Sometime in the 1980s, I read some research that identified several traits that are associated with creative people. A creative person may not possess all of these traits, but the more they have, the more creative they tend to be.
1. Inner Motivation – This is perhaps the most important creative competency. In creative mode, ignore pay rates or qualifications. What you are looking for is whether or not the candidate is challenged by the work itself and by intrinsic enjoyment and satisfaction of creating. This is paradoxical because creating must have a purpose and yet it is its own justification. To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• What makes you curious?
• What’s really important to you?
• What’s dissatisfying you?
2. Looking for Creative Opportunities – Creatively competent people seek out and spot opportunities to be creative. They tend to ask a lot of questions. By asking good questions, you might be able to see the current boundaries of your thinking – and break through them. To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• Are you overlooking an important issue?
• Where are the problems hidden below the surface?
• What if…?
3. Mental Agility – Mental agility allows us to look at problems differently. Call it mental gymnastics which is the ability to think in new directions, from new angles, and with new perspectives. The more ways we can look at something, the more ways we can deal with it.
Just as gymnastics is made up of different skills, mental agility involves different disciplines. Associative thinking, for example, looks for connections between things. Rule reversal challenges the assumptions underlying our thinking. Mental agility looks for new connections between thoughts. It’s the new connections that provide the sparks of creative ideas. To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• What does your idea remind you of?
• What wacky or strange things could you do with your idea?
4. Design Thinking – Mental agility craves newness, design thinking craves simplicity. Design thinking cuts through disorder towards synthesis or resolution. Albert Einstein was apparently once asked why he used hand soap for shaving. “Two soaps?” he replied. “That’s too complicated.” To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• What’s your idea like?
• What could you edit out of your idea or project?
• How could you make your idea simpler?
5. Objectivity – The unusual ideas of a psychotic may be highly original, but not necessarily creative. Truly creative ideas must have some value or use in the real world. Genuinely creative people aren’t self-absorbed loners; they constantly seek feedback and criticism. They scrutinize and judge ideas, and ask others for their opinions. They put their egos to one side; they listen to advice and test their ideas. To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• What assumptions are you making?
• What’s wrong with your idea? Why won’t it work?
• What could you do without?
6. Managing Risk – Creative people share a love of risk with daredevils and criminals. They seek danger, excitement and stimulation. They bore easily. They also accept failure as part of the adventure. Taking risks is never easy in organizations. Success may be celebrated; failure is unlikely to be forgotten. And failure can have unintended and unpleasant consequences. So we need to find ways of managing risk. To gauge this quality, ask these questions:
• Where is fear holding you back?
• What’s the worst that could happen?
• How can you manage the possibility of the worst-case scenario?
Of course, creating is not just a set of competencies or skills. It’s a practice. The vital question is: “What do I want to create?”
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