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The power of creativity and why you should hire employees who have it

Justin Lowe Jan 24, 2019 9:00:00 AM

There is an increasing sense that the “traditional models” of hiring aren’t working. After all, turnover rates remain relatively high, which is one potential sign that how (and who!) we’re bringing into organizations isn’t right. Of course, in reality, it’s a more complex picture than that, as people leave jobs for many reasons, often focused on how their manager treated them and how much of a pay level they can reach. It’s not simply because they were the wrong hire; they could have been the perfect hire, but the situational factors just didn’t work out.

Still, it’s worth considering alternative approaches to finding those great new hires, and one that’s recently been getting more attention is the idea of hiring for creativity. Let’s figure out how traditional views of hiring work and how to get a little more creative when you start your next candidate search.

Hiring for competence

This has been the standard model for generations, which makes sense because it’s easier to track.  It usually goes something like this: What’s your GPA? OK, that seems high. You're probably intelligent. Can you do these tasks in these bullet points? OK, good, you’re competent at what we need for this role.

This is how we’ve mostly always done it but it’s hard to justify hiring purely on competency anymore as we now understand more about team dynamics, company culture, and a shifting corporate landscape. Business models change all the time (ever heard of “disruption?”) and talent management should be dynamic enough to adjust as the needs of the business evolve. After all, what you think you need now, you may not need in 16 months, right? If you're just hiring with a static view of the business and the skills you need to hire for today, your focus will likely be on competency. But this can leave you with a lot of bloated and overlapping roles if the direction of the business shifts and people who were originally hired aren't able to adjust. Maybe, then, competence is overrated in hiring. It can provide a baseline, sure. But should it be everything?

Read more: Check out these killers of creativity in the workplace

What about C-Factor?

Harvard Law professor and author Cass Sunstein has argued that the difference between what makes a team “smart or dumb” is something called C-Factor, which is a bit hard to define. In essence, though, it’s measuring how people work together. Part of people working together effectively is a degree of curiosity on the team: to want to know what others are doing and working on and how it connects with your work and how you can help. That’s why others have argued curiosity is as important -- or more so -- than intelligence, and may even be “the new intelligence.” Hiring for both competency and curiosity together, therefore, become a stronger way of assessing candidates right off the bat. After all, you'd uncover candidates who not only have a desired skill-set but are also interested in their teammates and the bigger business picture. Sounds great, right? But there's one more concept to take into consideration. 

The third C

In addition to the competency and curiosity, let’s return to the idea of creativity. It's a concept that has gained a lot of focus in business recently, especially because many organizations want to be seen as “innovative” in the market. If your people aren’t creative, it stands to reason that you won’t be too innovative, right? But you need to understand what creativity is first. For a simple definition, let’s say it’s someone with a novel approach to problem-solving. Think about that person who is great at creative thinking and comes up with those out-of-the-box new ideas others may have overlooked. We're not saying everyone you hire needs to be the next Einstein or Picasso, but understanding the creative process and the different perspectives creative people can bring to their job can help you breath new life into your projects. But while you might not be arguing the importance of hiring creative thinkers, how do you actually find these magical, would-be A-Player?

Pro-tip: If you want to find creative people, think about what message your job description is sending them

It all comes back to the interview

The interview is, of course, your best chance to assess someone's creativity and there are a few ways to do this. First, think about your own job description and the language you've used or skills you've listed. Is it dry and static? Creative people respond to creative work so give that job description a bit of flare if you can.

Second, think about how you want to test for creativity before the interview. Some people rely on questioning and others prefer in-interview tasks or problems candidates then need to solve. We've all heard about Google's use of interview riddles and this thinking is along the same lines. Give them a question such as:

How can you build a container to drop an egg from the 10th story of a building without breaking, while minimizing the cost of building the container? 

And see how they are able to answer it. Probe candidates to explain their logic and reasoning leaps. Remember, these questions aren't about getting the right answer necessarily. It's more about seeing how a candidate thinks and what new connections they are able to draw from the information to support their conclusions.

Third, when in doubt, up your question game in the interview. You should try to ask questions that focus on the why and how previous problems were solved. This can help you gain insight into how candidates think and approach problem solving. Some questions you might want to consider using include:

  • Talk to me about a recent challenge at work. Define it for me.
  • Why was it a challenge?
  • What was it impacting?
  • What was your first step?
  • What side issues did you need to consider?
  • How did you know you could start?
  • What challenges happened when you started?
  • How would you know when it was done?
  • What could be done to push the envelope?

Do you see the difference between these questions and “So, walk me through your resume?” They are worlds apart and get to real and useful information instead of rehearsed answers. Questions like these allow a candidate to share real-world examples while also walking an interviewer through their problem solving process and how they develop and incorporate new ideas within an existing business.

Creativity for all

At the end of the day remember: no one is born devoid of all creative ability. While changing the way you hire might bring in new energy and drive into the company, don't forget that your current employees might have hidden creative talents too. These talents might just be overshadowed by your corporate culture or even an employee's job requirements. Taking an audit of your current approach to how you foster and support creative new ideas within the company is a great place to start in order to assess what skills you really need to hire for. Who knows? Maybe you already have a great creative mind on your team but they are being overwhelmed by their daily workload and it's stifling their abilities. At the end of the day, you don't have to be a creative genius to get the job done, but a little creativity can go a long way when it comes to hiring the best people.

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Topics: Creativity, Hiring Strategies

Justin Lowe

Written by Justin Lowe

Director of Marketing and Sales