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Grow Your Business Your Team

Want Creative Employees? Look for Curiosity

Want Creative Employees? Look for Curiosity
Credit: Peshkova/Shutterstock

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won't kill your team dynamic. In fact, curious employees are the key to a creative workforce, new research suggests.

According to a study recently published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, people with a strong "diversive" curiosity trait excel at creative problem-solving. "Diversive" means curiosity associated with interest in exploring unfamiliar topics and learning new things.

Jay Hardy, the study's lead author and an assistant professor at Oregon State University, said the research provides further evidence that testing for curiosity traits could significantly benefit employers, especially those looking to fill complex jobs. [See Related Story: Stand Up! Why Standing Beats Sitting for Creativity]

"But if you look at job descriptions today, employers often say they are looking for curious and creative employees, but they are not selecting candidates based on those traits," Hardy said in a statement. "This research suggests it may be useful for employers to measure curiosity, and, in particular, diversive curiosity, when hiring new employees."

For the study, researchers had 122 undergraduate college students take personality tests that measured the participants' diversive and specific curiosity traits. (The second type is curiosity that reduces anxiety and fills gaps in understanding.) Following the test, the participants completed a task involving the development of a marketing plan for a retailer.

The study's authors evaluated the students' early stage and late-stage creative problem-solving processes, including the number of ideas generated. In addition, researchers evaluated the ideas on their quality and originality.

The researchers discovered that the participants' diversive curiosity scores related strongly to the individuals' performance scores. Those with stronger diversive curiosity traits spent more time and developed more ideas in the early stages of the task.

The study's authors said diversive curiosity is a trait well-suited to early stage problem-solving, because it leads to gathering a large amount of information relevant to the problem. People can then use that information to generate and evaluate new ideas in the later stages of the process.

On the other hand, the researchers also found that participants who displayed high specific curiosity traits failed to generate an increased number of ideas on the task.  The study's authors concluded that strong specific curiosity had no impact on creative performance.

"Because it has a distinct effect, diversive curiosity can add something extra in a prospective employee," Hardy said.

The good news is that creativity, to some degree, is a trainable skill, Hardy said. The research shows that people who lack natural diversive curiosity can overcome that deficit, in part, by spending more time asking questions and reviewing materials during the early stages of a task, Hardy said.

"[Creativity] is a skill that is developed and can be improved," he said. "The more of it you do, the better you will get at it."

The study was co-authored by Alisha Ness, an instructor at the University of Oklahoma, and Jensen Mecca, an associate at the Shaker Consulting Group.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.