Smart creative (n) — a person who combines deep technical knowledge of his or her trade with intelligence, business savvy, and a host of creative qualities.
Peter Drucker, who invented our modern approach to management, famously coined the term “knowledge worker” back in the 1950s. He defined it as pretty much anyone whose primary work involved thinking. The leading companies of the last few decades like General Electric, IBM and Johnson & Johnson adopted this productivity-focused and results-oriented approach to grow their businesses.
The career tracks for employees were either to become a manager, or to stay technical (engineers) and get technical expertise in one area. What you got was a generation of workers who were either good managers or good engineers, but not both. Think: “John is the spreadsheets guy” or “Sarah is good with people, but can’t dive too deep in the data.”
Today, the knowledge worker is quickly becoming obsolete. Everyone can access the world’s information at their fingertips. Creating products in a silo, without understanding the broader context, is unlikely to end well. Being a good manager isn’t enough to make an impact, and having narrow expertise limits the potential of an innovative breakthrough (or at any novel idea, really).
A more important skill is to know how to synthesize that information and take a multidimensional approach to find creative solutions. Another way to say this is the skill of knowledge transfer. In his book, Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein defines why knowledge transfer is critical.
“Like chess masters and firefighters, premodern villagers relied on things being the same tomorrow as they were yesterday. They were extremely well prepared for what they had experienced before, and extremely poorly equipped for everything else. Their very thinking was highly specialized in a manner that the modern world has been telling us is increasingly obsolete. They were perfectly capable of learning from experience, but failed at learning without experience. And that is what a rapidly changing, wicked world demands—conceptual reasoning skills that can connect new ideas and work across contexts. Faced with any problem they had not directly experienced before, the remote villagers were completely lost. That is not an option for us. The more constrained and repetitive a challenge, the more likely it will be automated, while great rewards will accrue to those who can take conceptual knowledge from one problem or domain and apply it in an entirely new one.”
As a result, a new type of worker has emerged: one that values creativity, isn’t afraid to speak up, isn’t tied down to one role or job description, prioritizes action over having perfect information, and prefers mobility over being in one role for too long. Enter the ‘smart creative.’
The smart creative type is basically what Google is looking for in a new hire. This person isn’t from any particular geography, industry or culture – they can be from anywhere and be based anywhere. They are everywhere. Here’s a paraphrasing of traits often seen in a smart creative shared by Eric Schmidt, the former CEO at Google:
She is an expert in doing. She doesn’t just design concepts, she builds prototypes.
She is analytically smart. Let data decide, she thinks, but doesn’t let data take over.
She is business smart. She understands the direct line between technical, product and business, and can bridge all three.
She is competitive smart. She is driven to be the best at what she does, and is willing to put in the work to get there.
She is user smart. She has a deep obsession with understanding the consumer’s perspective.
She tinkers with different projects on the weekend and gets her hands dirty out of pure curiosity.
She is creative. She’s always questioning, going against the status quo, and isn’t afraid to be irreverent.
She is risky creative. She isn’t afraid to fail, and knows that even if she does she can just try a different approach and keep going.
She is self-directed creative. She doesn’t wait for her boss to tell her what to do, or for the perfect information. She just takes action on her own and gets shit done.
She is open creative. She openly shares information, ideas, and collaborates freely. She is not political, and judges ideas based on their merit.
She is thorough creative. She knows the details, not because she remembers them but because she understands them.
She is communicative creative. She knows how to get her message across, sometimes with flare and humor.
If you’re thinking, “Wow, that’s quite a list. I have to be smart and creative and funny and…Not sure if that’s me.” Don’t worry, these are not all must-haves! And it’s not like everyone at Google has some extreme technical insights and ambition and could go off and start a billion dollar company — although some have, like Kevin Systrom, the founder of Instagram. Like most high-profile success cases that make headlines, he is an exception, not the rule.
In reality, most people at Google do not have all of these traits, and no one at Google is expecting you to. Take these as general guidelines, with the fundamentals being creativity, being hands-on, having business savvy and technical knowledge. So, don’t be intimidated and know there’s a ton of variation, especially in a company that’s quite huge and has a diverse background of people.
Your ability to collaborate, come up with creative ideas and understand business and tech is most important. Keep these in mind as you create your resume and go through the interview process.