Innovate like an intern.
The second week of August is a very strange time at Barkley. Suddenly over one weekend the total energy level drops perceptibly. I walk around the building and things are a little quieter. There are a few empty desks around. We ask for help from people who are no longer there.
The end of our paid summer internship program is the saddest time for me. After 10 weeks of twenty-two extra college students running amok, it feels like I’m going to get “back to school blues”.
There are a lot of social and corporate benefits to an internship program (helping students, finding potential talent). There are 6 traits of an intern, however, that are especially beneficial to the culture of innovation that we try to foster through Moonshot Lab:
They bring a lot of energy.
Summer in our company is way busier with the noisy interns who are willing to volunteer for pretty much anything. They are a catalyst to the rest of us, making us more reactive and innovative. Creating space and time in your culture to be high energy will certainly lead to more innovation and creativity.
They have a bright view of their future.
Starting out their career, interns haven’t heard the word “no” so many times that they’ve gotten jaded; they are excited and see opportunity everywhere. Innovation is killed by cynicism. When you expect everything to go poorly you fail to see the potential in the unexplored spaces. Sure, they might not see the gravity of the consequences, but we must learn to nurture that sense of wonder and excitement if we want to be truly innovative.
They are willing to take risks.
Since the interns have never made egregious mistakes, they don’t know how bad it could be. This leaves them wide open to find how good it could be. If channeled properly, their willingness to fail and learn opens up a world of innovation opportunities that we might miss due to our natural tendency to be careful. Use your experience and wisdom to choose to take calculated risks you can learn from.
They are more willing to exist way out of their depth.
Everything the interns are doing for the summer is new to them. When you ask them to do one more thing that is unfamiliar they don’t resist because it is only an incremental shift. When a partner who has been doing the same thing every day for the last 5 years gets asked to attempt something new it might be pushing them twice as far into discomfort. The best innovative ideas are in that space beyond your comfort zone. To find them you need to get familiar with how it feels out there.
They are very flexible.
Since interns are already out of their depth and are trying to impress you they are willing to get out there and try new things. They get into situations where they come up with great ideas because they are willing to try something new. An effective culture of innovation requires you to be flexible and to be willing to do things differently every time.
They are disruptive.
There is nothing quite like a 20-year-old asking you why you do things a certain way to make you question your methods. An innovative culture in your company will be disruptive and noisy, but the results will be worth it.
Investing in young talent is a great opportunity to be inspired by the energy that they bring.