Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

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Selling with Silence

I enjoy a good conversation as much as the next guy or gal.  A highly engaging and thoughtful conversation where both sides are equally sharing their ideas, and feelings is something to value.  Likewise, I also enjoy the comfort of being with people I care about and not feeling like I have to say a word.  I’m comfortable with silence.

Being comfortable with silence is a skill.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, like any skill, silence needs to be practiced in order to be effective.  It requires trust, honesty, and perhaps most importantly confidence.

Sales people by nature are talkers.  In fact, sales people often have a reputation of being slick talkers.  Talk fast enough that you over-power, or blow past the buyer’s objections, tough questions, or key concerns.  However, a fast talking sales person is actually communicating the wrong message.  Buyers get turned off by fast talkers.  They become suspicious.  They become guarded in their responses, and many times they tune out, and walk away.

Great sales professionals understand the power of silence.  The power that comes with feeling confident in your message, your answers, your position, your knowledge.  Knowing when to be silent, versus when to speak, is a critical skill all sales people should develop, assuming they want to improve their win rates.

The buyer asks a question, the sales person responds, and then silence.  You’re almost begging the buyer to challenge you.  Your silence is a display of your confidence and conviction.  It also shows the buyer a level of patience and empathy by giving them time to absorb your response and determine their next step.  You’re putting the control in the buyer’s hands.  And while some may argue that the sales person should maintain control, I’d argue that by granting the buyer some control, the sales person is actually increasing his/her control of the sales and buying process.

Silence can be the ultimate neutralizer.  High stakes negotiators recognize the strategic benefit of using silence.  Yet keep in mind, that using silence as a tactic requires a great deal of preparation.  You need to understand your company, your product, your position, and your buyer.  Drop the ball on any one of those and the value of silence is diminished.

Next time you engage in a sales conversation, force yourself to be silent.  Can you do it?  Can you sell with silence?

 

Building High Performing Teams

Over the years I have built several high performing teams. How do I define a high performing team? In the simplest terms, a high performing team is one that accomplishes its goals while remaining true to the cultural aspects I have put in place. To succeed and reach the goal, but done so at the cost of destroying the culture is not success, nor is it high performing in my book. Thus, establishing a high performing team includes both a personal view of the leader of that team, combined with core competencies that typically appear in most teams that consistently meet or exceed their objectives.

I have 10 focus points when recruiting new candidates to build my team, or deepen my bench strength:

  1. Chemistry. Do they fit? What’s the first vibe I get when interacting with this person? Are they engaging? Stimulating? Are they able to operate and respond to circumstances, or scenarios, when under fire? How do they react? What are the observed behaviors noted when they are interacting with others?
  2. Curiosity. Do they possess a healthy curiosity about things? Forget whether they’re asking questions and instead focus on the question itself. Is it thoughtful? Are they asking questions that demonstrate an ability to assimilate new information and inquire beyond that point? Or did they show up with the standard pre-packaged set of questions?
  3. Ability to see the negative space. Can the candidate spot things that haven’t been discussed? Do they possess a level of intuition that identifies areas to probe? Can they engage me on what I haven’t said, as much as what I have said?
  4. Challenging. Does the candidate seem to go along for the ride? Do they fully agree with everything I’m saying? Often times I will ask a question that goes completely against what I believe, just to see how he/she reacts. This exercise gives me insight into their intellect and ability to pivot quickly.
  5. Active listening. How well does the person listen? I give high marks to note-takers. Taking notes is a sign of an active listener. Notes are a good indicator of detail. Using those notes to ask follow-up questions demonstrates the ability to grasp complex concepts and expand on a topic or conversation.
  6. Think in 3’s. How well does the individual tell the story? How quickly do they get to the point? Do they talk in circles when asked a question with lots of words really saying nothing? Or do they demonstrate structured thinking by responding in 3’s? “I believe there are 3 reasons for…”
  7. Problem solving skills. How well can he/she frame the problem? To solve a problem you must first understand exactly what you’re solving for. I will provide a scenario and gauge the candidates response to gain insight into their thinking and how they go about solving problems. Do they simply react to the obvious, surface-level, problem? Or do they take their time and begin to peel it back one layer at a time by asking more and more questions?
  8. Continuous learning. I’ve asked this question for the better part of the last 20 years of team building – “Tell me the name of the last book you read, and what was it about?” It still amazes me how many people don’t read. Or, you get the typical response, “I read the WSJ”. I am looking for responses that offer a mix of reading material beyond business. My ears get happy when I hear Dean Koontz, Patricia Cornwell, Stuart Woods, Jeffrey Deaver, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Michael Connelly, or Michael Crichton. I also look for autobiographies of past leaders or influential members of society. Reading, followed by doing, is the most powerful accelerator of progress.
  9. Crucible moment. A crucible moment is a turning point in someone’s life. Ask, what was your crucible moment, or at least provide one? I myself have had several throughout my life. Look for substance. Not the standard, “When I met my wife”, or “When we had our son”. Only if those moments are backed up with something completely out of the ordinary, it’s not a crucible moment in by book. I’m looking for adversity, failures, fear. How willing is this person to open up and be vulnerable?
  10. Finally, last but not least, I look for empathy. How does this person relate to others? When faced with specific stressful scenario, how do they react? How do they treat others? What happens to their voice, and tone, when they are talking and responding? Empathy is likely the single biggest competency that defines success. The ability to relate to others is critical when working with others on a team. It feeds directly into chemistry as its most powerful ingredient.

Whether you’re building a new team from scratch, adding a few new players, or re-tooling the existing team, having a clear culture – rules to live by – is critical. As the leader it’s imperative that you state clearly what you expect of others. Establishing the right expectations and further executing upon them most certainly increases the probability of your success and that of your team.