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How to Hire the Next Steve Jobs: 10 Tips From His Former Boss

Finding the Next Steve JobsAsk unanswerable questions. Hire the obnoxious. Celebrate their failures. WHAT? That’s not traditional advice, but it’s what one Silicon Valley legend suggests if you’re on a quest to find and hire creative people who have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs.

Nolan Bushnell — founder of gaming giant Atari, pioneer in the video gaming industry and author of “Finding the Next Steve Jobs” — employed a young Steve Jobs back in the 1970s. In a webinar hosted by CareerBuilder on Wednesday, Bushnell offered tips on how YOU can find, hire and nurture similar creative individuals in who could turn your company into the next Atari or Apple.

Here are the top 10 takeaways:

  1. Look for intensity when you hire. “People who are active, passionate, engaged in life are the backbone of any organization,” according to Bushnell. In fact, when Steve Jobs worked for him, Bushnell said he was one of the most intense people he had ever met – and this was even before he rose to mega-fame. Bushnell’s advice to hiring managers is to ask questions in such a manner as to get a sense for what the candidate’s life is like and to uncover activities they are passionate about.
  2. Use your intuition. Your ordinary HR manager can cross the ‘T’s and dot the ‘I’s and do a good job when making hires. But Bushnell says the most successful HR managers understand that they’re playing the corporate jigsaw puzzle trying to find talent to fit the right pieces — and this sometimes involves using one’s intuition to go beyond what’s presented and try to get a sense for whether the candidate might be the best fit for the company and its culture.
  3. Look beyond the degree. Bushnell’s advice to companies seeking creatives is to ignore credentials. (We advise looking beyond the degree, not ignoring promising prospective candidates who may not have a formal degree.) According to him, if you require a college degree, it will come at the cost of ignoring people with tremendous potential, like some of today’s biggest tech tycoons who were college dropouts.
  4. Give creatives an outlet. Creatives want to see their ideas published — in the tech world this means seeing their products in the marketplace. If their creative (aka “crazy”) ideas are constantly rejected or hammered down, they’ll leave, so it’s crucial for companies with these types of employees to understand how to harness their potential. Bushnell suggests putting people in a position where their creativity is not risky. An example of this would be to have a brainstorming session for a list of 20 ideas, which can then be whittled down to a few of the craziest ideas and looking at these through the lens of what’s right with it, not what’s wrong with it.
  5. Challenge the rules. Rules are too hard and fast and can sometimes be a barrier to creativity, says Bushnell. What creativity really means, according to him, is changing these rules and opening up the door to creativity and innovation.
  6. Encourage people to do something different. Trying things that are outside of one’s normal scope of work can oftentimes be a breeding ground for innovation. “You have to let people have different ideas and try them,” according to Bushnell. One way he suggests doing so is for companies to start a new business every quarter or every year, depending on what is feasible. Companies usually have resources to try different things but are afraid of ruining their brand in case it fails — in which case he suggests branding the new business differently.
  7. Don’t tolerate toxic naysayers. As Bushnell pointed out, there are some people who take pleasure in constantly saying no or playing devil’s advocate – and these people can be toxic to a work environment if not managed properly. “You don’t need intelligence to criticize a product… you can only criticize a product if you have a better idea.”
  8. Develop a reputation for being innovative. Embed innovation in your company’s DNA. Bushnell says it will pay great dividends for companies that develop a reputation for being innovative because creatives will then seek them out instead of the other way around. “Creatives will say, “That will be a great place to work,” or “They will appreciate my good ideas.”
  9. Then, actually BE innovative. Some companies may SAY they’re creative, but in reality they’re too scared to do anything different and according to Bushnell, this is a less than ideal environment for up-and-coming creative geniuses who want to push the boundaries and innovate. “Innovation is scary. It’s about predicting the future, and you can’t predict the future,” he says.
  10. Redefine failure. Innovation is about redefining failure, according to Bushnell. If your product fails, it means you’ve learned enough to do better the next time. Steve Jobs had a lot of failed products, but people forgot about those and focused on his successes. You can’t learn to ski well without falling down a few times; it’s all a part of the learning process. Similarly, it’s important that leaders understand that failure is a stepping stone to success and encourage employees to just act.

Listen to the recording to hear all of Bushnell’s advice on hiring the next Steve Jobs.

Deanna Hartley

About Deanna Hartley

Deanna Hartley is a senior copywriter and community manager on the creative services team at CareerBuilder, where she writes about issues that are top of mind for employers and recruiters – including talent acquisition, employee engagement and retention. An avid social media user, Deanna is the face behind @CBforEmployers on Twitter as well as CBforEmployers’ Facebook and Instagram pages, so it’s easy to stay connected with her. Prior to joining CareerBuilder, Deanna was a senior editor for the Human Capital Media Group, publishers of Talent Management, Chief Learning Officer, Diversity Executive and Workforce Management magazines. Deanna holds a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. She loves caffeine, social media, pop culture and dogs – though not necessarily in that order.


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