Hiring for creativity

Assessing job applicants can feel as chancy as deciding which chocolate to pick from among many in a boxed assortment.

Hiring for creativity

Assessing job applicants can feel as chancy as deciding which chocolate to pick from among many in a boxed assortment. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, you never know what you're going to really get. And identifying truly creative thinkers can be even trickier, since many interviewing techniques and tests don't predict a person's ability to produce imaginative ideas or solutions quickly. Yet we'd all agree that's who we want to hire. And in an idea economy, it's also who we need to hire.

So in reading Eric Schmidt's explanation of how Google makes its hires in this month's GigaOM, I was struck by some interesting tenets of the company's successful personnel philosophy that have implications for how our industry should start making hires. For one, Schmidt states that the “right people” are “not always the most personable.” He explains that Google has tolerance for “odd people” and says, “Not every one of these incredibly smart people is a team player…even if people don't want them around, we still need them.” Probably not the mantra in much of corporate America today, yet a paradigm-busting approach we'd all be wise to consider more often. Schmidt also hires people who don't need much managing. To quote him, “People are going to do what they are going to do….”  If this is true, and I believe that it is, we must find ways to discern who is self-motivated, since tenacity and passion fuel creative success.

May is always the month new college graduates flood the job market, and with the deluge of résumés comes our opportunity to be discerning – especially so in light of some of the recent negative publicity surrounding the vaunted college degree. In “The University Has No Clothes,” published in New York Magazine, Peter Thiel, the successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur, posits that higher education inhibits innovation and argues that “the new university” is “the college of innovation and pluck.” Thiel and others suggest that people with dynamic ideas and potential may not necessarily attend or complete college, but rather, gain purpose-driven educations through internships, vocational training, or entrepreneurial endeavors. That is to say, many creatively gifted job applicants will have a traditional college degree, but others worth considering may be graduates of the school of pluck.

At Ketchum, we have found a way to spot motivation and creativity, and that is not through résumés, references, or tests, but through our crowdsourcing community, Mindfire. On this platform, university students practice their innovation and pluck by tackling real-time client challenges, giving students a chance to flex their creativity muscles, while supplying clients with concepts free of corporate bias or boundaries. The program also acts as a virtual talent scout, providing evidence of a student's problem-solving skills, originality, speed, and productivity. So when a Mindfire member wants a job here, they are no longer that mystery chocolate in the box, but rather a person with an established track record of creativity.

Hiring for creativity should be everyone's priority. We need people who have lived or traveled around the world so they can provide ideas from diverse perspectives. We need people with abstract reasoning skills who can detect patterns and discern trends and opportunities. We need writers and designers and illustrators who can express ideas that break through.

We need to get better at spotting those novelties in the chocolate sampler.

Karen Strauss is partner and chief innovation officer at Ketchum and is a co-developer of Ketchum's Mindfire crowdsourcing community.

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