Do you want the child prodigy or the out-of-the-box thinker on your team?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 - 16:36

In 1999, a phenomenon was born. In the now famous scene from The Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo two pills - the red pill or the blue pill. One promises to allow him to return to his life as he knew it, the other to step out of the world he thought was real and go "down the rabbit hole".

While the choice for Neo was a relatively easy one, it strikes at something for anyone faced with making a serious decision: Do they stick with what they know? What they know will work? Or do they choose the road less travelled, the one where nothing is certain.

It might be a world away from 90s science fiction, but this is a dilemma that many managers will face when they look to bring on new team members. On the one hand is the confident performer, the employee who has excelled at every task they are given. Or do they choose the unknown - the creative thinker who has seen their fair share of setbacks and who can offer a new perspective.

Choosing between talent and out-the-box thinking

This conundrum was recently explored in the book 'Originals' by Adam Grant. Mr Grant argues that the traditional ideal of success is usually associated with the child genius - people who are naturally talented and breeze through academic challenges.

The problem with these individuals is that they "rarely change the world" - they are employees who are so used to excelling at tasks they are given that they don't challenge the paradigm they work under. They might be good at what they do, but they struggle to do anything new.

Neo could have chosen the blue pill and excelled as a hacker. Instead he took a step out of the paradigm he was familiar with.

On the other hand, those originals that Adam Grant observed were often quite unremarkable when it came to academic pursuits, but their ability to make change was instead driven by their creativity and talent at thinking outside the box

Going back to the Matrix, Neo could have chosen the blue pill and excelled as a hacker within his world. Instead he took a step out of the paradigm he was familiar with and became an 'original'.

Of course, there will be times when you need someone who is simply able to deliver consistently without struggling. But for management roles in particular, this ability to challenge the status quo can be incredibly useful for achieving better business decisions.

While the value of having original employees is clearly beneficial, there is a further benefit to having these people on your team: Diversity.

The true value of diversity: The newcomer

There is no shortage of studies and research on why diverse teams can help an organisation to become more profitable. However, what many of these studies will miss is what it actually is about diversity that makes organisations better. It isn't just ethnic or gender diversity that is important, but having many people who think differently from one another.

In research published by the Stanford Graduate School of Business, the authors argued that it is 'newcomers' - people who don't fit in with an established group - who are able to introduce truly diverse thinking. It is this new perspective that challenges existing perceptions.

The study's authors argued that it is this same newcomer mentality that is behind the popularity of 'diversity' as a business concept. However, this difference of perspective can come from anyone who has a different mindset to an established group - a quality that is possible to nurture in any team member, if they are given the right training and support.

Choosing the creative problem-solver over the high-performer is no easy task, and both come with the challenges. However, those individuals who can challenge the status quo in a constructive way are also going to be the ones who make the biggest difference in your organisation.

So, will you choose the blue pill, or the red pill for your next team member?