You’re about to hire someone in a key role. Your first question? “Tell me about your previous experience in this field.” OK, I get it, you want experience, a veteran, someone who knows their way around the space, who’s been there, done that. Fair enough. But is that always the right question, the most important question? The answer is, it depends. Are you satisfied with the general results that the field produces? Do you want more of the same, just better? Awesome. Fire away. “Tell me about a time…” Maybe you’ll hire competitively. Maybe your results will be better than the competition. Maybe. If you’re fortunate. Or they’ll be incrementally worse.
But, perhaps you’re in a highly competitive landscape. Everyone’s kind of doing much the same thing, in the same way. It’s marketing, it’s technology, it’s strategy, it’s accounting. There are different flavors and versions of course but for the most part you differentiate your firm on price or experience or reputation or approach. “We’re less expensive. We’re more agile. We’re the experts in [machine learning].” How do you get attention, interest, engagement? How do you compete? How do you win? There’s a slide in your pitch deck that says “Why [MyFirm]?” What does it say? Does it make you stand out? Are you believed? Will your new hire really move the needle? How can you feel confident in betting on this person?
This is the question I hear all the time.
A company leader will ask me, “There’s dozens of firms like ours in the city. We're challenged with [pick your poison] / lead gen / recruiting / retention / closing deals / delivering / innovating. We’re good. We’re competitive. But it’s a tough “league.” How do we stand out? How do we differentiate ourselves?” Probably the answer is not, do what all your competitors do. Maybe the answer is not, hire the person who’s done it the same way, who will just do more of the same, only better.
Maybe the answer is… #innovate. What’s the essence of innovation? It’s the ability to discover the future and act on it before it happens, to get there before your competition. All behaviors, all business models, all patterns and processes are grounded in paradigms. But change is constant and those paradigms are always in flux. The ability to innovate requires real knowledge of the past, clear awareness of the present and a sense of the current forces in play that shape the future. Changing the paradigm is the key.
Maybe your hiring question shouldn't be, “How well have you executed the existing paradigm?” Maybe it’s “What have you done that broke a paradigm, that took courage, that went against the grain. Tell me about a time that you took actions that you believed in, that were based on reason and not tradition and experience, that was a calculated risk, that moved the needle in a different way?”
Like Walt Disney. In the late 1920’s, he’d made his name making funny little cartoons about a mouse. Walt was told that it was a bad idea to “popularize” a mouse. But Walt Disney was an expert at creating new paradigms. So, Mickey Mouse was born and became a bonafide movie star.
A few years later, Walt had an idea to make a feature length cartoon. Again, everyone thought it was a terrible idea. No one could imagine an audience sitting through a cartoon that long. In Hollywood, his project was called “Disney’s Folly.” He was expected to lose his shirt. The film turned out to be “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, and it was a smash hit and started an entire genre of cinema. 
How will your firm compete? Talent. Not because of what they’ve done. But because of what they will do. You need to hire the future!
Related: The Number One Differentiator Between the Success and Failure of Your Firm