I’ve been reading and hearing a lot about how companies are looking to hire creative employees. But, the job advertising I see does not reflect that. Most knowledge workers are expected to follow a rather narrow career path defined by the position they seek. Typically, that will involve a degree in a relevant field, ideally an advanced degree and similar work experience.
The individual fulfilling the job description is likely to be competent. But there is no guarantee that she will be particularly creative. Moreover, her background will be so similar to that of people already working in the division that she will be unlikely to bring much diversity of thought to the division. Diversity of thought help in collaborative creativity. The more diversity you have in a group, the more raw material you have for creative ideas.
If you want to find and hire exceptionally creative people, you need to find people with diversity in their backgrounds. This is not only a sign of creativity, but it also indicates a potential employee with more diversity of experience, knowledge and thought than the person who has followed a clearly defined career path.
The most important thing you should look for is international living experience. Not international travel, but living and working (or studying) experience. Research1 has demonstrated that living overseas boosts permanently an individual’s creativity. Indeed, it is to the best of my knowledge, the only proven way to boost permanently creativity. So, look for foreigners living in your country as well as nationals who have lived and worked overseas. Presumably, though it has not been tested, multiple international stints and living in very different cultures further enhance creativity.
Second best characteristic to international experience is diversity of experience. Rather than look for people who have followed a very narrow career path, look for people who have had more varied experience. Look for people who have done work significantly different to that of the position you are seeking to fulfil. If you want an IT manager, someone who has spent two years selling furniture or a year teaching skiing in addition to some IT experience is likely to be more creative than someone who has only had IT experience. Moreover, she will bring diversity of thought to the IT department — and that boosts collaborative creativity.
Aside from work experience, look for evidence of diversity and unusual points in education, hobbies and elsewhere. A marketing manager who has a degree in philosophy followed up by an MBA will probably be more creative than the marketing manager who has a business administration degree and an MBA. She will certainly bring new perspectives to the marketing department.
Having an original sense of humour — that is, being able to make jokes or be funny on your own, rather than repeating well known jokes — is an indicator of creativity. Humour is about seeing things in unusual ways that are unexpected. To be able to to do that requires creativity. This does not mean every creative person has a sense of humour. Many do not. But anyone with an original sense of humour is almost certainly very creative.
Having a sense of humour will probably not be apparent in an applicant’s CV and most people believe they have a sense of humour. But if the applicant keeps a blog, is active on Twitter or participates publicly in other social media where she demonstrates an original sense of humour, she is probably more creative than most.
They tend to do things in unconventional ways and they are not afraid to provoke others, including senior management.
Highly creative people tend to be rebellious. They think differently to averagely creative people, they tend to do things in unconventional ways and they are not afraid to provoke others, including senior management. This is not usually because they choose to be rebellious. Rather, highly creative people think differently and make decisions differently than do averagely creative people. Often, highly creative people are blind to the relevant conventions. They are likely to believe their ideas are better than more conventional ideas.
This means that if you really want to hire highly creative people, you should be looking for evidence of rebelliousness. However, this characteristic is unlikely to be mentioned in the prospect’s CV for obvious reasons. It is a characteristic you will need to identify through interviews and perhaps by looking at the prospective employee’s profile on social media. Unfortunately, rebelliousness does not necessarily indicate a creative person. Some people are rebellious for other reasons. So, hiring a rebellious person does not guarantee she will make a creative contribution to your company. Rather, it should be considered along with other characteristics I have described here.
Of course, hiring rebels should also give you pause for thought. Hiring highly creative people will almost certainly result in hiring rebels, people who will not easily conform to your company’s social culture; people who may be critical of their managers and the way you do things in your company; people who believe they know better than you and your managers. Sometimes, the rebels will be wrong. Other times they will be right. But you need to ask yourself: do you really want creative employees so badly you are willing to accept the consequences of having a number of highly creative rebels in your organisation.
Because, make no mistake, rebels or not, highly creative people are by definition different to the average person. They think differently. They do not conform. They may be rebels. They will certainly become frustrated and leave if you ignore their creative ideas and stick to safer, less creative ideas that are also less risky.
That pretty much sums up highly creative people: they are different. They will have different backgrounds to averagely creative people — and that background may very well include international living and working experience. They will behave differently to averagely creative people and they will offer different results: creative results. If you keep this in mind, it will not be hard to find and hire creative people. The challenge will be challenging them sufficiently to keep them!
By Jeffrey Baumgartner
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a new approach to achieving goals through creativity.
1) William W. Maddux and Adam D. Galinsky (2009) “Cultural Borders and Mental Barriers: The Relationship Between Living Abroad and Creativity”; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology; Vol 96, No 5, pp 1047- 1061). Download as PDF from http://www.apa.org/journals/releases/psp9651047.pdf
This article originally appeared in the December 19, 2012 issue of Baumgartner’s Report103 newsletter. Published with permission.