train members of your team how to hire smart. They focus on teaching how to attract candidates, write better job descriptions, and most importantly evaluate those candidates in depth and select the best.

Another firm is led by Kathy Panaro, also an entrepreneur in her own right. The Panaro Group is a technology recruiting firm that specializes in professionals in the IT, manufacturing and engineering spaces. Her firm looks for innovative qualities in every candidate.

Technology is changing at the speed of light. It is a very exciting time! Her recruiting teams are learning the new technologies daily to stay on top of their game. They attend seminars, read articles, talk to leaders and remain engaged in the tech scene.

Consequently, they are able to ascertain very quickly what companies are trying to accomplish with technology in order to identify, recruit and screen the right candidates. This could range from AI (artificial intelligence), block chain, cloud, e-commerce platforms and SaaS tools in IT, to embedded software, robotics technology and new product innovations.

During the Apollo 13 mission, after the crisis struck and the astronauts’ lives were on the line, the flight director gravely intoned: “Failure is not an option.”

That’s true for the rest of us in running our companies. But failure can only be avoided if you have the right talent in place to drive never-ending innovation.

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Dan Steininger
Dan Steininger is the President and founder of BizStarts. He is also the President of Steininger & Associates. The firm focuses on teaching the tools of innovation to drive growth for companies in all sectors of the economy. Steininger is the former CEO of a major financial institution and a graduate of Boston University Law school. He has published in scholarly journals; appeared on Wall Street week; and been covered by the New York Times.