A weekly newsletter on creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
Tuesday, 30 March 2004
Hello and welcome to another issue of Report 103, your weekly newsletter on Creativity, ideas, innovation and invention.
A reminder, if you have news about creativity, please feel free to forward it to me for potential inclusion in Report103.
RECRUITING OUT THE CREATIVE TALENT?
Over the past decade, recruitment has been completely transformed by the Internet. Sadly, the result is that companies, particularly large ones, are slowly ridding themselves of creative talent. While people with the greatest creative potential are being left out in the cold.
When a job seeker applies for a job today, she does so via the Internet, entering her curriculum vitae (CV) into a form or sending it via e-mail. If the CV reaches an employment agency or a medium to large company, it is immediately entered into the job applicants database.
The CV and others in the database are then searched for terms relevant to the position. For instance, if the firm is looking for a marketing executive, they will probably look for someone with a BA in a business related subject, ideally an MBA and a few years experience in a similar kind of firm. The database spits out the relevant CVs and a choice is made from those CVs. If a match is not made, the CV normally remains in the database for future searches.
To make matters worse, more and more companies are using personality tests to determine what kind of person a prospect is and how she will fit into the firm.
The result of course is that the marketing department, and indeed every department, soon fills up with people with similar backgrounds: people who have the same background, think similarly, have similar ideas and reinforce each other's way of thinking. Hardly a recipe for creative thinking.
It gets worse. As companies become communities of similar people with similar backgrounds, they also become more insular and less accepting of outside ideas which challenge their accepted way of accomplishing tasks.
Meanwhile, the people with dynamic backgrounds; the people who have accomplished unusual, but impressive achievements; the people who do not need MBAs to define their thinking... are left out in the cold. Their CVs will be overlooked by the database searches.
They will be lost to big corporations and smaller companies that rely on employment agencies. Sadly, dynamic thinkers will find it increasingly difficult to find jobs that really challenge their creative skills; jobs in companies that would benefit enormously from their ideas and experience.
What should companies do? They certainly should not dump their databases and hire all kinds of people. MBAs are valuable and people who reinforce the corporate culture are good for maintaining that culture. However, it is necessary to add to the corporate culture dynamic, independent thinkers who can bring to the company new ideas, new ways of thinking and new ways of doing things. People who can challenge the others and make them think beyond their experience.
Unfortunately, databases are not so good at picking out quirky people. It is necessary for a human to review every CV that comes their way, pull the ones that stand out for being different, and talk to the owners of those CVs.
It is also important to pay attention to spontaneous job applications. These are most likely to come from people with initiative, people who make opportunities rather than wait for them, people who – in short – are more likely to be creative thinkers.
CLEVEREST INVENTION OF THE 1970s?
One of the most unusual product concepts to appear in the 1970s was the pet rock. It all started over drinks (as these things so often do). Gary Dahl, an advertising man from California, jokingly complained about traditional pets such as dogs, cats and goldfish. They were dirty, misbehaved and cost a lot. He claimed he had a pet rock and it was an ideal pet: clean, easy to care for and with a great personality. Prodded on by the alcohol, Mr. Dahl and his mates started joking about pet rocks, how to care for them and what they could do.
For many of us, such ideas expire before the next morning. But Mr. Dahl spent the following fortnight writing a “Pet Rock Training Manual” which described how to care for and train a pet rock. It included tricks like how to make your pet rock roll over and play dead.
Mr. Dahl, then visited his local builder's supply shop and selected the Rosarita Beech stone to be the pet rock. It was uniform in size and shape and although the most expensive stone in the shop, they still cost only a penny a piece.
Each stone was packed with an instruction book in a box shaped like a pet carrying case and slapped on a US$3.95 price tag. Mr. Dahl took his product to the major gift shows in San Francisco and New York. He photographed himself surrounded by his pet rock boxes and sent it with a press release to the major journals.
And it took off. In no time, Mr. Dahl was selling 10,000 pet rocks a week. He was featured in the press and interviewed on top talk shows. Pet rocks were everywhere... for a while.
The pet rock fad had died within months of taking off, but not before over a million of them had been sold. Mr. Dahl earned over a dollar from each sale and the pet rock must be the most profitable pub joke of all time.
The wonder of the pet rock, of course, is that people were really so sold on a crazy idea that they were willing to pay for it. I was a young teenager at the time and while I had no desire to buy a pet rock, I remember being immensely envious of a guy who dreamt up the concept.
Mr. Dahl claimed he had a few more ideas. As far as I know, nothing has come of them. A pity!
INNOVATE OR ELSE
An intriguing editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle claims that America is undergoing an innovation crisis and, if it doesn't act fast, America will lose its dominant place in business and research. Worse, this would result in economic slow down and reduced standards of living for Americans. Thought provoking stuff.