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In the current pandemic organisations need creative, flexible thinkers as much as they do analysts and decision-makers. It’s time to review your recruitment process, says Mark Simmonds.

COVID-19 continues to disrupt everything in the corporate arena. Business models are upside down. Retail, hospitality, airlines, small businesses and entrepreneurs have paid a high price, while conversely, and unsurprisingly, the online sector and food retailing have gone from strength to strength. But we are where we are, so how do we deal with this?

What kind of individual do businesses require in this tumultuous, unstable and unpredictable environment if they are going to survive and thrive? Is it the commercially minded, logical business analyst, or is it the creative, freewheeling maverick armed with new ideas?

Commercial or creative?

In an IBM study conducted back in 2010, more than 1,500 CEOs from more than 60 countries and 33 industries ranked creativity as the number one skill in helping their companies deal with a complex and ever-changing world. According to the survey, the majority saw creativity as the only quality that could help them navigate a challenging business environment characterised by several large-scale and volatile shifts.

What is the current state of the nation as far as creativity is concerned? What has happened during the past 10 years? What is required today during the COVID-19 era?

In 2020, GENIUS YOU carried out a study involving more than 2,000 respondents from 17 multinationals across 10 sectors. The study analysed information that was extracted from a psychometric survey completed by respondents in the period from 2015 to 2020, which explored the creative strengths of individuals. Were they at the more generative end of the creative process, characterised by the Explorer and the Detective, or were they at the evaluative, decision-making end of the creative spectrum, characterised by the Judge? The results were conclusive (see definitions).

The dominant behaviour was clear, with 31% of respondents scoring highest as the logical, analytical Judge character. This compared with 21% for the Explorer, the generator of ideas, and only 9% for the Detective, the spotter of ideas with potential. The pattern of results was consistent across the vast majority of companies that took part in the survey.

So, why is there such a strong bias towards the Judge? Is it a product of our education system? Are we knocking that childlike curiosity and can-do attitude out of people in their formative years? Maybe Judges are what companies are looking for when they recruit individuals. Do employers view commercial rigour as a more important competency than creative flair? Perhaps the realities and pressures of day-to-day work are just not conducive to the more exploratory, experimental front end of the creative process. Is there simply not the time available for Explorers and Detectives to weave their magic in the workplace?

The question that companies should be asking themselves now during the COVID-19 era links back to the IBM study: which competency should they be championing? In a period when everything is going to be in a state of flux, when nothing will be certain and everything will need to be questioned and re-examined, they need to decide if they want logic or magic. Do they need people with the ability to look for imaginative solutions or people to look after the profit and loss statement? The answer is surely both, but the balance needs to be 50:50 rather than the current 80:20 or 70:30 in favour of the former, because we need both the analysts and the mavericks.

If this is the case, there are three things that companies must do.

  1. Ensure they are recruiting Explorers and Detectives and that the recruitment process itself is designed to uncover those people who excel at both. Hiring somebody with a 2:1 degree in business from a Russell Group university might not be the automatic answer anymore. How about taking a chance on an ambitious, hard-working 19-year-old, fresh out of school and brimming with ideas, who can’t wait to get stuck into the real world?
  2. Put into place development programmes that encourage every individual in the company to strengthen all their creative muscles. Provide them with opportunities to learn in the way that generation Z and millennials are now accustomed to – online, bite-sized, visual, dynamic. I believe the classroom is dead.
  3. Work hard to create a corporate environment that tackles the three key killers of a creative culture. Let’s find out more about these.

The three killers of creativity

In the GENIUS YOU study, the participants were also asked one open-ended question: “Do you have any suggestions for how your organisation can improve creativity at work?” The findings made for some interesting reading.

