Work-Life Strategies & Solutions

On the Evolution of Work Systems in the Digital Economy

Independent Thinkers Need Not Apply


Creativity (Photo credit: Mediocre2010)

An issue recently came up with regard to describing oneself as an “independent thinker” on one’s resumé. One of my contacts in Human Resources advised me that this is generally construed as someone who doesn’t follow directions or is resistant to feedback from a supervisor. (I’m guessing that synonyms such as “autonomous” aren’t any better.) However, wherever I look, I see organizations that are interested in innovation as a matter of survival in today’s hyper-competitive world. Hence, I also keep seeing demand for workers who can contribute a fresh outlook and think creatively.

Let’s examine the definition of creativity here. I agree with this one from the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination. More? According to Robert J. Sternberg¹:

A focus on the nature of the creative person considers more general intellectual habits, such as openness, levels of ideation, autonomy, expertise, exploratory behavior and so on. A focus on place considers the circumstances in which creativity flourishes, such as degrees of autonomy, access to resources and the nature of gatekeepers. Creative lifestyles are characterized by nonconforming attitudes and behaviors as well as flexibility.

Or how about this?

Some researchers have taken a social-personality approach to the measurement of creativity. In these studies, personality traits such as independence of judgement, self-confidence, attraction to complexity, aesthetic orientation and risk-taking are used as measures of the creativity of individuals (Strenberg, R.J. & Lubart, T. I. 1999)².

As far as I can tell, creativity requires independent thinking. This is part of the package. To want an employee who can contribute creative ideas but yet be amenable to micromanagement seems contradictory to me. It makes as much sense as saying, “I want a man who’s assertive and takes charge but acquiesces to my demands!” Uhh, hello?!

So here’s my burning question: Just how much creativity do managers hope to eke out of someone who prefers to be told what to do? Humor me, please?!

I know I can just state that I am a “creative thinker” instead but, somewhere along the way, someone is going to be frustrated that I’m an independent thinker as well. Oh snap! How did THAT happen! For the most part people realize that, when we are talking about romantic relationships, the very same trait that is attractive is also, at some point, the source of conflict. If you want the benefits, you also have to accept the drawbacks. That said, there is always a certain amount of compromise for anyone entering into a relationship with an employer as an employee as well. However, if organizational leaders wish to maximize benefits from employing creative individuals then the necessary conditions to unleash all of their potential must be created as well. By allowing greater autonomy for high-performance, innovative workers, organizational leaders and managers will enjoy greater results.

Organizations such as Google have figured this out. When will hiring managers of many other organizations seeking to innovate learn to accept this common wisdom? It is my hope that, as organizational survival demands the types of skills that technology cannot, at this time, replicate (such as creativity) that hiring managers will learn to embrace the whole creative person.

¹Sternberg, Robert J. (2009). Jaime A. Perkins, Dan Moneypenny, Wilson Co. ed. Cognitive Psychology. CENGAGE Learning. p. 468.

² Sternberg, R. J.; Lubart, T. I. (1999). “The Concept of Creativity: Prospects and Paradigms”. In ed. Sternberg, R. J.. Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.

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