‘Stop recruiting creatives’ by Aran Rees

When I talk to people about creativity it’s like playing whack-a-mole with myths and misunderstandings. Today I’d like to address a couple of them head on. So before you go out looking for creative “talent”, read and take heed.

1. Look around you, you’re swimming in creativity already, but fish don’t notice water

This is a classic false scarcity problem; when we see a lack of creative output we assume that our employees lack the ability to be creative and that we, as leaders, lack the ability to help them to grow.

I’ll be honest with you, I look forward to the day when I come across a team or business that is actually short of spare creativity because it’s already using the creative potential of everyone on hand. I’ve got a special bottle of scotch in the basement ready to celebrate.

Another rarity is the workplace that’s so lacking in leadership skills that they can’t begin to exploit the latent creative potential in their staff. Not so rare, sadly, since leadership skills in general area so poorly developed in many places, but it doesn’t take a Steve Jobs to get creativity out of people.

– Myth: creativity is a rare skill
– Myth: the ability to grow creativity is beyond the average leader

2. The water makes the fish, the fish don’t make the water

People aren’t creative or uncreative. What separates those who express creativity from those who don’t isn’t ability – this isn’t some X-Men style special ability. The difference is how they relate to creativity. This is the core principal of my work – fix that relationship and you’ll find creativity makes a powerful partner.

With this in mind, hiring someone with a strong relationship with creativity and sticking him or her into an environment that’s unfriendly to that very concept and expecting the environment to change is like putting a fish into a bowl and expecting water to appear.

– Myth: creativity, you either have it or you don’t

3. Creativity isn’t the point

Very recently I spoke with someone who had conducted a survey in a large media business and found that the majority of people in the company wanted to “be more creative”. This, of course, is admirable, but then if we look a little further we can see that there’s subtext that needs examination. What exactly is it that they mean when they say they want to “be more creative”?

My definition states that creativity is the art of solving problems under conditions of uncertainty. But when we know what the problem is that we want to solve, do we think “yay, a chance to be creative!” or do we address the problem? When people say they want to be more creative what they’re really asking for is to be empowered to solve meaningful problems. They want to give more, but they’re not sure how.

Creativity is what happens when people are empowered, enabled and engaged with solving meaningful problems under conditions of uncertainty (which is, essentially, most of what life is). Rather than worrying about creativity perhaps my client might have asked about how best to empower his employees to solve problems.

– Myth: creativity makes everything better, even if we don’t know what’s wrong

To summarise, unless you’re one of those rare and special unicorns who is already using the creative potential of all your people, having already built an environment that brings out the creative genius in all of us and has clarity on all the goals and problems to be solved in the business then don’t try to recruit for creativity.

You don’t need to and it won’t work.

Instead, remember the myths and unlearn them.
– Everyone is a potential creative genius, stop wasting them
– Unless you’re environment is friendly to creativity no amount of so called creatives will help you
– Creativity can’t solve your problems if you don’t know what they are to begin with

None of this is to say that you shouldn’t look for creativity in job applicants. My argument is that you should first look for creativity in everyone and if we don’t see it, remember that this doesn’t mean it isn’t there.



Aran Rees
Founder and Coach
Sabre Tooth Panda:¬†creativity’s hard, not complicated