  1. Time poverty: just over 10% of all responses to the question complained that there was insufficient time available in the workplace to allow the creative juices to flow. One said: “Our biggest downfall within the business is not giving enough time to creative thinking. We need to put importance on thinking as much as doing. The team are constantly executing projects but spending little time crafting new creative ideas.”
  2. Process overload: of all the responses, 12% indicated that many organisations are swamped by myriad processes and procedures, structures and systems that simply serve to clog up the working day. Companies are also extinguishing the creative spark by installing an overabundance of committees, checks and reviews at different stages of the creative process.
  3. A lack of brainstorm workshops: a dearth of brainstorming time was pointed towards by 18% of responses. Employees remain chained to their computers, unable to leave them for a couple of hours or days in order to share and build ideas with colleagues. It doesn’t take a mathematician to work out that point one plus point two probably adds up to point three.

So, what can we do to create more time and space for creativity? After all, isn’t COVID-19 giving us the burning platform we need? Has there ever been a time in our working lives when it has been more important to find creative solutions to the constraints and challenges placed in front of us? The simple answer is ‘no, never’. In gardening terms, it’s important that companies pick the right seeds to plant, but it’s equally important that they prepare the soil so that the seeds have every chance to grow and flourish.

I believe that businesses should do three things.

  1. Process pruning: take a good, hard look at all the processes in place and work out which ones really add value to the business. If they don’t add sufficient value to merit a place at the corporate table, then prune back hard. It’s unlikely that anybody is going to complain about not having to fill in a template or two.
  2.  Allow space to breathe: the net effect of a hard process prune is that all of a sudden the clutter will begin to clear away and companies will start to enjoy a strong sense of catharsis. It will be that same feeling gardeners get when as part of the autumn sweep all the weeds are dug up, the lawn is given its final trim and all the dead leaves are disposed of. The garden is given the equivalent of a short back and sides, and you are gifted with the space to create when spring returns.
  3. Use the time wisely: the absence of commuting time for many of us will only serve to increase the amount of mind space available. The trick is to use it productively. Instead of filling it with more boring bureaucracy, how about inserting a weekly Zoom/Microsoft Teams session, involving a random selection of colleagues, who meet up to tackle a challenge the business is currently facing? An opportunity to bring together a set of disparate and diverse minds with fresh perspectives. Interestingly, the one problem highlighted in the GENIUS YOU study that drew most responses (almost 23%) was an absence of cross-pollination in the business. In other words, the one resource that companies have in abundance is the one thing they are least exploiting – their people.

So, in summary, we are living in an uncertain and unpredictable world right now, and this will likely remain the case for some years to come. It will present us with many constraints, but it is up to us to view these constraints as beautiful. See them as opportunities rather than as threats. In order for this positive mindset to flourish, we have to make sure that we recruit the right people in the first place – a balance between analysts and mavericks. But if the latter are going to weave their magic in the workplace, then the conditions at work (or at home) must allow them to do so.

Seeds, soil, time and space to breathe are the prerequisites for any stunning garden. They are also the critical ingredients of any successful creative process.

The five core creative behaviours


Always curious, always inquisitive about the world outside. Ideas forever popping into their head and continually asking the questions ‘why?’ or ‘why not?’.


Very comfortable sifting through mountains of data, spotting interesting patterns, making connections and identifying gems with potential.


The builder of ideas. Impatient to progress from the conceptual to the concrete. Able to clearly and succinctly communicate ideas to others.


Every creative process requires somebody to make hard choices between different options, using both a rational head as well as gut feel.


Skilled at facilitating the creative process. Understands which creative behaviours are required when, and who is strongest at which one.

About the author

Mark Simmonds trains major organisations in creativity, insight and innovation. He is the author of 'Breakdown and Repair' and founder of GENIUS YOU.

Further reading

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  • Update History
    17 Feb 2021 (12: 00 AM GMT)
    First published
    19 Apr 2023 (12: 00 AM BST)
    Page updated with Further reading section, adding further reading on recruitment and creativity. These articles provide additional insights, case studies and perspectives on this topic. Please note that the original article from 2021 has not undergone any review or updates