In our first post in this series on why companies need armies of Infodoodlers—visual creative thinkers who can solve many kinds of complex problems and spur innovation —I explored the difficult new digital landscape that brands are facing, and why they need to hire leagues of this kind of creative talent, and hire fast. In this second post, I’ll dig into how to attract and keep this talent.
Digital talent could be described as people who can apply technical, quantitative and mathematical skills to business performance on the Internet. This talent—whether it involves effective advertising across platforms, data visualization, or quant modeling of untapped online markets—makes business on the Internet not only possible, but more profitable.
Unfortunately these days, finding quality digital talent is about as likely as spotting Bigfoot. Top firms track this talent and compete aggressively for these exotic creatures because they know they need them to make the critical shift from a behind-the-times operation to an Internet-smart business. In a market that’s increasingly digital/social/mobile, digital talent gives companies a huge advantage for the future.
So how do companies attract and retain digital talent, especially when these folks know they’re in the catbird seat, enjoying high demand and low supply? It’s important to know that most digital talent is not lured by traditional carrots like a status-laden job title and a good paycheck. These folks would choose to work in a hot, windowless garage over a corner office if, in exchange, they got freedom, flexibility and the opportunity to make a difference. They want to make a good living, sure, but they also want to work in a culture that resembles the texture of their real lives—authentic, collaborative, and full of possibilities.
So what would that culture look like? How is it manifested? Below is a list of observations I’ve made after working in a cross-section of industries and environments around the world. Consider these to be guiding lights for attracting the human capital you’ll want and need in the digital world.
1. Create offices that don’t look like they were designed by Pavlov. The office cube may seem like a relic of a bygone office era, but I assure you they are alive and well, and still suffocating the hopes and dreams of workers everywhere. The shape and layout of the cube-structure was intended to promote a more efficient use of space, but the rat-in-a-cage sensation a cube provokes is the antithesis of the values of people used to the open web, which are much more interactive and generative. Digital talent wants, and even needs, to work in environments poised for collaborative action—something that looks more like USC’s Game Innovation Lab.
2. Abolish formal dress codes. These days, digital savvy and creative people don’t want to put on a uniform to build credibility with their colleagues. The skilled and sought-after want to dress casually, comfortably—and dare I say cool. They will shine and polish when the situation calls for it, but on regular working days they want to exhibit their personal style and be judged on the content of their work rather than the quality of their fabric.
3. Offer Innovation Time Off. Thanks to Google, the 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, is famous even outside of management-guru circles. This is the notion that 80% of effects are derived from 20% of causes. Google allows employees to use 20% of their work week to focus on projects that interest them because management believes (and has shown) that a sizable portion of their profitable ideas comes from this 20% time. When data gets a chance to swirl around in the mind, employees are able to make meaning and glean insights out of it, and that’s when it becomes something new.
4. Do away with meetings and micromanagement. Here are a few of the most common complaints I’ve heard about meetings:
- The meeting didn’t start or end on time and had no clear purpose.
- The right people weren’t invited.
- The meeting leader didn’t know how to lead.
- The extroverts dominated the conversation.
- I could have spent that time on Facebook.
Workers around the world spend approximately 6 hours a week sitting in meetings with coworkers, which usually means they have layers of bureaucracy poring over the minutia of their progress. Meetings and micromanagement don’t fly with digital talent. These are people who abhor mediocrity and middle-of-the-road solutions and they pride themselves on their D.I.Y. know-how and initiative. Give digital talent more freedom to move around the reservation and more opportunities to pilot project solutions, flows, and outcomes.
5. Give permission to fail. In a digital environment where new products and services bubble up daily and an idea can go from light-bulb to launch in a blink, it’s critical that companies nurture a culture of see-what sticks in their creative and digital departments. It’s not enough to pay lip service to this idea. Companies must have a genuine commitment and actual modeling from leadership on the practice of experimentation and tolerating failure. This demonstrates the entrepreneurial, exploratory spirit that digital talent is so attracted to.
6. Provide a whiteboard culture. In the digital world, the wall is the new desk. In order to attract digital talent, companies should have plenty of usable white space and an established whiteboard culture that encourages and trains employees to engage in the use of visual language. Digital talent knows that generating ideas and mapping their progress gets messy, so they often want to work beyond the boundaries of their desks and their computer screens to sketch, scratch, doodle and draw.
Infodoodling as a practice embodies many of the characteristics that attract digital talent (and really, talent in general). Because in its DNA is experimentation (willingness to fail, alone and in front of others), transparency (we can see the topic we’re discussing), collaboration (people can’t resist reflecting on images in their fields of vision), exploration (visuals inspire different ideas than do words) and creativity (just try keeping the status quo using visual language). Those characteristics are part and parcel with the practice of visual thinking.