Recruiting, Innovation, and Thinking Differently

Jan 1, 2008

“You know what they say: ‘Innovation is the one thing that we have to focus on; it’s innovate or die.’ And I don’t believe that. I think there is something really wrong with this huge notion that everything is innovation.” – Alf Rehn, Ph.D., Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Royal Institute of Technology

Do you know of Alf Rehn? If you don’t, you might want to become familiar with some of his thinking. It is edgy, contrarian, and relevant to recruiters who want to lead as opposed to follow, create as opposed to copy, and invent as opposed to consume. (See for a sound bite. Then, click on his name on the right and “in concert” for more.)

Today’s recruiter has a very difficult job. Do it on the corporate side and you can be saddled with 40 requisitions that need to be filled yesterday. Do it on the search/agency side and you only get paid if you make the hit. Other challenges include:

  • Candidates expect timely responses.
  • Hiring managers want great candidates.
  • Few, if any, really understand how recruiters work.
  • Those who have never actually recruited often manage the function. (They later become “thought leaders.” Just shoot me…)
  • Many administrative employees with “good personalities” are often turned into recruiters. (Brilliant career development, yes?)
  • The OFCCP asks much but solves little.

I can go on, but why bother? With recruiting becoming increasingly complex, and endless fears of a labor shortage looming, we are at Code Red for developing innovative methodologies that identify talent wherever it can be found as thought leaders carp endlessly (speaking at conferences, eating fatty appetizers, guzzling jug wine) as we enter a new and different scenario of why the sky is falling.

But wait! Before we allow these thought leaders to innovate greater levels of complexity and stress into our lives, we need to stop and think about our work. We need to reflect on how we can improve the quality of what we produce and how to keep what is meaningful and productive while avoiding what is not. We must evaluate everything that is new and be wary of “innovative” solutions that add more work but do little to improve bottom-line results.

(Speaking of thinking, do you understand the difference between creative and critical thinking, and why they should never coexist? If not, I implore you to read Think Better by Tim Hurson. If you do this, you will, without question, think better!)

So, what must we do to be more effective, less stressed, and have balanced, civilized lives? Innovate? At times, yes, but for the most part, I suspect not. Quite frankly, we need to simplify; to take a hard look at what is really working effectively and separate it from what is not. (As with most things, the 80-20 rule applies more often than not. From where are the 80% of your successes coming?)

The time has come for all of us to explore a different reality, where excellence, however elusive, is achieved not when there is nothing more to add but when there is nothing more to take away. We need to think first and act second when the bell of innovation beckons us, understanding that while technology makes something possible, we still need a good business case for spending resources in its execution. (Doing it because everyone else is doing it or because it is new or fun is not a business case.)

Let’s continue with technology as an example. For many recruiters, technology is the Holy Grail. But, long before the Internet existed or a PC was on every desk, there was recruiting that was monumentally successful. I know because I was there.

Consider social networking. There is a new site popping up every 23 minutes. Each day, I am zinged, pinged, poked, and prodded to join and/or link and/or network with someone new. I am always happy to do this and enjoy the virtual camaraderie, but I seldom, if ever, hear from that person again. I look at “candidates” on both Facebook and MySpace and absolutely cringe in horror around some of the content. I’m not being critical; it’s just my reaction to what I see. (Tell me, how many people did you put in jobs off of these sites last year?)

Now let’s look at blogging. I might be one of the four or five people left on the Earth who doesn’t blog. Honestly, I get so much flack from so many people for not blogging that I am thinking of joining the Witness Protection Program. Really, do we need another recruiting blog?

How about instant messaging (IM)? I seldom do that, but John Sullivan tells me that I am a dinosaur for not doing so. I disagree. IM is a tool for certain recruiters in certain situations, but it is not for everyone and it’s certainly not appropriate all the time. (You don’t hear me calling him a dinosaur because he wears those vests, do you?)

The point of this is simple: Technology is often seen as the great enabler, but, at times, it can be the great disabler. We need more face time to form deeper relationships in order to communicate more effectively. In my last project, I never met any of my clients. Not even one. Our communication was truncated, with static-ridden cell phone lines on a good day and e-mail on a bad one. It was a miserable way to work.

Perhaps the time has come to de-innovate (yes, I made up that word; artistic license) to remove the distractions and focus on developing enhanced levels of understanding and communication with the customers we serve. Maybe the time has come to pick up the phone and reach out, not to those we know but to those we do not know. Perhaps the time has come to recognize that true friendships are not formed through pixilation and true relationships do not come from Friendster but from the people with whom we have meaningful dialogues based upon areas of commonality, shared vision, and mutual respect.

Perhaps Alf Rehn is correct. What if real innovation does not produce more but produces less? What if the ingrained belief that new and enhanced technology leads us to better solutions is seriously flawed thinking? (Are you really more productive with Office 2007? And, where did the Windows go?) What if we can do our jobs with less as opposed to more, and the solutions to our problems are unearthed in elegant, focused simplicity as opposed to endless, expanding possibility?

What if we were more successful, with less of the noise, nonsense, and gadgets than we are with them? Think about it. Can you be happy and productive with that type of reality?