Finding Innovative Employers.
Welcome back my friend. Glad you can join me again.
Last week, I told you the story about the teenage girl who came up with what I thought was a brilliant but very unconventional approach to controlling outbreaks of corona virus.
Employers are always banging on about the importance to them of innovative thinking. Last week’s article was all about how, as an innovative thinker, you can move straight to the front of the queue of job candidates even when you appear to be up against a huge number of competitors. I ended that article by telling you that this week, I would be talking about why innovative ideas don’t always get the attention they deserve and how you can improve your chances of working with teams of people who appreciate such thinking.
Perhaps we should begin by asking ourselves what innovative thinking looks like. How do we recognise it?
The first thing to say about an innovative idea is that we recognise it as the sort of idea that most people don’t come up with. Innovative thinkers have a way of thinking that seems almost alien to most. The next thing we recognise is that the idea is often so simple that we can’t help asking ourselves, “Why has nobody thought of that before?” The idea seems so obvious you can’t understand why you were not the one to suggest it. You can feel quite annoyed that you didn’t.
So why do the ideas of innovative thinkers get buried among the millions of ideas that were not working, were never going to work and had been proved to be a waste of time? Let’s answer that before we come to the most important question of all.
Taking the idea that came from the teenage girl, the first problem comes down to “Who came up with the idea?” She’s not a person who’s in a position of influence. She’s not someone that anyone else has ever heard of, is she? In the minds of a lot of people, that rules out the girl from being taken seriously. Why for heaven’s sake? A good idea is a good idea. Never mind who thought of it.
The second problem is that the person who came up with the idea often thinks that way about herself. “Who am I to think my idea is any good?” The idea is brilliant, but the girl keeps it to herself because she doesn’t take herself seriously.
Then, all of a sudden, she’s speaking on the telly! Now the whole country has a chance to hear her idea; but is anyone listening? Is anyone paying attention? Is anyone saying, “Hang on. I want to hear that idea again.” As Winston Churchill said, “Most people, when they stumble over a really good idea simply get up and carry on as if nothing happened.”
Finally, you are going to come across far too many people who resent the fact that someone who’s not in authority, not in a position of influence has come up with a much better idea than they did. Sometimes the people in authority, the very people who are in a position to take your idea forward, will be the very people most likely to block it. Why? Because ideas that they didn’t come up with are seen as a threat. You’re going to meet people in positions of power who are very resentful of people like you coming up with better ideas than theirs. You are going to come across a lot of employers who pay lip service to innovative thinking as long as the innovative ideas were theirs!
If you are an innovative thinker, you want to be working with an employer who really does appreciate the way you think and where being innovative leads to salary rises and career progression. But, how do you distinguish that kind of employer from the kind I just described; because that is the most important question isn’t it?
Begin by doing a bit of research.
- Look at their website.
What evidence can you find that innovative ideas prevail? What problems were addressed and with what outcome? Once you get the impression that this is a genuinely “go ahead” organisation, the sort of organisation you might like to work for, there are some more steps you can take.
- Find them on social media; Facebook, LinkedIn. Most young people have a Face Book account. Not only do most young people I meet not have a Linked In account, most don’t seem to know what Linked In is. Linked In is where most business-to-business contacts are made. As with Face Book, it’s completely free to open a LinkedIn account. The company will certainly have a Face Book account so make sure you follow them and comment on what they post. Once you’ve identified someone you’d like to link up with, search for them on LinkedIn. Most company managers are great networkers, but lockdown has forced them to network more on line than ever before. Their search for young talent via face to face contact is now severely limited. You are in an ideal position to turn this to your advantage. If your parents are professionals, they will almost certainly have their own LinkedIn accounts. Ask them to show you how to set up your own account and how to use it. Your school career advisor will also be able to show you how to do this.
- It won’t be very long before you begin to feel that you’re “hitting it off” with some of your contacts. Once this happens, it’s time to ask if they’d be willing to have a more in-depth conversation with you. Say that “I’d like to pick your brains” or “There are some questions I’d like to ask you” or “I would value your advice.” If it’s not possible to meet face to face over a up of coffee (who knows when that might be possible again?) or if geography makes it impossible, Zoom meetings are now the norm. Do not be afraid to make such an approach. If the person you’re communicating with is truly innovative, he’s going to admire you for doing so. If he’s on the look out for young talent, he’ll welcome the opportunity. The fact that you’re not applying for a job and may not even be qualified to do so yet, doesn’t matter.
- Once you have the opportunity to have a conversation, you also have an opportunity to ask questions. Asking well thought out questions is a great way to sell yourself. Nothing creates the impression that you know what you’re talking about more than asking questions that only a person who really knows what she’s talking about would be able to ask. Some of those questions could be about the innovative ideas you picked up from their website. You could ask about the people who came up with those ideas. If they were not senior managers; if they were young apprentices, you know you’re dealing with a company that would be great to work for if you’re an innovative person yourself.