Why Do People Take Jobs in Innovation?

Innovation is finally being recognized as an essential core capability of a successful enterprise. What was once considered a “nice to have” for many organizations is now considered mandatory to survive. As a result, companies are establishing innovation programs at an accelerating pace. There are now approximately 456 corporate innovation centers in North America and 94% of CEOs believe that an innovation culture is essential to their company’s future success.

Although the effort is commendable, large corporations are still working out the kinks of launching successful innovation programs. In some sectors, formal innovation efforts are cancelled within the first eighteen months (more on why that is and how to combat that here). This leaves the innovation staff desperately clamoring for their previous jobs.

This makes corporate innovation seem like an increasingly uncertain career proposition – and it is. Yet more company veterans are being tapped to lead or join innovation efforts because of their experience at the company, domain expertise, relational network, and respect among colleagues. That begs the question: what is motivating such talented people to sign up for such seemingly risky jobs? 

At Clareo and Forest, we work with these innovation leaders on a daily basis. Our fifteen years of anecdotal experience has informed our perspective on what makes them tick and enabled us to make good guesses at their motivations. But to challenge our own assumptions, we thought it was best to ask them. We surveyed innovation leaders at various levels of seniority and from a diverse set of industries from mining, healthcare, durable goods, food and agriculture, nonprofit, consulting, energy, and manufacturing. These leaders took a variety of paths to innovation, with backgrounds in marketing, IT, strategy, R&D, corporate development, and yes, even finance. 

Here are the top five reasons that most influenced their decision to pursue a job in corporate innovation, ranked in order of importance: 

#1: They're eager to grasp new concepts and be challenged intellectually

Innovative people are inherently curious people. They are always pushing themselves to learn, to challenge their own thinking, and to explore new ideas. They do not want to “clock in” at work. They crave variety and creativity in most environments. Cast an innovation role as one where “you learn something new every day” and you’ll be speaking their language.

#2: They aspire to make a lasting impact at the company

For those drawn to innovation, a job is more than just a way to make a living. They want to leverage their professional skills to make a difference at their company and in the world. They work tirelessly to make sure that their contributions have positive impacts. Demonstrate how an innovation role is formative to the company’s future, and you’ll resonate.

#3: They have a passion for partnerships and building bridges

Innovation roles are built for extroverts. This fact frustrates technologists who find out that being “heads down” in the lab is a very small part of their day job. Innovation leaders must network with peers, create relationships with partners, and consistently build trust with people internally. Seek people that are passionate about expanding their professional network. 

#4: They're drawn to the challenge of making change in a large organization

Natural innovators have a high tolerance for drama. They expect to encounter resistance and setbacks. They know that anything worth doing is hard and will take time. They patiently work with the complexity and bureaucracy of a large organization to sway it in a new direction. Highlight the need for political savvy when trying to attract innovators, and they will self-identify.

#5: They have a desire to build things from scratch

Some people are intimidated by a blank sheet of paper. For others, it is inspiring. Those who take innovation jobs often are magnetically drawn to the prospect of creating something from the ground up. Much of what bores them about the core business is that it's more about maintaining instead of building. Explain the work as ideation, planning, developing, and building to attract the naturals.

If you check all these boxes, you should sign up to work in corporate innovation – now. There is likely no other role at your company that can satisfy these desires quite like an innovation role.

Why Do People Take Jobs in Innovation?

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