Why Creativity and Problem-Solving are the Best Indicators of Success


It’s not speculation, opinion or assumption…. the fact is that the common mantra of “Hire for attitude, train for skill” is a misguided perspective on hiring, promotion or performance.

Many so-called attitudes, motivational or temperament factors are in fact learnable skills themselves. Research consistently reveals that personality tests are poor predictors of workplace performance, whereas measures of General Mental Ability (reasoning, planning, abstract thinking, comprehending complex ideas and learning quickly) and role-specific skills are stronger and more consistent predictors of performance. Think about it, cognitive and emotional intelligence underpin ability and speed to new learn things, as well as capacity to adapt to new circumstances and handle stress. Personality factors, on the other hand, have been shown by independent research to be an inconsistent predictor of professional performance. It seems counterintuitive, but personality factors per se do not drive success in the workplace.

As executive search professionals and talent management advisors, our ability to identify top performers and then assess capability and fit are of utmost importance. Interestingly, the identification of “best in class” talent is becoming easier every day with the internet, as well as other advanced technologies. So it has become the ability to assess that will distinguish the best recruiters from the also-rans. We use a number of tools in assessment: psychometric testing, behavioural interviewing and in-depth reference checking to name a few. These three approaches work together to produce the most accurate, comprehensive evaluation of an individual.

When it comes to psychometric testing, it is advisable first to focus on a candidate’s “Cognitive Abilities”. The two primary areas are scores in Creativity and Problem-Solving. Creativity is someone’s big-picture thinking and the ability to see patterns and connections where others don’t – it’s all about construction and is akin to playing “chess” On the other hand, there’s traditional problem-Solving. This reflects analytical and critical thinking abilities that are needed to solve complex, technical and nuanced challenges – it’s all about deconstruction and is akin to playing “checkers.” Combined, these two metrics of psychometric testing can historically identify top-performing leaders in any field. Simply and candidly put, smart people out-perform their less bright counterparts by a wide margin. And at the end of the day, it is all about performance for us and our clients.

And for those wanting to improve in their value proposition to their organizations, we recommend enhancing your creativity and problem solving capabilities. While IQ is genetically-determined to an extent, the skills needed for “thinking and conceptualizing information” in terms of both construction and deconstruction of data are trainable. Up your brain power if you want to up your game. Creativity and problem-solving – or general mental ability – is the ultimate transferable skill set.