PepsiCo design director says recruiters should be on the lookout for ‘unicorns’

Mauro Porcini, SVP and Chief Design Officer at PepsiCo, is chasing unicorns. But he’s not talking about magical horned beasts. Porcini views unicorns as employees who possess the key talents of vision, execution, innovation, kindness, respect and optimism. That might sound like a tall order (or a little idealistic, at the very least), but in his forthcoming book, The human side of innovation: the power of people in love with peoplePorcini argues that these traits are essential if companies are to be innovative.

As the food company’s first design director, Porcini leads a growing employee base that now spans 16 cities around the world. He spoke with Fortune before his october book release on 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, too much emphasis is placed on the standard and common skills and not enough on the less obvious but essential ones. Once leaders have determined what kind of superpowers are needed for their organization, they must seek out those qualities and act to find them in potential recruits. The most effective recruiters seamlessly combine an analytical mindset and emotional intelligence with a healthy dose of experience, a track record of hits and misses. It’s through my missteps over the years that I’ve gained complete clarity on what list of superpowers I need, not just for me but for my teams.

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

A mixture of curiosity, optimism and kindness. Having curiosity allows you to grow every day and to see any experience, encounter, misstep as an opportunity to evolve. Curiosity encourages you to embrace people who are different from you because you understand that within those differences lies a treasure trove of new knowledge and the precious gift of new perspective, which fuels your intellect as well as your imagination. Having optimism gives you the courage to face any obstacle with a positive mindset. Innovators know that if they don’t encounter difficulties along the way, they aren’t really innovating. Roadblocks, difficulties, closed doors and pushbacks are endemic to the innovation process. Embracing kindness enables you to work with others in full synergy and bond strongly with individuals in the most productive way. Kindness makes you feel good and uplifts others in your personal life and at work.

So where does design thinking come into the recruitment process and how can this approach be leveraged?

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

What about recruitment for less creative and innovative professions?

There are different degrees of innovation and creativity in every job, although I would say that you always need some of the skills of the innovator, no matter what your job description is. We want our employees to be problem-solvers and creatively responsive to complex situations and challenges. With jobs considered less creative, we want people who excel in skills such as execution, but we still want them to have some form of proactivity, empathy, agility, vision and ability go further.

Amber Burton

Journalist’s notebook

The most compelling data, quotes and insights from the field.

With layoff announcements almost weekly, I’ve been thinking a lot about how employers are keeping fears of job cuts in their workforce at bay. Last week, CHROKim Seymour shared how Etsy managed to make its employees feel safe in a time of economic insecurity. Here’s a preview that was on the cutting room floor:

“It helps that they know we’re still hiring when they read these stories about some of our contemporaries. [and layoffs] in the area. They can go to the website and see the job postings, which helps a lot. And we’ve been very public about it. We haven’t been hiring at a ridiculous rate, even at the top… We feel like we’re the right size and shape for the company we have right now.

Around the table

– Workers returning to the office begin to miss the privacy they had at home. It could mean that open office plans are over and cubicles are back. the wall street journal

— A group of special effects artists who make movies and TV shows plan to unionize to combat grueling 18-hour days and lackluster benefits. Informal organizing efforts have already begun and will likely have a massive ripple effect on studios, which spend roughly 60% of their production budgets on graphics. Bloomberg

– Last week’s labor agreement to avert a rail strike is just the latest development in a centuries-old dispute between rail carriers and their unions. The dispute began in 1877 and (believe it or not) shaped America along the way. The Washington Post

– Italy, Thailand and France are just a few of the countries where remote workers live secretly without the knowledge of their employers. Some workers even concocted elaborate lies to cover their tracks. Vice

– Seattle has the highest percentage of remote workers in America, according to data from the US Census Bureau. With 47% of people saying they work primarily from home, this is almost triple the national average of 18%. Axios

Water cooler

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The protocols are gone. Some companies requiring employees to return to the office have dropped all of their COVID precautions. For employees concerned about lax protocols, the best ways to stay safe in the office are to keep up to date with vaccinations, provide adequate ventilation, wear a mask, and communicate concerns. —Dana G. Smith

Sad office salads for all. Restaurant orders in New York rose 70% earlier this month, according to data from Grubhub. The peak comes mainly from companies offer employees a free lunch throughout the week, with the goal of bringing them back to the office. As they say, the way to an employee’s heart is through their stomach. —Alena Botros

A fairer workplace. The national non-profit organization Management Leadership for Tomorrow, known for promoting equity in leadership, announced a new certification program which promises to provide guidance and empowerment to employers looking to recruit and retain Hispanic talent. The goal is to create more equitable workplaces for Hispanic talent. —Against McGirt

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