A good friend and colleague asked me if I would be willing to guest lecture at his local university fully employed MBA class. The topic of the talk was to be leadership. I agreed, and we set the date. I signed into the virtual meeting early to make sure we had the technology issues under control. While we were waiting for the students to gather, we began a silly rift about how old we were—old enough to be there when they created dirt, invent fire, and help invent the wheel. You get the picture. It was all nonsensical stuff that provided eye-rolls and giggles for the gathering of young students.
We were a bit crazy—which brings me to Bill Campbell. Bill, a Silicon Valley management coach, noted that innovation is where “crazy people have stature.” In my experience, he is exactly right about that.
In my first job out of engineering school, I had a glimpse of what it means to have a wild, innovative, and slightly crazy person on our staff. Management was very protective of Stan (not his real name). They made sure he was happy with his employment package. They built him a special lab where he could pace, scream, jump up and down, and be as disruptive as he wanted without disturbing the rest of us.
We mostly sheltered Stan from any management or project meetings. If he did attend, it was to impart some unique wisdom from an engineering perspective, and then he left for his asylum. I was a bit jealous of that perk since project meetings were often tedious at best.
Not many years later in my career, I remember learning that International Business Machines (IBM) had what appeared to be a unique way of handling individual contributors to the organization’s technical side. Essentially, they created a parallel path of growth for their technical team. It matched the organization’s management side but did not require that a person manage other people as they “climbed the ladder.” I do not recall all the titles, but at the top of the ladder were IBM Fellows.
I like that concept. As Daniel Pink pointed out in Drive, knowledge workers require Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose to be motivated and engaged. By creating a technical path that emulates the career path on the operational management side, we encourage scientists and engineers’ technical competency and autonomy.
It is evident to most companies that innovation’s pace must increase to thrive in today’s world. And, the topic of managing innovation returns over 20,000 results in Amazon books. The question then is, how are we, as leaders building innovation into our organizations. We know we cannot sit still; we must keep moving forward to stay ahead of the technology wave. Disruption can come from any direction and any existing or new competitor.
While being crazy is certainly not a prerequisite for being creative and innovative, the visionary finds stature in the world of innovation—even if they turn out to be a bit crazy by conservative standards. My point is that while I will not look for crazy people when hiring for an innovation team, I will also not reject a candidate because they seem to be in love with wild ideas. How about you? How will you build y our team of crazy innovators?