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Talent Drives Innovation

We’ve written a lot here at the GreenBook Blog on issues related to innovation, and one of the components of successful innovation: human capital. I think that particular horse is recovered from it’s last near death experience, so we’re going to beat it again now!

We’ve written a lot here at the GreenBook Blog on issues related to innovation, and one of the components of successful innovation: human capital. I think that particular horse is recovered from it’s last near death experience, so we’re going to beat it again now!

Just to establish my bonafides; I did some quick “back of the envelope”  calculations and I figured that over the 20 years of my career I have probably interviewed well over a thousand people, hired about 400, and managed about 2000 different employees. I have worked for large organizations and have founded 4 companies of my own. I think I’m qualified to discuss topics related to human capital from an executive’s perspective.  My career has varied in terms of the industries in which I’ve applied and honed my skills, but my core philosophy regarding human capital has remained the same throughout: I manage people, not roles. My job is to ensure that the people whom I have working within a role have the tools necessary for success in order to achieve the objectives set for them. One of those basic tools is something they bring to the table with them, and I call it  talent.

Talent is a combination of experience, natural ability, personality, intelligence, and initiative. In my experience it has little to do with formal education, and often the experience I look for is more related to broad business skills rather than task specific. If someone possesses talent, they can be taught what they need to know in order to apply that talent within a new industry. I certainly have made some bad hires in my time, but overall my track record has been very good and the vast majority of the people I have had the pleasure of working with have far exceeded my expectations.

In a recent blog on on the Human Capital Institute site, Hillary Roberts takes this idea even further in her post College Major, College Schmajor. She discusses why it’s important in today’s growing talent pool to look beyond the resume and focus on identifying those less tangible attributes that make up talent. One paragraph is particularly important:

In previous generations, jobs and salaries were direct representations of the degree attained in college.  Students were judged by how much they knew in a niche subject and the job they attained later in life reflected their grasp on the related knowledge.  Skills were more specific, and candidates could easily be identified based on what was studied in school.  Today, this is not the case. With the uncertainty of the current economic state, it is highly conceivable that the more specialized and technical occupations will be susceptible to fluctuations in the job market. As the American workforce competes with the rest of the world for jobs,  applicants with both determination and a wide range of skills have the upper hand.  Those with a broad array of skills are looking more and more appealing.

Why is this important to the market research industry? Because we are an industry that grew out of academia and still seems to strive to be included in those hallowed halls. Often we are education snobs, much to our detriment. In a recent post by David McCallum on the topic of ISO certification, he underscores this focus within our industry of looking for credibility and validation via education instead of ingenuity:

Lately, there’s been a lot of back and forth in the research blogs on the topic of ISO standards being introduced to the US. This has stoked the long-running debate on competency and certification in our industry, ostensibly to ensure that those using research are assured of a certain quality of service. It also leans to a yearning amongst researchers where we’d like our craft seen as a ‘proper’ profession taking its place with the lawyers, architects, accountants, and their ilk.

(Incidentally, David goes on to make some compelling arguments regarding the ISO issue and the whole post is well worth a read on that tropic)

As long as we as an industry seem to be stuck in a check box approach to hiring, we may be missing the folks with the the real talent (despite their “unorthodox” backgrounds) that can help transform our industry. The forces of change that are shaping MR already are coming from outside of our industry; many of the emerging techniques, technologies, and strategies that are eroding MR market share are being developed by people with no MR background.

In other words, the talent to drive innovation (and business success) doesn’t necessarily come from within MR. Doesn’t that point to the conclusion that as our industry charts a course for future growth and success, we need to open our minds to looking for people with the core talents needed to help us make that happen, regardless of some elements of their background?  Obviously, I think so.

OK, the horse is catatonic again. Anyway, I need to go and interview a college dropout who has been programming social games for a few years; I think he’ll make an awesome addition to my team as we develop game-based methodologies for research.

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