Hiring right: how a person's creativity plays a role

Specific curiosities are often more beneficial to a team than generic "creativities." Photo credit: Getty Images/jacoblund

Hiring right is likely high on every leader's list in the coming year and one of the attributes top hotel executives understandably hold in high regard is creativity—in themselves and others. But in hotel management and operations, how do you know when you're getting it right? If this question nags you, read on.

Most people think of artists or inventors when discussing creativity, but it can be found in almost every profession, level of position or social construct. Most people know creativity, put simplistically, refers to how nimble and innovative a person’s mind works. But most leaders and hiring managers don't realize creativity has productive and unproductive forms. And, too often, leaders select applicants or promote incumbents who show the wrong type of creativity.

According to recent studies, not just any type of curiosity drives innovative thinking and creative solutions. Social scientists speak of “trait epistemic curiosity,” a broad construct with two basic and separate forms. One is called diversive curiosity, which is less goal-directed and interest-motivated. The other is specific curiosity, which is more targeted and competence-motivated. Trait epistemic curiosity predicts creative and innovative thinking, but this is primarily due to the influence of specific curiosity. This is an important detail, as diversive curiosity is often aimless and hedonistic in nature and, hence, tends to be unproductive, or in some cases, a counter-productive by-product of our natural curious tendencies. Obviously, this form of creativity hinders organizations.

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On the other hand, specific curiosity is goal-oriented and problem-focused. It typically comes from inspiration and necessity. Consider which type of person you would want on your team: the equivalent of a bored teenager flipping among television channels or someone who thinks and acts like a scientist searching for solutions to problems? Specific curiosity is akin to the scientist, and this is the trait that drives innovation bench-strength.

Fostering an innovative team or organization is about hiring and promoting those with strong “specific curiosity” as opposed to generic “creativity.” The trick here is to screen and select people by asking questions about and seeking real-world evidence for characteristics and attitudes, such as whether the person:

  • Demonstrates humility by readily asking for information or help
  • Takes ownership of tasks and believes that success is due to personal effort under one’s control versus luck or factors outside one’s control
  • Frequently asks questions that are conceptual or focused on the big picture, as well as detail-oriented
  • Likes solving problems
  • Volunteers for stretch assignments that allow opportunities to meet new people, work in new domains and broaden one’s skills and business perspectives
  • Handles ambiguity and chaos constructively
  • Loves exploring and trying new things
  • Voices optimism in the face of challenges versus cynicism
  • Can easily empathize with others’ feelings or points of view
  • Enjoys philosophizing and challenging assumptions
  • Has a passion for learning in general

Many forward-thinking companies, including Google have allowed for executive “play time” or “20 percent time” as they call it. Many Google innovations have come from 20 percent time—for example, Gmail—yet some debate its ongoing usefulness. It amazes us that so little time and energy is devoted to productive creativity. Albert Einstein summed it up when he said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”

Keith Kefgen is CEO and managing director and James Houran is managing director of Aethos Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused human capital advisory group. Kefgen can be contacted at [email protected] and Houran can be reached at [email protected].