Saturday, February 3, 2007

Assessing the Creative Candidate...a daunting task

It's two years until the US Presidential election and already we have 16 candidates out there beating the bushes for money and primary votes. As a Creativity and Innovation expert I've tried to look at the race and figure out which is the most "creative" candidate. I've even thought of doing a rating system, something like movie reviews.

The more I think about rating candidates creativity the more difficult the idea seems.

First of all you'd have to define what you'd measure, things like quality and quantity of ideas, and type of ideas. Right away I'm in trouble because this is information that isn't really shared. Oh, we know what a candidate has chosen to reveal, but that's the tip of the iceberg. Some have written books, so you could search for clues there, but it's still a very incomplete picture.

I'm aware of Audacity of Hope by Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton's It Takes a Village. Do the other candidates have books out? I'll research this and post more later.

You'd also want to measure implementation skill. All the great ideas in the world don't mean a thing if you don't have the ability to get them passed as laws or as initiatives. Great ideas don't make a great leader. You can look at track records for elected officials, but some of the best leaders we've ever had were not active lawmakers, or had limited experience. Abe Lincoln for example -- he only served two years in Congress before being elected President.

It would also be nice to know "level" or raw intelligence. This kind of talent really matters doesn't it?
Let's face it - the most ingenious ideas usually come from very bright people. Same with creative decision-making -- analysis and synthesis of vast amounts of data requires a powerful engine under the hood. Personally I want a lot of horsepower in the President's brain. You can guess IQ in several ways, not the least of which is simply the words people use. But again, you've not got an exact measure here.

I wonder if SAT scores and IQ tests of Presidential candidates are in the public record. They don't tell you eveything, but they tell you something important.

Beyond IQ, education and experience matter in creative effectiveness. They allow you to draw from a deeper and wider database of things to combine into creative solutions. To some degree you could assess educational level, at least formal education. However, it is very difficult to assess life experience. Personally, I learned a great deal about people and life being a bartender, and how could you ever include that kind of world wisdom in an assessment of candidates? You could look at their history I suppose and get a sense of the breadth of their experience. Again, this is highly subjective.

And this doesn't even begin to address the fact that the system doesn't reward candidates for risk taking or for being truly innovative. Truly innovative ideas are not usually accepted easily or quickly, so it is a disincentive for candidates to share those kinds of ideas -- if they even have some. Incremental ideas, that is "in-the-box" ideas are much more likely to get public acceptance. On the other hand they aren't terribly exciting are they? I don't envy these candidates!

The good news, in my opinion, is that the field is large and that increases the chance that among them is a truly creative candidate. As successful people they are creative -- they wouldn't be where they are if they weren't creative to some degree. Raising money and getting elected are extremely challenging and complex. The thing is the creative skills that get you in a position to run and win may not be the creative skills necessary to do a good job as President.

A person who is great at analysis and getting the one right answer is not necessarily the person who has the imagination and vision to lead.

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