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Hiring Leapfroggers to Jump to the Next Big Thing

Hiring Leapfroggers to Jump to the Next Big Thing

By: Soren Kaplan, author of Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs (Berrett-Koehler, 2012)

We all know we need to innovate.

Companies that leapfrog over existing ways of doing business surprise the market with something remarkably new. It’s not about business as usual:

  • Chuck Templeton, founder of Open Table, created a restaurant reservation network to become the undisputed leader in online and mobile reservations.
  • Allyson Phillips, founder of the Tilty Cup, revolutionized the “sippy cup” for children in a way that accelerates motor skills development. 
  • Tena Clark started DMI Music to establish the market for custom radio shows and “audio logos” like the United Airlines rhapsody in blue theme song.

It’s intriguing to think about this type of innovation, but what can you really expect when going for the next big thing?

Creating breakthroughs isn’t just about wiz-bang technology. “Changing the game” in whatever we’re doing usually requires that we embrace ambiguity, live with uncertainty, and confront (or ignore) the critiques of naysayers along the way.

Hiring Leapfroggers
For anyone who’s started a new business, you may be used to these things. But if you want to take things to the next level, you usually need help. Often, that requires hiring top talent.
Here’s the catch. If you hire people with great technical skills but who don’t have the more subtle qualities needed for helping you truly break-through, then you’ve just taken a big step backward rather than forward. The last thing you want is a key player on your team paralyzed by feelings of uncertainty and risk-taking.

Going for the gusto should involve five essential considerations when recruiting new hires:

1) Leapfrogging Mindset
Breakthrough innovation involves a unique way of thinking. A mindset focused on “leapfrogging” views the world with the goal of changing the game -- creating or doing something radically new or different that produces a significant leap forward. Do those you’re hiring want to change the world with you, or simply collect a paycheck? Make sure you hire for attitude.

2) Complementary Knowledge
The goal is to hire people who can round out what you already bring to the party. Do those you’re hiring possess expertise that will help you reignite business success, create or leverage new technology, or build out a new business model?

3) Strategic Relationships
Most innovative companies create networks of partners to create and deliver their products and services. What relationships do your prospective team members bring with them? What strategic partners could they contact on day one?

4) Ambiguity Tolerance
Big innovations can take time. During the process, decisions must be made using limited data, assumptions revisited regularly, and set-backs taken in stride. Do your prospective teammates have experience leading through uncertainty, or do they need an annual plan that never changes in order to function? Keep everyone on track with employee performance reviews.

5) Optimistic Persistence
Research shows that taking assertive actions (even if they don’t lead to positive results) contributes to feelings of optimisim and the risk-taking mindset needed to persist through the tough times. Are those you’re hiring able to define and take another step forward, even immediately following a personal set-back?

Finally -- Keep your Ego in Check
It’s natural to feel that hiring others is all about getting help to create your breakthrough. The best people for the job, however, most likely aren’t those who will mindlessly execute your big vision. Hiring others to advance your cause also means opening yourself up to new inputs and insights. And this isn’t always easy for the founder of “the next big thing.”

Research shows that people with big egos are perceived by others as the most effective leaders. In reality, however, these people are the least effective when leading team-based tasks.

Perhaps the most strategic thing an entrepreneur can do when sourcing talent is to check their own ego at the door. Humility allows us to appreciate others’ potential contributions, helps us see the bigger strategic picture more clearly, and gives us insight into the gaps that need to be filled. And don’t forget to regularly motivate your employees.

Breakthrough innovation is about making a significant difference for your customers while creating strategic differentiation for your business.  In many respects, “the soft stuff is the hard stuff” when it comes to leapfrogging existing mindsets, markets and the competition. It’s one thing to hire for hard skills. It’s another to tune into the less tangible qualities that will help you leap to the next level.

Soren Kaplan
is the author of Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs (Berrett-Koehler, 2012) and is a Managing Principal at InnovationPoint LLC where he advises start-ups and also consults to Cisco, Colgate, Disney, Medtronic, Visa and larger firms. He led the internal strategy group at HP and is an Adjunct Professor within the Imagineering Academy at NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences in The Netherlands. To learn more about the book Leapfrogging or contact Soren visit

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