To Hire Creative, Define “Creative”

To Hire Creative, Define “Creative”

By Orin Davis

Whenever I teach courses on creativity, or meet with clients about hiring talent, the same question keeps coming up: how do you hire creative people?

Those who have worked with me know that I have a different take on hiring people, and those who have followed me in the blogosphere know that I tend to debunk hiring myths, and thus find themselves entirely unsurprised when my response to the question is:


Define ‘creative’!


For many, this turns out to be a challenge, because hidden in that word “creative” is a bunch of assumptions that they never stopped to unpack. There are many types of creativity, and many types of creative abilities. The aim of this article is to describe the various types of “creativity” that companies seek, and how they can more accurately find that next fantastic hire.


At its core, creativity is defined as the creation of that which is novel and useful/valuable. Businesses who aim to hire actual “creatives” want people who will come up with fresh ideas/products/services that will generate revenue. This is great when companies are hiring people for R&D, or want people to design new things, which certainly calls for a broad range of creative abilities, including almost all of the ones below.


Mostly, however, companies do not want to hire people to invent novel and valuable profit-makers. The question then becomes, what do they want?


Some firms might say that the new hire needs to be someone who can engage in “creative” problem solving. The trouble is, they don’t actually want someone who will provide different solutions to the problems that the company works on. In fact, most of the time the company already has the solutions that it provides to a set of problems that it is known for solving. This is the firm’s value proposition, and few want to bring in someone who may alter, and potentially tarnish, the company’s “value-added.” This usually leads hiring managers to suggest that the firm just wants someone who may catch something that others might overlook when the firm engages in providing its products/services to customers, but that “creativity” criterion is attention to detail. Moreover, what the company wants is someone who fits in with the company’s way of doing things, and who will do a great job of doing whatever the company does!


With that in mind, it becomes important to determine what kinds of creative processes the new potential hire will need to employ on a daily basis. An analysis of the problem solving processes that the company uses and the day-to-day tasks of the future hire often shows that what is needed is someone who can understand the types of problems that come up, determine which tools are relevant for solving them, and use the tools correctly to get solutions. Mostly, however, that comes from experience with the company’s methods rather than any kind of inherent creative ability. When people join the company, they are taught the method, learn to follow the method, and then learn all of the variations of the method and the different contexts in which the method is used. In that case, the firm wants someone who learns quickly, and likely someone who has the experience (domain knowledge) to get acclimated quickly.


In still other cases, clients want skilled laborers who know the methods and nuances of the field and can simply apply them to the value proposition of the company. In those cases, it can be very difficult to distinguish between a “creative” skilled laborer, and a non-creative one. For example, what is the difference between creative Python programming and non-creative Python programming? Most people have no idea, but anyone who does also has no need of a consultant to advise them on hiring Python programmers! More frequently, the question is which Python programmers are creative people in general, and which are not, because the company doesn’t want the new hire just to stick to the job description or follow orders. Rather, the company is looking for problem finders who take the initiative to roll up their sleeves and figure out what needs to get done.


Sometimes, companies want skilled people who can “handle anything.” They want someone who can apply whatever skills they have to whatever challenges the company is currently facing. For example, a company might hire a content developer to write about the various initiatives of the firm — the hope is that the writer can apply communication skills to describing the specific value-proposition of the company, and that the writer can do this even across a broad range of field-specific initiatives. In that case, the goal is to find someone who is good at extrapolation, or applying skills/information in one area to issues in another area.


Among many other attributes, when companies seek to hire someone “creative,” they are looking for one or more of: attention to detail, quick learning, domain knowledge, problem-finding, initiative, and extrapolation. Each of these is different, and can be assessed in its own way instead of giving candidates general “creativity” tests that don’t measure any of the aforementioned constructs (in fact, I recommend using a behavioral interview to assess these). Rather than loading job descriptions with words that mask the true desirable characteristics for a position, companies need to take the extra time to determine exactly what they want in a new hire.


Creative people abound, and there’s talent aplenty for every company!


Image Courtesy of :


Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

More of Our Insights & Work

Never miss an insight

Get insights delivered right to your inbox

You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter.

Too many subscribe attempts for this email address.