This article is an adapter excerpt from my upcoming book "un-kill creativity: how corporate America can out-innovate startups."


Creativity in organizations is motivated at three levels: organizational climate, team dynamics, and individual actions. Hiring individuals that are already creative is one step that can shorten time-to-creativity of those new hires. However, company-level ideas are generated at the cross-functional team level, for the most part. Developing the respect and trust required for creativity-supportive team dynamics can take a long time, possibly years. However, you can shorten that time through one of two practices: hiring individuals through the perspective of a team, and acquiring a whole team.

Hiring individuals with the team in mind

The basis for this hiring approach is to not hire each individual by himself or herself, but starting with a perspective of a team (start with the end in mind). Some of the team members may already work in the company, and should be listed as members of the team. Look at the 9 diversity factors required for the team: demographic, multi-disciplinary (cross-functional), knowledge (education), experience, generalists vs. specialists, "extracurricular" activities, cognitive preferences (e.g., introverts vs. extroverts), risk-taking attitude, and visionaries vs. pragmatists. To have a creative team you need a well-diversified group of people. Make sure you know what is missing among the different factors and hire people who will complement each other. This is a complex task, with quite a few "balls in the air." However, only a holistic view of the team during the hiring process will provide for a team with good dynamics. Keep in mind that the team may not stay together long, as members of it may move in and out of the team over time, and even in and out of the company. When the team loses a member, think about all 9 factors when recruiting a new member, not only the technical requirements of the job. Lateral movements within the company by member of a diversified team will still help overall company diversity. One good source of hiring is references by current members of the team. Not only that those members know the potential hires personally and can attest to their ability to complement the rest of the team, but they also provide the "pre-qualification" that can shorten the time to build trust with the new members.

Acquiring a whole team

While most acquisitions of startup companies are done with the purpose of acquiring a new, innovative product, service, process, or business model, some are done to acquire a proven, creative team, even if the company is not interested in the actual product that the team brings with it. The price of such an acquisition is typically linked more to the number of the core people in the acquired company (the ones who are responsible for innovation, and not those in support roles) than to an expected return on investment from the new products or services they bring, as the acquiring company may discard them altogether. The advantage of such an acquisition is that, for the most part, it will provide a team that is already diversified, have an already established trust, working together, and has the right dynamics in place. You should validate that before the acquisition. Remember that the trust and thus creativity of this team was built over a long period of time and potentially the harsh circumstances of a startup company. You might be tempted to break the team apart and integrate individuals into different groups in the company. In one word: don't! While you may benefit from the individual characteristics of the different team members, you will lose the creativity of the team as a whole. Furthermore, one of the reasons that acquisitions fail is the clash between the acquired team and the existing team which leads to power games in which nobody wins and the company loses. For the same reason, don't try to integrate the entire team with another team that already exists in the company. The best is, if you acquired the team for its creativity, to keep it intact and separated. Make them feel at home, but make sure they feel it's their new home, and not that they are guests.