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How recruiters can find ‘unicorns’ in a crowded talent pool, according to PepsiCo’s chief design officer

September 19, 2022, 11:44 AM UTC
Unicorn trophy
PepsiCo’s chief design officer prioritizes vision, optimism and kindness when sourcing talent.
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Good morning!

Mauro Porcini, SVP and chief design officer at PepsiCo, is chasing unicorns. But he’s not talking about the magical horned beasts. Porcini considers unicorns to be employees who possess the key talents of vision, execution, innovation, kindness, respect, and optimism. This might seem like a tall order (or a bit idealistic, at the very least), but in his forthcoming book, The Human Side of Innovation: The Power of People in Love with People, Porcini argues that these traits are critical if companies want to be innovative.

As the food and beverage company’s first chief design officer, Porcini leads a growing employee base that now spans 17 cities across the globe. He spoke with Fortune ahead of his October book release about how leaders can find unicorn talent. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


Fortune: How do leaders find, grow, and retain employees who have these “superpowers”?

Too often, there is an excessive focus on standard, run-of-the-mill skills and not enough on less obvious yet critical ones. Once leaders determine what kind of superpowers are needed for their organization, they should seek out these qualities and act on finding them in prospective hires. The most effective hiring leaders seamlessly blend an analytical mindset and emotional intelligence with a good dose of experience—an experience made of successes and failures. It has been through my missteps over the years that I’ve gained full clarity on the list of superpowers I need, not only for myself but for my teams.

What do you think is the most overlooked trait when sourcing innovative talent?

A blend of curiosity, optimism, and kindness. Having curiosity allows you to grow every day and to see any experience, encounter, and misstep as an opportunity to evolve. Curiosity encourages you to embrace people who are different from you because you understand that in these differences is a treasure of new knowledge and the precious gift of a new perspective, which nurtures your intellect as well as your imagination. Possessing optimism gives you the courage to face any roadblock with a positive mindset. Innovators know that if they don’t encounter difficulties along the way, they aren’t really innovating. Roadblocks, difficulties, shut doors, and pushbacks are endemic to the innovation process. Embracing kindness allows you to work with others in full synergy and create strong bonds with individuals in the most productive way. Kindness makes you feel good and leaves others uplifted in your personal life and in the workplace.

So where does design thinking come into the recruiting process, and how can one leverage this approach?  

Design thinking is an innovation methodology that homogeneously blends empathy, strategy, and prototyping. It’s all about understanding what’s relevant to people and to business in order to prototype possible solutions and learn from them in an iterative process of experimentation. In other words, we should look at part of our company’s recruiting process as an innovation exercise. We should hire and empower recruiters who possess this kind of innovation-first mindset. Far too often organizations apply the same rigid model that has become obsolete in the hyper-accelerated, high-tech, and hyper-connected world we live in.

What about recruiting for less creative and innovative jobs?

There are different degrees of innovation and creativity in every job, though I would argue that you still need some of the skills of the innovator regardless of your job description. We want our employees to be problem solvers and to react creatively to complex situations and difficulties. With jobs that are considered to be less creative, we want people who excel in skills like execution, but we still want them to have some form of proactivity, empathy, agility, vision, and the ability to go the extra mile.

Amber Burton
amber.burton@fortune.com
@amberbburton

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