What is an innovator? When asked this question, most people lean toward descriptions such as “creative” and someone who “thinks outside the box.” The same descriptions are often bestowed upon companies regarded as innovative. But cultivating a culture of innovation goes much deeper than these simple characteristics. Examine any innovative person, and you’ll find a few recurring themes in the way they operate.
It goes without saying that innovation requires open-mindedness. After all, how can you conceive of a new way to solve a problem if you are closed off to new ideas? This open-mindedness permeates the mindset of innovative candidates. They are open to potential changes that could benefit them — even if those changes seem a bit eccentric or unlikely. Watch for candidates who make vaguely judgmental statements or seem hesitant to go with the flow. This suggests they may not be a good fit for an innovative team environment.
Problem-solving and critical thinking go hand in hand. What happens when your candidate hits a road block on a project? Do they immediately give up, become negative, or blame other team members for the issue? An innovative candidate will show their ability to think through a problem from multiple angles without giving up. While it may take some prying, learning how your candidate has addressed these situations before is valuable insight.
We often think of diverse workplace cultures from an ethical standpoint: It’s only fair to give everyone a shot. However, creating a diverse culture has also been shown to benefit a company’s bottom line. A Harvard study revealed a link between innovation and diversity: If innovation is described as creative and unique ways of thinking, a team of individuals who think differently from one another is critical. A team with completely unique backgrounds and skill sets can come at a problem from several angles to find a solution. Compare this to a team of MIT grads with the same area of study, economic background, age, etc. Scan candidates’ histories for signs of unique experiences or insights they could bring to the table.
A company can’t support innovative candidates if they haven’t defined what innovation means. Furthermore, managers can’t guide their teams toward innovation without concrete understanding of it. One company might focus heavily on breakthrough products that transform industry practices. Another might uphold a culture of innovation in which teams refine and revolutionize the ways in which they collaborate. Make sure candidates can truly understand and engage with the ideas your company is founded on.
To select genuinely innovative candidates, it’s useful to keep these factors in mind.