Do you truly need to hire innovators?

Think the unthinkable. Innovate fearlessly. Reinvent yourself every day. Our creative culture means embracing change. Your big ideas give our business the edge!

This is a mash-up of job requirements from a well-known hospitality brand and an accountancy firm. However, for many roles in these two apparently different sectors the name of the game is exactly the same. The job is about being consistent and building on experience, operating in the here-and-now, and dealing with things in a step-by-step way, because that's what leads to higher quality service. And you know what? That's got nothing to do with "reinventing yourself every day."

There are a number of reasons why employers confuse a desire to be creative and to seek novelty — which are aspects of the Openness personality dimension — with an essential job need. The first is that innovation is frequently baked into lists of organizational values; the second, that creativity is often confounded with initiative.

Openness is more than innovation

Of all the Big Five personality dimensions, Openness contains some of the most abstract traits. This means there's an aspect that is about imagination, creativity, fantasy, and genuinely being able to think outside of the box. However, equally important are aspects of intellect like learning orientation and a focus on problem solving.

Head in the clouds and unrealistic ideas at work with high openness

Delving deeper into the imaginative and creative aspect of Openness, it becomes apparent that too much could cause problems. Getting back to our example, do you need accountants who are high on creativity? Given the actual nature of most of their work, the answer is probably not. The same argument applies to those in the hospitality industry.

Indeed very high levels of Openness, which involves being able to think in extremely creative and unusual ways, may make someone appear rather detached. And others may find it difficult to work with such a person because the practical element of problem solving has given way to the fantastic, and what's more, that same person may not actually realise their ideas are unworkable. They're also likely to get easily bored, which leads to a lack of focus, and to overestimate their ability to solve complex problems.

Too much emphasis on Openness can lead to hires that are not able to think on their feet — or to show initiative — in the practical way that employers require.

When an individual has too much of what initially looks like a good thing it's described as a "derailing" factor. In this case, too much emphasis on Openness can lead to hires that are not able to think on their feet — or to show initiative — in the practical way that employers require. Also, an organizational value that embraces the idea of innovation may sound progressive, but in reality, a business staffed entirely by creatives would be chaotic.

However, that's not to say that some roles do not require high levels of creativity, it's just that it's not all of them. Indeed if that's your jam, recent research suggests those with high levels of Openness literally see things differently: more open people see things that others tend to block out.

Openness and Career Progression

In other research, academics have pondered the relationship between Openness and the upward movement of people in organizations. In particular, they have focused on what seems to be important as jobs become more complex and where someone eventually ends up in an organization.

The fancy name for this is "Occupational Gravitation," and when two large, longitudinal samples are explored the results are fascinating (Tomeh et al, 2021). Given that jobs generally increase in complexity as people move up an organization, a link is observed between cognitive ability and that gravitation. Additionally, there is a positive association with Extraversion and Conscientiousness; unsurprising, as this suggests that being more dynamic and assertive, and more achievement-oriented and results-focused, is also related with career progression. (But I've already touched on Extraversion Bias in a previous article.)

What is surprising is there's a negative relationship with Openness. This implies that a more systematic and pragmatic view of the world is more likely to get someone to the top than high levels of creativity or intellectual curiosity!

Person leading a business meeting with colleagues

In summary, the search for innovators can lead employers down the wrong path. It can be a source of bias in the hiring process unless there is a genuine need for highly innovative individuals. It can also mislead job applicants if an organization emphasises the need for innovation, but most jobs don't actually require it. And, of course, not meeting employee expectations is a prime cause of turnover. Lastly, while Openness is correlated to things like management performance, its relationship to career progression is less clear-cut.


Traitify can help you minimize bias in your hiring process by assessing candidates based on their real personalities. To learn more, connect with us!


Tomeh, D.H., Keiser, H.N., Sackett, P.R. (2021). Personality and Occupational Gravitation: Evidence from Two Longitudinal Studies. SIOP Annual Conference, 2021.