Skip to main content

See also:

The Innovator Dating Service

Jeff DeGraff
Jeff DeGraff

Looking for a winning idea? All you have to do is click your heels and ask the Great and Powerful Omni Web for your wish to come true, or so I’m told. Open innovation has become a jumble of buzzwords that somehow connect the dots between ideation and commercialization - Collaborative open innovation networks (COINs), crowd sourcing, idea markets and countless acronyms, homonyms and even eponyms. So now we are to believe that the way to enlisting the most talented innovators is the same path many are taking to finding their true love. Well isn’t that precious.

The search for new talent in organizations everywhere has become like a dating site: the goal is to find someone who shares your interests and skills, to make a match. This is the false and misguided belief that drives so many Human Resources departments today. More and more companies are moving their recruitment efforts to social media, depending on big data to find amazing new people for their teams.

In this way, these HR divisions have essentially become dating services. They believe that they will discover their next generation of innovators by using algorithms that evaluate how well potential recruits align with a pre-determined set of qualities that they’re looking for in a match.

What may seem like finding the right person for the right job is really just an attempt to be more efficient, an attempt to automate what is, in reality, a highly complicated process.

Let’s be generous for a moment and assume that the success rate of finding an authentic innovator via a big data algorithm is about the same as finding your soul mate. It’s possible. We see these snuggle bunnies on the television commercials for these dating services. But is it probable that you can find the missing piece to your innovation puzzle via a transactional platform? I doubt it. Innovation is highly situational, cultural and requires that innovators are developed. You need to apprentice them, you need to get their hands dirty—put them to work and see what they’re capable of.

Often, the talent you want in your organization is the talent that you don’t know you’re looking for. The dating-service model of recruitment results in a bland, uniform team that has little authentic diversity – cognitive as well as cultural.

Alignment is not conducive to innovation. Constructive conflict—not harmony—is what will spark innovative thinking in your company.

Here are a few things that are known not to be predictors for hiring successful innovators:

Intelligence tests
Creativity assessments
Employment experience
Areas of expertise
Emotional intelligence
Patents applied for
More so, when any of these are deemed to have significant correlations further research invariably nullifies the findings when applied to different fields of endeavor and different domains. The point being you can’t find innovators via a dating service because we don’t have an established benchmark as to what makes an effective innovator. The situational variability is far too great and accurate predictors of the future are only useful when there is a steady continuation to the present. When was the last time your life moved in straight line?

What happens when pragmatic thinkers work with big-picture thinkers? What happens when the goal-oriented thinkers meet the patient thinkers? This is the complete opposite of the rigidity and uniformity that comes from dating service apps. It’s not what happens with the individual but rather the chemistry or lack thereof between them.

The goal of innovation is to change the gene pool: to produce variation—not to eliminate it. Innovation is deviation—and you need deviants.

Have you ever noticed that in creative communities everybody is a little weird? People in those communities not only know that but they expect other people to share their weirdness and be okay with it.

These are exactly the kind of people that you can’t find with the dating-service model. Was anybody looking for Nikola Tesla? He slept on a rubber mattress because he could feel the earth move. He came up with the DC system because angels talked to him. Then he became passionate about restoring injured pigeons he found in Washington Square Park. To say he was an outside-the-box thinker is an understatement.

Automating the search for innovators like a dating service will only give us a generation of vanilla. It’s the thing about dating that you’ve heard so many people say but that almost always turns out to be true: the person you end up with is never the person you think you’ll end up with. It’s not about finding the perfect match—it’s about finding the perfect mismatch.