Do portfolios matter?

How do you evaluate a Creative person you are about to hire?

I once told someone that the best way to judge a Creative is not from a portfolio, but to ask the candidate what’s on his/her wall space.

At the risk of being simplistic, I like to say that creative people fall into two categories. Those who put up project lists on their wall (so that they stay on top of things,) and those that have all kinds of stimulating material (so as to stay connected to things.)

Unlike a portfolio, that many of us maintain in analog or digital formats (or both,) a work space cannot be faked. At least not for a long time. The former displays a great sense of order: neatly stacked folders, pencils in place, and zero coffee stains on their desks. Also this: bland work. The moment you see “trophies” dominating the workspace you know there’s something else about the person’s work style. I’m not talking of awards on the filing cabinet, but framed artwork (of aforementioned bland work,) that shout “I’ve made this happen. Respect me. Kneel down before me..”

But there’s another kind of creative. The person who rips out an ad or a quote from Wired and pins it on the wall because it sparks something. Someone who brings back odd bits and bobs from a hike, a picture of funny sign, a made-up word from Seth Godin scrawled on a sticky note, a URL that he/she cannot stop talking about…

This is the kind of person I was reminded of when I came across this brilliant post by David Armano of Digitas about an “Information Architect.”

He cites Tim Brown of Ideo who calls this new kind of creative person a “T-shaped” person. Fits perfectly with my “portfolios are dead –giveaways” theory.

“We look for people who are so inquisitive about the world that they’re willing to try to do what you do. We call them “T-shaped people.” They have a principal skill that describes the vertical leg of the T — they’re mechanical engineers or industrial designers. But they are so empathetic that they can branch out into other skills, such as anthropology, and do them as well. They are able to explore insights from many different perspectives and recognize patterns of behavior that point to a universal human need. That’s what you’re after at this point — patterns that yield ideas.”

Empathetic. Universal. Approachable. If only the world had more of these types.

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