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Just because you hired someone smart and creative doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. Here’s what to know

The authors of ‘Rare Breed’ explain why simply ushering creatives into an organization without smart preparation and a clear plan for integrating them into the culture could spell disaster.

Just because you hired someone smart and creative doesn’t mean they’ll succeed. Here’s what to know
[Photo: Getty Images]

One of the benefits that many people associate with bringing Rare Breeds into an organization is an elevated level of creativity. After all, why hire white hat hackers turned app developers or so-called guerilla filmmakers unless you’re hoping they’ll improve your company’s game in innovation or marketing communications?

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Unfortunately, research shows that creativity might not be as universally beloved as we think. 

A recent study published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes (a perfect 2022 beach read!) showed that not only do a lot of people have animosity toward creativity and creative individuals but that some of them literally find creativity revolting, associating it with negative concepts like vomit and poison.

We’re as blown away by that as you are. The only thing we can figure is that creativity usually leads to change, and some people in charge fear and resent changes to the status quo because if a new idea flops, they take the blame.

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But after we were done being floored by these findings, we thought about all the organizations that have come to us for advice about hiring Rare Breeds—rebels, misfits, artists, disruptors—to up their innovation chops. In light of this information about distrust of creatives and creativity, there’s one thing we must point out: Hiring Rare Breeds is one step, not the whole journey. 

If you’re looking to increase your organization’s diversity, broaden its perspective, or onboard some needed new skill sets, adding Rare Breeds is a bold, provocative step. But it can’t be your stopping point.

It’s not enough to parachute in a cohort of rogue thinkers or flamboyant product designers, clap your hands, and say, “Okay everybody, let’s have that reboot of our culture in, say, two weeks?” In other words, hiring Rare Breeds won’t change much by itself. You’ve got to empower them wisely and put them in the right circumstances to succeed. 

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This brings us to what we call the Asteroid Rule, named after the giant asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago: Just because something’s big, bright, and new doesn’t mean it’s good for you. 

The best example of this rule in action is corporate mergers. They always sound like perfect marriages in press releases, which talk about synergies and economies of scale like those words actually mean something in the real world. Just like with a wedding, everybody’s thrilled on the big day, blinded by the dress and the pageantry.

Then comes the hard work of integrating the two companies . . . and oh, boy. If you’re not careful, you end up with AOL/TimeWarner, Kmart/Sears, or Google/Motorola, shotgun pairings that ended in desperate divorces and cost billions. 

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Given the antipathy to creativity we’ve mentioned, it’s clear that simply ushering a bunch of Rare Breeds into an organization without smart preparation and a clear plan for integrating them into the culture could spell disaster for you and for them. You need to do more, both before Rare Breeds join your company and after they arrive.

Before Onboarding

Set realistic expectations. So you’ve made the decision to recruit people whose personalities, approach to doing business, sense of style, or way of communicating run at 90 degrees to your organization today?

Smart, particularly if you’re out to challenge longtime employees to think in new ways or to reinvigorate your creativity and problem-solving. Rare Breeds tend to push against the status quo and make people a little uncomfortable, which can be beneficial.

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But hiring them won’t transform your entire culture or organization—not overnight, not ever. Even a small startup shouldn’t look to a handful of new hires to rescue it from complacency or stale thinking, and as for a big corporation . . . forget it.

Rare Breeds aren’t a new sheriff coming to town to clean things up and make it psychologically safe, and they’re not a one-stop DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiative. They’re people, not stereotypes. They might be part of the solution for a bolder organization, but they’re not the entire solution. That begins with your leaders. 

Know the specific reasons you want new blood. It’s normal for any organization that’s been working for years in the same industry, with the same customers, or on the same products to get stale and feel stuck in the mud. But that’s not enough of a reason to go out and recruit cartoonists, retired punk drummers, YouTubers, or whoever comes to mind when you hear the words maverick and provocateur.

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What problems are you trying to solve? What corporate shortcomings are you hoping to address?

If you’re hoping to improve product quality, bringing in obsessed Rare Breeds could be good for attention to detail. Customer service lagging? Look for people with “emotional virtue.”

Want to light a fire under a moribund sales team? Seek somebody a little bit “hot-blooded,” a little bit “hypnotic.” Then put those new people in the right role where they can affect real change. 

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Put “cultural airbags” in place. Airbags reduce damage in collisions. When you bring Rare Breeds into an organization that’s done things a certain way for a long while, or where people’s attitudes or values are deeply traditional, there will be collisions. Egos will be bruised, feelings will be hurt.

Cultural airbags keep the more disruptive aspects of new hires from crashing into long-standing traditions or attitudes.

What do they look like? For starters, keep projects where many people have a deeply personal stake off the table in the beginning. Of course, your organization might be 100% ready for some audacious new blood, and if so, disregard this. 

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After onboarding

Enable quick wins. Nothing gets past suspicion and doubt like people showing their chops. Give Rare Breed hires the opportunity to get some fast wins for the entire organization—in sales, design, engineering, whatever their skill set is.

Demonstrating competence is a fast-track strategy for not only earning trust but also proving to longtime employees that their unique new teammates really do have the team in mind. 

Give access to the decision-making process. Rare Breeds don’t always show up visibly different from anyone else. What sets them apart is how they think and how they approach problems: with blinding originality. But you won’t benefit from those tendencies if you bury these new people in shadowy corners of the organization where they won’t upset anyone.

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Instead, they should have a voice in influencing decisions, both tactical and strategic. Your internal politics and leadership style, not to mention the roles your Rare Breeds fill, will determine whether they’re actually sitting in on high-level department meetings, providing off-the-record advice after hours, or somewhere in between.

But give them a chance to have a real say in how and why things get done. If you don’t like their suggestions, you don’t have to use them, you know. 

Continue addressing systemic issues. Upsetting your culture by bringing in people who will challenge and defy it is only the first step in transformation. Once you’ve found Rare Breeds who bring the organization what you feel it needs, you can’t stop there. Remember, they’re not a cure-all.

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Keep working to solve other problems that could be holding you back: building an autonomous leadership team, solving cash flow problems, updating outdated technology, launching a more creative brand, or whatever else makes sense. Rare Breeds can give your organization a push, but you have to keep it rolling. 

One more important point. It’s easy to see Rare Breeds as bomb-throwers and fire starters. Most aren’t. Most are just people determined to be their authentic selves in a world where other people’s insecurity or fear demands conformity.

That deserves your respect but also demands some patience as your organization works to assimilate them. They’re usually worth the wait.  

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Sunny Bonnell and Ashleigh Hansberger are founders of Motto and the authors of Rare Breed: A Guide to Success for the Defiant, Dangerous, and Different.


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