Where Are All the Creative People?
By: Rick Tjia
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”
And therein lies the problem. It is ironic that companies have difficulty stimulating innovation among their employees specifically because they have hired a personnel made up of adults— who have got nothing over our notorious child with a stick and a lot of time on his hands.
You want creative employees? I firmly believe in curiosity, in the child’s mind. The child’s mind never stops imagining because it is hardwired to be curious. When the child is then told to act like an adult and to stop creating fantasies, that’s when the mind stops finding solutions to obstacles. That’s when we consciously short-circuit the innovation machine.
Companies stop innovating; innovators do not. Innovators in companies are often prevented from doing so and therefore either leave or spend their work days in silent misery. The reasons that they are prevented from innovating are numerous, so we won’t discuss them here. But suffice to say that most of those barriers come from pay grades above theirs.
There is a well-known quote from Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that goes something like, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”
As an extension to this statement, I would also quote Justin Bariso in a recent article about Tesla’s Elon Musk, who writes, "Of course, leaders have to set the example. That means looking beyond individual achievements and key performance indicators, which takes courage, insight, and emotional intelligence."
I would say that the whole subject goes well beyond emotional intelligence. Brilliance begets brilliance, and the opposite…well the opposite begets what it will beget. Enough said.
Which brings about what seems to me the next obvious question: who is going to choose the innovative geniuses we all want to hire? Or to rephrase, who in upper management is brilliant enough— to be able to recognize both innovative/creative genius, and the link between a candidate’s brilliance to his or her potential pertinence to a particular company?
Now the frequency of occurrence of genius is not so easy to determine. There are sources that say it occurs in 2% of the population, and others say only 1%. Some say that it is 1 in 10,000 or rarer. Regardless of the figure you choose to believe, we can all agree that it is a very small portion of the general population.
So if we were to take the second figure as an example and say that only 1% of the general population is an innovative, creative genius, then we necessarily have to agree that 99% of the population is not.
So I must ask again, who is going to choose? How does a company choose innovators? We must come to the conclusion that, if we take as a given that only 1% of the population is that brilliant, then only 1% of the population is capable of understanding that level of creative brilliance. And therefore the decision maker— the hirer— must also, necessarily, be brilliant. There is no other way, except by pure luck of the draw. And while the luck element is always present to some extent, I would not recommend basing hiring strategy on it.
So now we have a huge, and as yet unsolvable dilemma. Perhaps companies consciously or unconsciously know this, whether or not they choose to admit it. And when we come to that realization (consciously or unconsciously) that we do not have what it takes to even choose brilliantly creative employees, what happens next? As a company, what do we do when deep inside we know we’re not really that creative ourselves?
Well, then we talk about creativity. A lot. As if talking about it will somehow make it true, because talking about creativity and innovation is a actually a rather convenient way of totally avoiding it. Of the most truly creative and brilliant people I have known in my lifetime, I cannot think of one who spends any significant amount of time talking about creativity or innovation. Not one.
So what often ends up happening is that companies hire the people who outwardly seem the most confident. And in many cases, the ones who speak the loudest, regardless of what they are actually saying.
And in this context, I cannot help but feel that silence really is golden, for oftentimes an important part of a solution is to not talk quite so much. Much as we like to think that we are multitaskers, it is actually quite difficult to talk and think at the same time. Sometimes the greatest value can be found only by being alone and silent, with nothing but our thoughts and a simple, but oh, so poetic stick…