Diversive curiosity can lead to better performance.

Photo: Shutterstock

Every business wants employees who can solve problems, and there has been an increased push in recent years for employees who can creatively solve problems. The trouble is that although a growing number of positions list “creativity” and “curiosity” as desired traits, the companies looking for these people generally are not hiring based on these factors.

It’s not entirely their fault though. Managers looking for curious individuals aren’t necessarily aware of how to find them, and have to rely on self-identification by prospective employees. Curiosity has to this point been hard to quantify.

A new study from Oregon State University indicates that you actually can test for curiosity. Not only that, but there is more than one kind of curiosity, which can lead to different results when faced with problems.

Diversive curiosity, the type that leads people to ask lots of questions and look for a variety of relevant information before attempting to solve a problem, is the kind employers should be seeking. The study found that diversive curiosity directly correlates to better, more creative problem solving.

The other type of curiosity, specific curiosity, tends to focus more on the problem than on solutions, resulting in less creative idea generation.

For the study, researchers recruited 122 undergraduate college students. They had the students take personality tests that measured diversive and specific curiosity. The researchers then assigned the students the task of developing a marketing plan for a retailer. They discovered that students who had a greater level of diversive curiosity asked more questions earlier in the process and came up with more creative ideas.

“Because it has a distinct effect, diversive curiosity can add something extra in a prospective employee,” says Jay Hardy, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Business and lead author of the study. “Specific curiosity does matter, but the diversive piece is useful in more abstract ways.”

Diversive curiosity is good for companies, especially those in fast-moving industries that need to innovate or be forgotten. The researchers who wrote the study found that a simple personality test administered during the interview process can help determine if someone has diversive or specific curiosity.

Hardy says that participants’ style of information seeking in the task that was assigned to them in the study was the most important factor in explaining differences in creative outcome.

Finding the right kind of tests, and figuring out how to administer them during the employment application process, will likely need more research, as the Oregon State University study is one of the first of its kind. However, there will certainly be more research in this vein, since it directly benefits the companies that can afford to fund it.