In my industry, we often talk about disruption — how new innovations change our established patterns and force us to come up with new ways of thinking, working and doing. The internet, the sharing economy and self-driving cars are a few of the disruptive technologies already changing our lives for the better.
Detroit is increasingly becoming a city of disruption: The number of startups supported by venture capital has increased 50 percent. That means more and more businesses are looking to hire — which puts them in a tricky situation. Disruptive innovations are often created and developed by people who like to push boundaries and don’t like to play by the rules. On one hand, you want the competitive edge and creativity these workers bring to the table; on the other, these innovators can have rough edges that employers would rather avoid.
So, what do you do? How can you retain top talent while accounting for the gaps and quirks of these individuals? The answer is simple: intentionally hire around weaknesses.
For several years, I studied tae kwon do, and it was one of the most formative and revelatory experiences of my life. But as important as this discipline became to me, I almost didn’t study it. Why? Because I’m not flexible.
At first, I tried to aggressively combat my flexibility issues with stretching exercises. After doing this for weeks — and suffering a good deal of pain along the way — I eventually stopped, and at the behest of a doctor, reconsidered my approach. I started working on things I was good at: strength training and technique.
The same principle applies to hiring. Accepting our weaknesses and surrounding ourselves with people who have different strengths and weaknesses sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how people overlook it — especially in the tech world. Culturally, we tend to think of innovators as loners, working in their parents’ garage until the wee hours of the morning, hunting for the eureka moment. But this just isn’t how it works. Yes, many top companies — Apple, Google and Amazon, to name a few — were started in garages. But they got out of the garage and onto the Fortune 500 lists because their founders intentionally hired people who balanced them out and had strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.
That’s exactly what Steve Jobs did with Apple. When Jobs returned in the late ’90s, Apple was on the verge of bankruptcy. He stepped in as chief executive officer and revitalized the company with the introduction of the iMac. But without the right team and motivation to succeed, Apple might not have been the success story it is today.
Jobs was a creative genius — aggressive in his vision and obsessed with innovation. He needed someone efficient to help him turn the company around. So he hired Tim Cook, an M.B.A. from Duke University who had a track record of supporting big tech companies such as IBM, Intelligent Electronics and Compaq. As senior vice president for worldwide operations, Cook significantly increased Apple’s sales, creating a surge of demand in the consumer market in 1998. Today, Apple is the world’s largest tech company thanks to a combination of creativity and effective business strategy.
Once you’ve hired the top talent, the next step is turning that talent into a dream team, transforming the unique traits of individuals into a working whole. This sounds obvious, but few people do it well.
The first step is to stand back and observe. See what makes your new hire tick and what spaces she works best in. At CTA, we strive to give workers this kind of flexibility by letting them work from home one day a week. For some of them, this works great — they can settle in and focus on the task at hand. Others are verbal processors and need to bounce ideas off their colleagues. A good manager will see and work with both, and avoid making snap judgments based on what is easy or what feels right.
Failing to account for the weaknesses of disruptive innovators can result in scandal, frustration and struggle. But by hiring the right people — a driven, dedicated team whose strengths and weaknesses interconnect — you can innovate and create with confidence and success.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association.