Therapeutic Dose: How Do You Test for Creativity?

Jan. 10, 2008
Hiring people who already know their jobs and will faithfully do them over and over will not get us to a working model of QbD.

I have been told that I’m somewhat unconventional. And Hulk Hogan has been told that he is somewhat aggressive. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with “different” projects: never simple, boring or easy, routine stuff. As a consequence, I have had to enlist help from varied and sundry places.

When hiring a person to my group, I asked non-standard questions. However, as the questions we were allowed to ask candidates dwindled due to privacy laws and nondiscrimination rules, more creative vetting needed to be done, and in almost every case, it wasn’t. Most managers and HR people were reading from a script, developed over decades: Have you ever done this work before? Where did you attend school? Etc., etc., etc. Then suddenly we were asked to throw out those questions. In fact, when you called a reference, you were only told that the person worked there from 19xx to 19yy.

ince I have always searched for mavericks, I always asked some off-the-wall questions. While sitting in on my boss’s grilling of a young candidate for analytical chemist (in the mid-1970s), I patiently sat through the “usual suspects” like, “Where did you get your degree?” When my turn came, I asked, “Do you bowl and what’s your average?” I noticed he was left-handed and would be a good addition to my bowling team. I also asked if he drew or painted or wrote poetry. I was looking for some imagination outside the school curriculum, not merely what he soaked up in four years of college. The fact that he had a degree was a given; therefore, he could read and find his way to the library. I was more interested in whether he was willing to be a “family member.”

Now came the biggie: “Do you read science fiction?” Does that seem irrelevant? Allow me to make you privy to a conversation I had with my son. He is an expert in computers and designs firewalls for the systems in large financial institutions. He likes to buy every electronic “toy” ever made. He has the latest software and hardware, but that means he lives in yesterday. “What?!” you exclaim. “He is so today (another phrase that is beyond a cliché).” True, however, anything on the market must, by definition, already exist and have been in the works for months, if not years. It is therefore today and yesterday.

When you are a SciFi devotee, you live in tomorrow. No, I’m not talking about BEMs (Bug-Eyed Monsters) or Superman or the Silver Surfer. I am talking about Arthur C. Clarke in 1947 designing communications satellites or Jules Verne describing a moon shot from the coast of Florida…in the 19th century! (And suggesting the very landing area where Apollo 11 landed.)

When Star Trek showed small hand-held communicators, engineers proceeded to make them (and now we all have cell phones). When Spock inserted tiny blocks into the computer slot, they sure looked like the data chips we use now — while computers of that time were using removable disks about the size of a family pizza. And, what about using voice recognition? “Computer, where is our position?”

Heart-lung transplants were science fiction in 1940; “Big Brother” of 1984 fame showed how we could be spied on (not that our government would wiretap us illegally, would they?); atomic submarines that circle the globe without refueling were science fiction; and I could go on. My point is that hiring people who already know their jobs and will faithfully do them over and over will not get us to a working model of QbD!

When I was working at Union Carbide in 1969 (just out of the Army), the young lady working the NMR had an idea: why not do NMRs of polymers and determine cross-linking, chain size, etc.? Since she had her degree in Philosophy, she wasn’t “educated” enough to know that wouldn’t work, so she made it work. (Much like I didn’t bother with the literature about NIR when I started and did all those “impossible” things.)

Since PAT and QbD are still uncharted waters, isn’t it downright stupid to expect the “same old, same old” to get us to the Promised Land? I know I have touched on this before, but why not do what really good football coaches do: find the best athletes and teach them football. When hiring for process improvement, look for creative, quick, hard-working people and allow them to do on-the-job learning. Finding out what’s already been done shouldn’t be the goal of new hires, but the jumping off point! It’s time to try something new on this New Year. It ain’t 1963 anymore, so stop doing things as if it were.

About the Author

Emil W. Ciurczak | contributing editor