Would you actually hire the next Steve Jobs?

2 June 2014
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MANILA, Philippines – There is not a more popular buzzword in business today than the word “innovation.”

There is not a more desired dynamic in nearly every company than “more innovation.”

There is not a more asked question in corporate circles today than “How do I get innovation?”

The company many look to as the benchmark — the role model for innovation — is Apple. And with good reason. The iPhone, iPods and iPads have transformed our world, changed lives, and created the world’s most valuable company out of the remnants of a tech startup that nearly went bankrupt in the 1980s.

This success was driven by a small group of people, led by Steve Jobs, proving once again that the secret to success in business lies with the people — getting the right people into the right roles. Hiring the best talent available. Believing that people are a company’s most important asset.

So many of us want to be like Apple. But do we hire “Apple-like” people?

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Would you have hired Steve Jobs into your company? Would you hire the next Steve Jobs if he or she showed up at your door, CV in hand, asking for a job tomorrow? Would you? Really?

We live in a world shrouded in conformity and superficial pre-judgment. Do you have an MBA? What school did you graduate from? Do you dress right? Act right? Do you have all the right jobs and experiences on your CV?

A friend of mine works as a CMO for a fairly large multinational in their European HQ. His employer is regarded as something of a “sinking ship” in their industry, steadily losing market share, and the company is open about its need for new innovation. In fact, innovation is strategy number one. But they aren’t getting it, and I am not a bit surprised.

The CMO sent me a note not long ago on some career advice he was giving younger people. Talk about conformity! It was all about how to “build a CV taking the safe and plum assignments” and “make sure you fit into the ‘tribe’ of the company, like, for example, wearing cufflinks and an expensive watch if this is what everyone else does.”

No wonder they don’t get any innovation.

Innovation comes from people who think differently. Who challenge the status quo. Who push boundaries and make people feel uncomfortable. People who drive innovation don’t fit in. They stand out. They make waves. Innovation is full of sharp edges that cut in all directions!

This CMO doesn’t get innovation because when you hire cookie-cutter people, all fitting nicely into the “low risk” box, who is going to stir up the innovative ideas? How can you get innovation from a group of people all cut from the same cloth, surrounded by yet other people cut from the same cloth, thinking and acting alike?

It amazes me that this CMO, in the same breath, can think like this yet idolize a company that was built by someone who was the polar opposite.

Which brings me back to Steve Jobs. Would you have hired him?

A guy comes into your office to interview. He has long and unkempt hair. Doesn’t wear a suit but a black turtleneck sweater. He is cocky and brash and says what he thinks, not what is politically correct. He, in fact, can piss people off.  He dropped out of college, so not only does he not have an MBA, but he doesn’t have any degree at all! And to top it off, he tells you that “everyone should do LSD (“acid”), as it really opens your mind.”

That was Steve Jobs. It’s a far cry from “safe” and “conventional.” It’s anything but. Yet this is how you get innovation. You get a few like Steve Jobs to stir the pot.

Chances are, you would not have hired Jobs, and you won’t hire the next Steve Jobs tomorrow. So when you are frustrated at the lack of innovation in your organization, look no further than the mirror. If all we see on a CV is schools, degrees, grades, and pedigree, well, we probably will never get innovation.

The next time a brash and cocky guy or gal walks into your office with a gleam in their eye, big dreams matched by big passion, a love of risk-taking, and an uncanny ability to see ideas where others see none, put everything else aside. Forget the grades, the school and the clothes they wear. Just get out your pen, print out an employment contract, and sign them. With this, you will have taken your first step towards finding the all-elusive innovation that every company desires.

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