Hiring for Innovation

English: Berlin, office building of Schering c...

In the world of education, there has been a lot of chatter about the creativity crisis. According to Dr. Kyung Hee Kim, Associate Professor of Educational Psychology at The College of William and Mary, creativity has decreased in the United States since 1990. While data and numbers are important, a trip into an elementary school classroom can help shed light on the situation.

On a recent visit to a second grade class, a parent volunteer shared stories about how students were dumbfounded when asked to make a craft for Halloween. Without a model or instructions to rely on, the 7-year olds stared blankly at the volunteer and couldn’t figure out what to do. As they began working on their projects, students criticized each other saying, “that’s not the color you’re supposed to use” and “what’s that supposed to be?” While the volunteer let students know there was no right or wrong way to use the craft table materials, the students’ discomfort was evident.

This doesn’t bode well for innovation. The need for problem solving, critical thinking, and the ability to look at situations and come up with unique solutions is paramount. Yet, a lack of independent thinking, originality, and creativity starts at a young age. By the time students reach a working age, habits and patterns have already formed.

That brings up a question, what are companies doing to hire original thinkers?

While colleges and universities are asking college essay questions including, “If you could choose to be raised by robots, dinosaurs or aliens, who would you pick?” in order to identify candidates who are more creative, companies are also stepping up their hiring practices to attract innovative workers. Here are some examples:

  • My Marriott Hotel – uses gamification to see how players will do in managing their own kitchens. According to Marriott, “At any given time, we have players from 120 different countries running their own kitchens – and that’s compared to the 73 countries we actually operate in. We also know that one-third of our gamers end up clicking on the ‘try it for real’ button, which pops them out onto the careers section of our website.”
  • Quixey – uses challenging puzzles and brain teasers to attract highly coveted software engineers. One day each month engineers enter to win $100 by solving a 60-second computer programming problem. Winners get cash and Quixey gets access to talented engineers.
  • Google’s cryptic billboard – In 2004, a billboard in Silicon Valley read “{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e}.com”. The answer to the mathematical puzzle directed users to www.7427466391.com. When they visited the site, they were presented with another challenge. Those with the correct answer were re-directed to a page that said:“Nice work. Well done. Mazel tov. You’ve made it to Google Labs and we’re glad you’re here. One thing we learned while building Google is that it’s easier to find what you’re looking for if it comes looking for you. What we’re looking for are the best engineers in the world. And here you are.”

Are your company’s hiring practices keeping pace with innovation?

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