4 annoying traits of innovators and why you should hire them anyway

Zywave recently concluded a nearly three-month-long innovation contest. The contest rules were simple: any employee could submit an idea for the creation or enhancement of a product, service or back-end system. The company would implement the winning idea and the winning team would walk away with a $10,000 cash prize.

Like everything we do at Zywave, we wrapped the contest up with a bang: a company-wide party that included a compelling speech by our CEO, free lunch and beer, and a dramatic announcement of the contest winner.

The best part? My team won.

After my winner’s high started to fade, I thought about the team I had pulled together and the factors that contributed to our success. I came to a startling conclusion: all eight of us possess a few traits that are, honestly, kind of annoying. Although we had succeeded in proving our worth by winning the contest, I began to wonder how we even scored jobs at Zywave in the first place.

Luckily for us, Zywave has taken the time to create systems that allow innovative employees to transform creative, dreamy ideas into concrete end goals. And, the Zywave recruiting team has come to recognize these four seemingly problematic traits as deeply rooted markers of creativity, holistic thinking and commitment to constant improvement:

  1. We don’t pay attention when we’re told, “No”. A boss’ worst nightmare, right? Innovators question authority and are not satisfied with the answer, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” They are solution-oriented people who politely ignore “No” in their quest to find the simplest, best way to work.
  2. We are not afraid of a little conflict. While most people avoid conflict at work like the plague, true innovators are not afraid to disagree. If they strongly believe in something, they will dig in their heels and defend their idea with all they’ve got.
  3. We act like children. Innovators were the kids who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to pick up a caterpillar and then missed the bus. They’ve held on to their sense of wonder, despite the ho-hum, chug chug of the world around them. They’re also not afraid to laugh and make a fool of themselves in front of others. They know that being silly together builds strong relationships and opens the mind to a way of thinking not bound by traditional rules.
  4. We walk around with our heads in the clouds. Innovators have a keen ability to notice trends and patterns between seemly disconnected elements. They often have varied career backgrounds upon which they draw from to solve problems in a global way. Their reputation as “dreamy” or “absent-minded” is also promoted by a tendency for taking impromptu walks or knocking on a co-workers’ office door to chat out of the blue. They know that movement and interaction promotes fresh thinking.

When you identify one or more of these traits in candidates, your instinct may be to run for the hills. Instead, consider the ways your company can mentor these employees in order to translate their innovative thinking into tangible results. It may feel a little scary, but these people are the ones you want to hire. Innovators don’t fight the future—they build the future. In an industry that is changing at the speed of light, these are the people you want by your side, even if they may have a few annoying traits.

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