Thursday, April 10, 2014

Is Singapore Ready?

For over two years, the LeadingCreatives crew has been based in Singapore (and we did a stint here back in 2008-09, too). It's very interesting to be in a country with a strong economy based pretty much on two main resources: 1) a port that makes is a great hub for international shipping, and 2) people. That's pretty much it. No minerals, little agricultural, and you can pretty much forget oil. Since people are the main thing that will propel this economy forward, you'd assume the country would be careful to cultivate a workforce at the leading edge of the knowledge economy.

But that might not be a safe assumption...

Almost a year ago, Sudhir Vadaketh published a pair of compelling essays looking at Singapore's apparent lack of readiness for the knowledge economy. Based on Vadaketh's essay and my own experiences as a university professor here a few years ago, I'd say the key challenges noted below are largely related to education (and sadly, as I look across the region, this isn't really limited to Singapore).

Unwillingness to challenge authority
Developing new knowledge and creating better processes for delivering it requires challenging the status quo and upsetting someone else's way of thinking. Singapore's education system, at all levels, hasn't traditionally encouraged this. The lecturer talks, the students copy it down, then they repeat it all on an exam. Memorization takes the place of critical thinking and challenging old ideas. I saw this as a professor, when I told my graduate students it was their job to challenge what I presented in class, and believe me, it took a few weeks for them to start getting into it. It probably doesn't help that the political arena also doesn't encourage a lot of opposition; currently, only 6 of the 87 elected seats in Singapore's Parliament are held by opposition members, and that's the highest number ever (other single-party-dominant countries in the region -- such as Malaysia and Vietnam -- should take note of this, too).

New ideas will sometimes fail, and a society that doesn't allow for failure is a society too afraid to try something new. Knowledge work requires new ideas to stay ahead of trends and in front of competitors, and anyone unwilling to take a chance will find they get left behind. Whether it's parents' drive for perfection or the make-or-break world of single-chance exams that decide your future, many Singaporeans hesitate to take a chance on something without a guaranteed outcome. I saw this with my students who were far more concerned about knowing what would be on an exam ("Prof, what EXACTLY are you going to ask???") than about advancing their understanding of the field. This has hurt creativity and entrepreneurship in the country; while the World Bank ranks Singapore as one of the easiest places to start and conduct a business, a fear of failure still holds many people back. Since so much creative and knowledge-based work is done by small, agile startups, this will be a real problem as the country goes forward.

Individualistic rather than collaborative
In today's work there is often no single right answer; instead, a holistic solution based on a variety of disciplines and functions has become the norm. Work in Singapore has typically been very individualized, though, with a strong concern for measured for one's own skills compared to others. Students know they will be evaluated based on how well they answer questions on their own, rather than on how effectively they work with others. Collaboration muddies those waters, but collaboration is essential for bringing together various perspectives and identifying opportunities for new knowledge and processes. That kind of agility is what makes one knowledge-based form more successful than another, but employees who are trained to "color within the lines" and stay within their functional boundaries have trouble coming up with great ideas because they often don't know what they don't know.

As we noted three years ago, the government began implementing a new plan in 2002 to build Singapore's creative capabilities, including a number of educational changes designed to tackle the above challenges. We're still waiting to see the effects of that long-term effort. For now, though, it seems the social and educational upbringing of many of today's knowledge workers in Singapore haven't given them the best preparation for the challenges of the modern working environment, suggesting that Singapore has yet to make the best use of its greatest natural resource.

By the way, Vadaketh and his co-author, Donald Low, have just published Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus, with a discussion and book signing to be held at National University of Singapore on April 22.

Monday, March 31, 2014

How Creative is Your Recruiting?

When you are looking to hire Creatives, do you only look at the content of the resume, or do you consider the resume itself?

The folks at MentalFloss offer us 11 very creative resumes that certainly got our attention. I think my favorite is the one that looks like an Amazon product page, but the candy bar wrapper is a close second.

When we are looking for new Creatives, it's easy to fall into old habits and just look for lists of jobs that candidates have had, or portfolios of work they've accomplished in the past. But the whole idea of creativity is to avoid old habits, right? There's more to a Creative than their past experience; there's also their creativity. You want Creatives who can bring a new idea to solving a problem and accomplishing a goal, so why not look at how they work toward the objective of landing a job? Their approach tells you a lot about how they will work on your projects, and frankly, it tells you a LOT more than a list of companies and dates will tell you on its own.

If you want your people to be creative in the way they approach their work, you need to be creative in the way you approach yours, too. If one part of your work is hiring new Creatives, then be open to new ideas about doing that.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Look Beyond the CV

When we're recruiting Creatives, an obvious first step is to look at a CV or portfolio. Some of the things that make for a great Creative, though, might not show up on either of those.

Carolyn Gregoire wrote in Huffington Post last month about the things Creatives do differently, and while you can quibble about that list, there's one point on there that jumps out: they seek out new experiences.

People looking for new experiences have demonstrated they they don't just want the same thing, or even variations on the same thing: they want something different. In a truly creative setting, that's what you want from your employees, too. People who seek out something new and different in their personal lives are likely to bring that mindset to their professional lives, and that's the kind of outlook that will advance your creative business. They're more likely to learn, more likely to go down unexplored paths, more likely to bring you something original.

So how do you find them? Well, one place is their LinkedIn profile. As you go through their experience, don't stop there, but instead go toward the bottom to see what groups they've joined; if it's only professional groups then that doesn't tell you much, but if they're following events in multiple countries and they're in a rock climbing group and a knitting group, you may be onto something. Maybe they'll even mention something about their personal interests directly in their profile, and if so, pay attention. You can still use the standard tools, of course; if their CV shows a diversity of locations, maybe they're always searching for new perspectives...which is a good thing, right? So look beyond the basics and see what's going on in their lives, because that gives you a better sense of what they'll bring to you.

Just because someone is an avid traveler, a photographer in their spare time, or has shown an interest in a variety of diverse hobbies, doesn't necessarily mean they'll be extra creative, but it certainly is a pretty good clue.