Keep your com­pany ag­ile and in­no­va­tive by hir­ing tal­ent from other in­dus­tries

Want your com­pany to be­come more in­no­va­tive? Hire tal­ent who have never set foot in your in­dus­try


HOW DO YOU GET A CON­SUMER to stop scrolling through Twit­ter and click on some­thing your brand cre­ated? That was the ques­tion Ka­rina Wil­sher, global COO of New York City ad agency Anom­aly, was faced with an­swer­ing for her clients. “If you look at the old model of ad­ver­tis­ing, it has an as­cend­ing story arc with a big re­veal at the end, whereas in to­day’s world, with ev­ery­one on their phones, you need to de­liver the head­line first to get their at­ten­tion,” she says. Rather than train her team to think like jour­nal­ists, Wil­sher went out and hired one—a former dig­i­tal ed­i­tor of The Wall Street Jour­nal.

Anom­aly hasn’t stopped with jour­nal­ists. The award­win­ning agency, whose clients in­clude Beats by Dre and Coca- Cola, has also re­cruited data sci­en­tists and tech­nol­ogy-prod­uct de­sign­ers. It turns out Anom­aly is hardly, well, anoma­lous when it comes to com­pa­nies reach­ing out­side their con­ven­tional tal­ent pool for fresh per­spec­tive, new ideas, and skep­ti­cism about busi­ness as usual. “If you want rad­i­cal in­no­va­tion, you need to look to un­usual sus­pects,” says Mar­ion Poetz, an in­no­va­tion pro­fes­sor at Copen­hagen Busi­ness School. As you find your in­dus­try be­ing up­rooted by tech­nol­ogy, con­sider turn­ing to out­sider tal­ent who can help push your com­pany for­ward, so you don’t get left be­hind.

For star­tups, that means con­sid­er­ing dif­fer­ent job can­di­dates from day one. When Sarah Kauss founded New York City–based S’well, which makes a line of high-end wa­ter bottles, she wanted to set the brand apart with sleek, el­e­vated de­sign. “At first, we were just think­ing about what’s on the mar­ket and how to re­flect that,” she says of the clut­tered cat­e­gory. Then she de­cided to hire de­sign­ers from the fash­ion in­dus­try to cre­ate her bottles, which sell for up to $45. The gam­ble paid off—soon S’well was set­ting trends rather than chas­ing them. “We had [the color] rose gold be­fore Ap­ple had rose gold, and then they called and asked us to do a branded bot­tle in the Cu­per­tino store,” Kauss says. That deal and oth­ers helped the com­pany hit $100 mil­lion in sales in 2016, up from $50 mil­lion the year be­fore.

Even if you’ve been in busi­ness for decades, out­siders can be­come your most cre­ative prob­lem solvers. Ten years ago, Thomas No­vacek, head of R&D for the es­ca­la­tor di­vi­sion of Swiss man­u­fac­turer Schindler Group, was stuck on how to ma­neu­ver huge, pre­assem­bled es­ca­la­tors around cor­ners and fit them into tight spa­ces. No­vacek reached out to ex­perts in other fields,

in­clud­ing one at a ski re­sort and an­other at a toy-train man­u­fac­turer. Even­tu­ally, a min­ing pro joined the team, bring­ing a so­lu­tion that re­duced the num­ber of the es­ca­la­tor’s com­po­nents.

To en­sure an out­sider doesn’t turn into an ex­per­i­ment gone awry, Wil­sher says, stay strate­gic about the per­son’s con­tri­bu­tions. “Things could go hor­ri­bly wrong if you just drop an in­ter­est­ing per­son into the mix and see what hap­pens,” she says. She started her jour­nal­ist hire with a smaller client port­fo­lio. “Some­times, there’s a dan­ger in bring­ing a shiny new ob­ject in and ev­ery­one wants a piece,” says Wil­sher. “We have to be very dis­ci­plined about go­ing slow.”

When these kinds of trans­plants are brought into tech­ni­cal com­pa­nies, they re­quire more rig­or­ous train­ing. No­vacek puts out­sider hires through months of prep to en­sure they un­der­stand things like the es­ca­la­tor in­dus­try’s in­cred­i­bly de­tailed safety specs. But once trained, they can quickly ap­ply their ex­per­tise through that new lens. “To im­ple­ment these rad­i­cal ideas, you need in-depth knowl­edge,” says No­vacek, who has also poached tal­ent from the aero­nau­tics and au­to­mo­tive in­dus­tries.

Ideally, fresh thinkers be­come in-house agents of change who will prompt the rest of your staff to re­main cu­ri­ous and adapt­able in a rapidly shift­ing world. When it comes to any em­ployee these days, says John Sullivan, a tal­ent-man­age­ment ex­pert and pro­fes­sor at San Fran­cisco State Univer­sity, “the num­ber one com­pe­tency is the abil­ity to learn on your own quickly.”

Pho­to­graph by MAURI­CIO ALEJO

ODD MAN IN A job can­di­date with no his­tory in your field may turn out to be your best re­cruit.

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