It’s been my experience that [Liberal Arts Graduates] look at issues from various perspectives and find new ways of doing things. In other words, they think critically. And once they have a new idea, they communicate their thinking clearly and persuasively. They understand intuitively that the idea is important, but so is the ability to explain it, whether in writing or in front of a group. While these characteristics can be developed at a large university, they are the hallmarks of liberal arts institutions, where small classes foster interaction and meaningful discourse that require students to develop and defend their views. The ability to think, to conceptualize, to come up with creative ideas separates the top performers.
–Steve Sadove, Chairman & CEO Saks Fifth Avenue
Ok, your company has an idea for a new product or service. But before asking the CFO for a multi-year investment you need evidence it will lead to an opportunity. Is it a real problem? Will customers pay? How much?
So you hire McKinsey to do a 3 month study for your Executive Team, right?
Ha! No way.
You won’t get answers through research and paper. You need to follow a Lean Startup process and test your idea with customers.
But taking an idea from concept to experiments requires talent
Therein lies the challenge – you need PEOPLE to test an idea and your existing staff is overwhelmed. You’d love to steal talent from marketing, engineering, and sales … but your colleagues would leave garbage on your desk.
So you dig up old job descriptions and modify a few terms. Then HR and recruiters start helping you find candidates.
After a few months you have hired … nobody. Every candidate is missing something. Not self motivated. Talks about ideas and not action. Doesn’t have the personal skills to work across the organization.
You’re wondering if you should just poach your colleagues’ best performers and suffer consequences of a dirty desk.
Why is recruiting for innovation teams so hard?
Everyone wants MBAs & Computer Science majors
You imagine – correctly – an MBA with business/analytical skills paired with a developer could work wonders. Unfortunately the best prospects are recruited by consulting firms, investment banks, and hot tech startups.
The best? With experience? Facebook and Google want that too
You want top designers, developers, content marketers, and product managers with 3-5 years of experience. Unfortunately these people are not looking for opportunities. In fact, their friends and former bosses are already bombarding them with offers.
Nobody has “Lean Startup” or “Customer Development” skills
Given the popularity of Lean Startup you may try hiring experienced people to run innovation experiments.
Unfortunately they don’t exist. Trust me – I would hire them if they did. The people who master these skills are startup founders or, occasionally, product managers.
Entrepreneurs start their own companies
You could try to hire someone who can lead the team with a founder’s energy and determination. Unfortunately most won’t be interested. You may be able to hire a former founder at a senior level but few will join as an individual contributor.
How to run your innovation sprints with Liberal Arts majors
You’re having a hard time finding candidates because you’re recruiting from a highly competitive pool. But never fear, you have another option.
You can fill key roles and achieve your next milestone by recruiting form a less-competitive pool: recent Bachelors of Arts graduates. People who have studied subjects like anthropology, English, history, linguistics, philosophy, political science, and economics have the analytic and critical thinking skills to fill gaps on your team.
Here are some examples of innovation tasks and the type of candidates who can help you achieve them.
Doing Customer Development interviews
The skills needed for customer development are the same needed by sales reps – persistence, empathy, curiosity.
Psychology majors learn about human nature and motivations. Communications majors learn how to craft a message that resonates with people. Education majors know how to coach prospective customers into trying different solutions.
These are the skills your team needs to engage customers and get problem insights.
Running lean experiments & innovation sprints
You’ll need to devise and run timed experiments to test your product or solution hypotheses. For instance, an Adwords campaign to test consumer response to a new message.
Planning these experiments requires creativity and analytical thinking. Executing them requires an understanding of the scientific method and data. Economics and political science majors learn these type of skills.
As your team grows these candidates will be a good fit for growth marketing positions.
Getting customer commitments with prototypes
Before building a product you need to validate your idea by asking for customer commitments: preorders, Letters of Intent, or beta users.
Customers want to “see something” first, like a proposal or prototype. For this you’ll need writers and designers.
Experienced content marketers and designers are among the hardest tech positions to fill. Fortunately most fine arts and architecture managers already know how to communicate solutions visually. English, philosophy, and history majors know how to persuade customers through their writing.
Building an MVP
Unfortunately you can’t fill your key product roles – like product managers and software architects – from recent graduates. These skills take years to learn.
But most MVPs don’t require sophisticated solutions. You can build basic solutions with inexperienced employees who want to learn. Economics, math, and music majors have become top software engineers through a commitment to learning. Consider adding them to your team
Recruiting is another benefit to working with startups
Building bridges between startups and innovative corporations is one of our core competencies. Recruiting talent is one big benefit of working with startups.
Most startups fail – and their employees will need to find other work. By working with startups you’ll be able to offer top designers, marketers, and developers a spot on your team.
Interested in learning how to work with startups? Run innovation sprints? Get the most out of your corporate innovation team? Just contact us and we’ll be happy to help.
Photo credit: Oregon State University
Also published on Medium.