Innovation Requires Global Talent

By Fatmanur Erdogan, Hürriyet Daily News

In just about every industry, the most competitive companies are scouring the world for talent, eagerly searching for innovation regardless of where they might find it. They do this because they know injecting “foreign DNA” into their culture keeps them creative, fresh, and nimble.

The idea that you have to go outside to find new ideas is backed up by some of the best academic research. Jared Diamond, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, described the concept well in his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. According to Diamond, the exchanges between human societies drive technological invention. Nations don’t invent in isolation, they innovate in competition with each other.

This word, “innovate”, is a very popular buzzword these days. It seems that every company wants to be known for its ability to create new products and redefine markets. In order to do that, however, you have to open yourself to new ideas from outside. You have to increase your contact with other societies. You need to source your talent globally.

To this suggestion I often hear the response, “Why hire internationally when there are so many unemployed right here?” But that argument doesn’t hold water. When there is high unemployment, it’s not because companies don’t need people. It’s because people don’t have the skills companies need.

Take a look at the health care business in America. In the middle of an economic crisis, when millions of bankers and automotive workers are getting laid off, America can’t get enough nurses. In fact, American hospitals are searching the entire planet for talent. When you are a hospital in need of nurses, you don’t care if the streets are filled with unemployed bankers and autoworkers. You need nurses.

So the local employment situation is irrelevant, because you don’t get innovation from warm bodies, you get it from external influences. You still need to go outside for inspiration, and usually that means sourcing your talent internationally.

If you are a small entrepreneurial player, it might seem like big international companies like IBM, DHL, and P&G have all the advantages when it comes to sourcing globally. But look under the covers. At the biggest foreign companies in Turkey, for example, internationalization of the staff happens mostly at the higher levels. Even then, their expats usually come from the company’s national headquarters.

So actually, their work environment is not that international. Shuffling around a limited number of expats who have been with the company for 20 years might bring some benefits, but true internationalization of the workforce is not one of them. It’s ultimately a conservative employment system that brings the appearance of internationalization, but not the fresh influences of outside DNA.

While the big companies chase the dream of global diversification, the people with the easiest access to it are actually the smaller entrepreneurs. When they find a pool of innovative programmers in Romania, or a team of cutting-edge manufacturing engineers in Spain, they can move quickly and tap into that innovation more flexibly than a large company.

If you are an entrepreneur, consider this flexibility one of your advantages. It might take your larger competitors 10 years to internationalize their workforces, but you can do it in 6 months, with outsourcing and savvy use of the internet. There are dozens of websites that allow you to tap various kinds of talent from all around the world. Whether you’re looking for graphic design work, computer programming, accounting, or even architectural engineering, you can find it on the internet.

Of course, finding these things takes time and effort. It’s not realistic to think you’ll slap up a bid request on elance.com, and 24 hours later have the perfect solution. Even with the best use of the tools available to you, building a high-quality network internationally will take at least as much time as you’d spend locally. However, innovation requires global talent, and your entrepreneurial flexibility allows you to gather it easier than larger companies.

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