Chasing innovation? Start with disruption.

We are officially entering the next generation of business. Disruption. What will separate the successful, prosperous businesses from those that wither and die? It’s how intelligently they can disrupt themselves, again and again and again. Before others disrupt them. “Disrupt yourself before someone else comes along and does it”

In a world where the pace of change is accelerating, consumer tastes shift overnight and entire industries are being challenged by young start-ups, there is only one answer: disruption. If efficiency and experience were the keys to success in the past, disruption is our form of survival in the years to come. It will be the lifeblood of businesses. “Disrupt yourself instead of protecting yourself.”

So, how do we build a disruptive culture inside our organisations? As Jean-Marie says “Disruption is not destruction. It’s creation.” Do we create secret rooms for ‘Innovation Managers’ to be locked away in while they ponder what the next big thing is? Do we buy the latest technology to help our thinking along? Or maybe, we just need to invest in some beanbags and nap-pods?

The fact is that there isn’t one key ingredient. There are many. It takes bold, brave leaders to open themselves up for disruption. It takes bold, brave leaders to challenge everything they’ve built and pose radical questions around reinvention. A solid foundation for disruption starts with recruitment. Technology doesn’t generate ideas. Neither do processes. People do. And recruiting is how we find those people. Unfortunately, the way we recruit is stuck in the 20th century. It’s probably one of the least innovative parts of a business. And that lack of innovation is the first link in a vicious circle that stifles disruptive thinking.

So how can we break this cycle? Here are three ways to think differently when recruiting.

Forget about past performance.


In the 20th century, past performance was seen as an important factor in the hiring process. Many roles were standardized and professionalized. And in fact, most roles were similar across companies and industries. So past performance was a pretty good indicator for success.

Today, we couldn’t be further from that definition. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, no amount of past performance can prepare you for future success. And we certainly wouldn’t associate innovation and disruption with standardization.

Instead we should be recruiting for behaviours, mindsets and ways of thinking. By seeking out innovation-friendly qualities like motivation, curiosity, insight and determination above all else we are more likely to find the people who have the capacity for discovering breakthrough innovations. And if there is a knowledge gap – they can just Google it. Because information certainly isn’t something that’s scarce in this internet age.

When it comes to teams, seek depth and breadth

The word ‘innovation’ is often associated with expertise. We believe that teams of experts in a field are the ones who trailblaze breakthrough innovation.

They have the experience and knowledge to spot trends that lead to incredible discoveries. But a room full of people with the same frame of reference eliminates diversity of thought. And a monoculture grows.

To achieve the best, most disruptive results, teams should be inter-disciplinary. A mixture of T-shaped people, with depth in one area (an Architect), and breadth in another, (marketing experience). Organizations should be assembling teams of anthropologists next to biomedical scientists next to accountants next to managers. When these T-shaped people come together in a way where they are able to appreciate each other’s contributions and weave them into their own thinking, inter-disciplinary teams are created. And completely new ideas are born.

Request actions, not words on paper


If you asked someone to write about the process that led them to innovate or disrupt, they would probably find themselves ten pages deep before they got half way through. That’s because innovation is messy. It’s chaotic. It can involve lots of going back to the drawing board. Reframing. Redefining. Failing. If you really want to understand a candidate’s potential for innovation don’t ask them for a cover letter that tells you so. Ask them to show you.

Set them a challenge based around a classic problem. And when they come back to you, don’t just focus on the outcome, spend time talking to them about their process. How did they approach the challenge? Did they apply traditional thinking? Or did they go in a completely different direction? Did they reframe the problem altogether? It’s the way that people think about things that is a real indicator of their capacity for disruptive thinking.

So, when it comes to recruitment what will you do differently?

It’s no surprise that to find disruptive mindsets and innovative people we need to disrupt ourselves. Change the way we think about indicators of success. Widen our view of the skills and experience that we’re looking for. And know that best practice may no longer be relevant. What qualities will you be looking for in your next innovator? What will their area of expertise be? What challenge will you set them?