Thursday, November 27, 2008

Is the Next Steve Jobs Already Working for You?

Is the Next Steve Jobs Already Working for You?

Cohn says first you need to know the characteristics of breakthrough innovators. They are socially savvy, charming people with excellent analytical skills who never rest on their laurels and can identify the solutions likeliest to win over top leadership. But you have to seek them out using good talent-management techniques. The Starwood hotel chain, for example, has candidate innovators lead cross-functional teams in developing high-potential ideas, and then has them present those ideas to senior management. In short, you should test would-be innovators with live ammunition.

Once you identify breakthrough innovators, you need to give them access to the right mentor and peer networks. That helps them develop their excellent raw talents and build solidarity with key people in the company. It's also a good idea to remove these innovators from revenue-generating line positions and plant them in the middle of the organization, where no formal boxes exist. Cohn calls these "innovation hubs." That doesn't mean you trash your specialized business units. In fact, innovators need access to these specialists. They just need the freedom to cut across the specialties.

The bottom line is that finding and nurturing innovators is tough. But it's essential if you want to reduce the chances of another company surprising you with innovation that blows you off the map.

What have you done to find and groom breakthrough innovators in your company? Cohn's recommended practices provide excellent guidance, but they're by no means the only ones. Please share what you know.

* * *
Sign up for the Harvard Business Publishing Weekly Hotlist, a new weekly email roundup featuring the top highlights from