We asked 14 CTOs... What non-technical skills do you most highly value among your scientists?
All of the CTOs assume applicants have strong technical skills, so what else are they looking for in the perfect candidate? Here is what they said…
- 50% Communication
- 43% Collaboration
- 36% Creativity
- 29% Innovation
Participating companies: 3M, Air Liquide Inc., Ascend Performance Materials, BASF, Cabot Corporation, Corteva, DSM, DuPont, FMC Corporation, GCP Applied Technologies, Genentech, P&G, PPG, and Solvay.
"At 3M, we highly value the ability to collaborate and work on a cross-functional team. This is a key component of our innovation model as inventions and technical advances rarely come from a single individual. The diversity of thought and additive power of teams helps creative new and differentiated solutions for our customers."
"I value their creativity, their out-of-the box thinking, their skills to communicate well internally and externally, their team working spirit, as well as their capacity to constantly adapt to new topics and environments. Last but not least, I should mention the customer and patient focus, that drives everyone’s passion at Air Liquide and fuels our engagement.."
"At Ascend, we believe collaboration and open feedback drive innovation. We expect everyone, not just our scientists, to work within and across teams to understand the full scope of problems and develop sound, sustainable solutions. Innovation involves failure, especially when you are pushing technology to its edge. It is critical for team members to demonstrate humility for what we know and respect critical feedback."
"Every innovation has a disruptive component. This requires change, which makes successful innovation so challenging. In this context I see two skills as very helpful: Resilience and the ability to inspire others for a new idea."
"There are two non-technical skills that are extremely valuable for any chemist working at Cabot or in the industry. The first is critical thinking, and the second is good communication. As chemists progress in their careers, their roles often require that they are able to influence both technical and non-technical audiences from inside and outside of their organizations and for me, critical thinking and good communication have been key to building influence.
These “softer skills” come naturally to some, but all employees can continue to improve them over their careers. At Cabot, we are dedicated to creating a learning culture and provide a variety of training opportunities for employees at various levels in their careers. In addition, what I find often more important is the individualized coaching many receive from our own internal leaders, and leadership development specialists, who have expertise working with technical professionals."
"For starters, emotional intelligence. It’s critical. The work we’re entrusted with is centered on collaboration and co-creation, and that requires a keen understanding of how to work with people and inspire, engage and build networks of trust.
Closely related to that, I think, is having a strong sense of intellectual curiosity—that innate drive to look for better ways to do things for farmers, consumers and society at large.
That tends to go hand-in-hand with another trait I value in people, which is passion. Passion for purpose, for transforming agriculture and for delighting our customers.
Today we’ve also got to be digitally savvy, and as comfortable with using digital computational tools as we are with algebra. Digital literacy is foundational."
"I appreciate scientists who show an entrepreneurial spirit: speaking up, taking calculated risks and initiative, and having a sense of urgency. That’s why I’m pleased that at DSM we develop these skills through specific programs.
Also, self-reflection is very important: we want people to take time to reflect on what has worked well for them and others, how they can do better, and what they can learn. Trying new things is part of this – I like the Pippi Longstocking quote 'I have never done it, so I will probably be good at it.'
Finally, I value storytelling. Trust in institutions and government is at an all-time low: we can’t assume any longer that people will automatically accept scientific evidence. We need to learn to discuss our solutions in a way that nonscientists can understand and appreciate. To address this need, we offer storytelling workshops for our R&D community."
"I know every CTO would say this, but our scientists are about the most innovative and driven group of professionals you would ever come across. I am continually inspired by their dedication and commitment to be on the leading edge of solutions for our customers and society.
That said, by the time I get to interview candidates for our most critical positions in the company, I already assume they’re smart. That’s a given. What I look for then is the quality of thought they exhibit, outside of a laboratory environment. What is her strategic perspective to problem solving? Is she a good communicator and can she lead teams effectively? I learn a lot by the quality of people’s questions. Curious people ask great questions and you must be continually curious to succeed at DuPont. And you also need to collaborate across diverse teams to get to the best solutions."
"Two critical skills that every new employee needs to be successful are the ability to effectively communicate to non-technical audiences and strong business acumen. These skills are new to our scientists and integral to advocating for new ideas, getting the resources they need, and building business relationships. As an ag sciences company, the partnership between R&D and the business is vital to achieving company objectives.
We try to help our scientists understand the business environment through special projects that get them out of the lab and working with colleagues in the business as well as some traditional, classroom-based learning."
"Scientists’ creativity is very valuable to the company. Scientists need to combine that with business acumen; practicality; thinking through the commercial process, from bench scale to large scale; speed and collaboration. The open mindedness of the scientist is especially valuable so that they can use their available knowledge and resources to move the project forward. Thinking about the team over individual contributions is also highly valued."
"It takes a strong team of individual, highly talented scientists working together to develop a new innovative medicine. In those individual scientists, we value a wide variety of non-technical skills: excellent communicators, good listeners, great collaborators, risk takers, motivators, truth seekers – and, most importantly, a clear passion for helping patients."
"Let us try a theme and variations on the letter C, shall we? I look first and foremost at the combination of Conviction, Critical thinking and Curiosity (Voracious curiosity for learning, for solving problems, for inclusion of diverse vantage points from colleagues, interdisciplinary or emerging fields, external partners, backgrounds). When individuals have these 3 Cs, they have huge potential for growth, for rallying partners and ultimately build competitive advantage and value creation for their company through non- obvious insights, smart reapplication of proven concepts and rigorous science.
In P&G, we adopt 'Leading with Courage' as a performance vector, congruent with these three Cs. Of course, the 4th and 5th C’s (Communication and Confidence) are mentioned by all as a point of entry to engage senior managers or investors. Yet, for R&D, those skills can be learnt and are vain without the substance of the first 3 Cs. I will also venture to say that R&D leaders must have more patience with listening to consumers or technologists who have diverse communication skills or levels of confidence. This is a prerequisite to discern the next non-obvious insight that can solve problems or create opportunities in our fast moving consumer goods industry."
"Our global research & development team at PPG has a true spirit of innovation and invention. It is important for manufacturers like PPG to look beyond current market needs, and develop coatings that will serve future customer needs – needs they may not even recognize yet.
For example, we see profound changes coming in the transportation industry with the future of mobility. With the ongoing development of self-driving and autonomous vehicles, PPG has a strong opportunity to enable and enhance the future of transportation through next-generation coatings, including cathode coatings for electric-vehicle batteries, coatings that help self-driving cars detect other vehicles and infrastructure around them and anti-fingerprint coatings for interior vehicle applications.
By anticipating these changes and having an organization that is constantly looking for new opportunities, PPG will contribute to the future of change."
"Our mission is to create value by developing solutions for our customers. The technical competencies of our scientists are absolutely amazing. Focusing these competencies on the right projects requires marketing skills and, simply, the ability to ask the right questions and to listen to the answers from our customers. Great scientists who have the ability to do that and to connect with other people, scientist or not, are the real stars in our organization."