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Fuelling the ‘innovation nation’: How recruiters can harness the greatest creative minds

In the latest edition of The Brief we speak with two experts on whether now is the time to continue a path for innovative thinking and if so, how can business leaders harness creative thinking and strategies to achieve pathways for growth outcomes.

Mark Gustowski has worked with countless investment firms, governments and international markets to shape possibilities for some of the greatest creative minds. Just for The Brief readers, he lends his expert advice on finding candidates who demonstrate creativity and true grit.

If you’ve ever been curious about fostering innovation or exploring seemingly grandiose ideas about domestic or international expansion, then you need to meet Mark Gustowski. Mark is the Director of Innovation Architects, a specialist innovation advisory firm that supports startup and scaleup enterprises.

The team have provided consultation to thousands of founders, CEOs and executives across the world, helping them to drive their strategic growth initiatives through innovative strategy, processes and generation of new ways of thinking.

Part of those strategies have included the creation of policy and programs, and seeing them through to delivery and implementation, to affect individuals, organisations and whole communities in preparing them for innovation, investment and expansion opportunities.

“We have worked with consulate officials in Europe, the UK and Asia to design roadmaps to international pathways, giving localised businesses the chance to be exposed to a truly global way of thinking,” Mark said.

“Our primary focus, the reality is that our focus is on rapid growth and expansion, and those opportunities usually come from playing in the big leagues with both private and commercial enterprises and Government agencies.

“We work with corporates in positioning the viability and growth prospects of smaller businesses which present strong commercial scalability; in turn, they inject capital, open referrals and introductions to their networks, provide strategic counsel, offer in-kind support or promotional opportunities.”

The team has delivered initiatives to corporates including Virgin StartUp (UK), Austrade, DFAT, Advance Queensland, the Victorian Department of State Development, the SA Government, ACT Chief Minister’s Department, Startup Thailand, Thailand’s National Innovation Agency, Techstars and YouTube.

Attracting entrepreneurial, creative or innovative mindsets requires a certain gumption from recruiters, and the result of finding the needle-in-the-haystack could be very lucrative for everyone.

“The letters behind a name are no longer enough – recruiters need to look more deeply into the passions of the candidate including problems they want to solve, and how temperaments might work across small and large teams,” Mark said. “Most importantly, consideration must be given to how the role is helping the employee to fill part of that personal mission.

“Creativity, and creative problem solving are the rare diamonds that almost all employees are looking for, and they want to do things in more efficient, engaging or flexible ways.

“Do the systems in place, hierarchies or processes allow for employees to grow in this space?

“If not, holding the attention, passion or drive of these diamond employees will be increasingly hard and you will need those ways of thinking when trying to attract and retain your customers.”

Mark said almost all businesses had an eroding customer base, whether that be owing to increased competition, market fluctuations or a variety of other contributing factors.

“The main way businesses (regardless of size) can remain competitive is through innovation development, and its adoption and implementation,” he said.

“Innovation keeps industries competitive, creates new industry sectors and can help drive efficiency.”

When asked what the value of innovation could be worth to a business, Mark said solving real world customer pain points would attract customers and create greater opportunities for the business to partner and scale nationally and internationally.

“No sector has seen the results of this as much as the automotive industry which faced collapse in 2008,” he said.

“What we saw emerge from this devastation was a much-needed innovation burst that forced key manufacturers to shape better technology integrations which catalysed the movement of the electric vehicle production.

“Today, our home turf needs to focus on industries including education, medicine, tourism, agriculture or deep tech, to help them demonstrate rapid innovation so they can remain competitive on a global stage. As a country we have been traditionally good innovators, but poor at executing commercialisation, and that’s something we must get better at.”

Recruiters have long lamented over finding candidates with innovative mindsets or entrepreneurial spirits as they are not easily identifiable through asking the usual questions.

“A common debate among academics and entrepreneurs is whether entrepreneurship can be taught, or if, like a physical trait, it is ingrained into someone from the outset,” Mark said. “There are arguments for both – certainly, the processes of entrepreneurship, innovation and business building can be taught, and can be seen as replicable across industries.

“We see this within startup studios, multi-business founders and the like, and while the processes of entrepreneurship can be taught and understood, the challenge lies in the candidate’s appetite for risk.”

Mark said risk assessment could also be taught but at the end of the day, the one commonality behind the strongest entrepreneurial minds was an extreme acceptance of risk.

“The ability to be accepting of risking everything in pursuit of a goal, even when it may not make sense academically or be based on theory, can be rare to find,” he said.

Mark said recruiters could tap into stronger creative candidates by looking for one particular trait.

“Creative problem-solving skills are the secret trait behind some of the best innovators and you’ll find hints of this if they can talk to of-the-box-thinking and how they like to get things done in a more efficient, effective and consistent manner,” he said.

“Ask what sort of problems they like to solve, or what stimulates them inside and outside of the workplace to find out what sorts of environments they might appreciate the most.”

Mark said there was a wealth of talent in Australia that was often overlooked as they don’t tick the standard boxes that recruiters might look for.

“Across my dealings, I am seeing and hearing that traditional forms of education are becoming increasingly redundant and are being replaced in favour of people demonstrating real life learning experiences and skills,” he said.

“What does a person with an MBA really mean in contrast with someone who has worked as part of a thriving startup and solved real customer problems? Employers and recruiters should look more deeply into the school of life and what achievements have been undertaken in real time.”

Mark stated that structure was particularly important as organisations got bigger with red tape and bureaucracy often stifling talent.

“My suggestions to businesses of all sizes, governments, councils and education institutions, is to create environments that allow for intra /entrepreneurial spirits as the future success of the business will depend squarely on how it engages with new employees,” he said.

“Some of the ways you can engage more effectively might include allocating enough time to test new products, systems and processes, as well as building a project sandbox that allows for trials and everyone to be involved, from juniors through to senior executives.”

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