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Competing is innovating! Is it possible to gain insight into an applicant’s ability / competency to innovate?

Dragons’ Den (or Shark Tank)

Do you ever watch Dragons’ Den (or the US equivalent Shark Tank)? One of the most important aspects for the growth potential of a business that the investors have to estimate, is how easily and how rapidly a product can be copied, i.e. estimating the copy-time. Of course, it’s really good to have a patent because then competitors are still prevented from copying. In other words, if you want to stand out, your organisation needs to move fast. The ability / competency to innovate is key to this.

Copy-time as a unit of competitiveness

The copy-time is a unit that should not be underestimated for measuring competitiveness. An important driver of the capacity to rapidly compete is innovative power. Here at Starcheck, we come across this more and more often in our customers’ assessment questions, especially in organisations that consciously compete at a high pace. They ask us to assess if their candidates have innovative potential. They want to use this in leadership assessments for CXO jobs, for assessments for managers & professionals and for talent assessment for graduates.

How do you determine if a candidate can contribute to the innovative strength of your organisation?

The method used by most organisations is the interview. However, this often goes horribly wrong. Somehow people think that you can determine innovative strength and creativity by asking the applicant a very creative question. Glassdoor has a few amusing examples. ‘What would you do if you found a penguin in the freezer?’ for example. The problem with this type of question is that it never leads to an objective selection. Randomness is no basis for structural high value selections. During our interview training sessions, we refer to a quote by Laszlo Bock (Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google) in the New York Times. Google researched the relationship between interview scores and job performance. His conclusion: “zero relationship, a complete random mess”.

The ability / competency to innovate and worthwhile interviews

If you use the interview as a selection method, then you have to conduct the interview in a structured and competence-oriented fashion if you are to make any serious estimate of the candidate’s ability to innovate. This requires you to expand your understanding of this competence in your organisation and of which candidate answering patterns are desirable. You also need to develop a standardized scoring method and train your interviewers. In addition, you also need to pay particular attention to the preselection. If you want your hiring managers to conduct interviews in a professional way, then the average level of the candidates that they will be speaking to must be relatively high. Too many mediocre candidates and your hiring manager will definitely find an alternative way to spend the time they should be spending on preparing the interview.

Observing the competency to innovate in a roleplay and assessment exercise

Making use of behavioural observation seems tempting because it offers an immediate opportunity for observation. You can create a situation where candidates have the chance to demonstrate their ability/competency to innovate. One method often used in the assessment industry is roleplay, often in the form of an analysis-presentation exercise where a candidate is asked to analyse a problem, present proposals for improvement and come up with creative and innovative solutions, revealing the competency in action. A major challenge of roleplay and assessment exercises is the lack of reliability in rating between assessors. Limited inter assessor reliability is a severe methodological problem: the assessors often seem to come up with very different scores, even when assessing the same candidate at the same time. Just as in the interview, the solution to this is standardisation on all fronts. It is only worth doing this on a larger scale and is therefore the domain of the assessment agency or large organisations with their own assessment centres. However, the problem remains that it is hard to capture real out-of-the-box thinking in standardised systems.

Psychometric testing of innovation competence

This is always an indirect method of measurement, measuring underlying aspects of the ability/competency to innovate, i.e. potential; you don’t actually see the competence in action. What you are measuring is creative and conceptual reasoning and if it is in the candidate’s nature to reason in a creative way in combination with a targeted approach, for instance. You can make the link with personality structure. You can also measure if their motivations indicate innovative thinking or quite the opposite. Imagine for instance a candidate who needs structure and hierarchy and the absence of stress. This pattern indicates the opposite of an independent and free thinker.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) makes it possible to measure innovation objectively

The missing link in using psychometrics to measure innovative potential was the ability to objectively analyse creative reasoning. Our assessment agency can employ a capacity test that is able to use AI to assess objective scores for three factors of creative reasoning. Fluency of generating ideas, flexibility and originality emerge as three separate scores. Added together, they produce a score for total creative reasoning domain. By combining this with various other components of intelligence and elements of personality and motivations, we gain insight into innovation competence potential.

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