Why companies measure creativity with impossible interview questions

We often avoid thinking about failure and, as a result, distract ourselves from the benefits it can give us.

Problems aren’t always unexpected in life or work, of course. We can often know about problems before they happen and ignore them in favor of being safe, secure, and content.

Being content with where we’re at now, avoiding the possibility for failure, may let us overcome setbacks and problems to a certain point, but over-reliance on our comfort can lead to overconfidence and biases that make us less prepared for future change. This avoidance of failure debilities us from thinking creatively.

Failure, when paid attention to, is a crucial part of creativity because it allows us to become familiar with the uncertainty that new ideas require in order to thrive. To be our best creative selves we shouldn’t seek to avoid being uncomfortable, or failing, in-fact: we should pursue the opposite, to seek failure in small doses.

Doctors use a similar approach for combatting diseases: a fraction of a disease given to a patient allows the body to develop an immunity, so when a large dose of the disease attempts to enter the body, its not going to do much damage; the body is prepared through these small doses.

The same approach can be applied to living creatively. Small doses of risk, failure, and learning, can do wonders for strengthening grit, problem-solving, and openness to new experiences.

Creative organizations are already familiar with this notion: when interviewing candidates they’ll task them with a seemingly “impossible” problem. Problems like: How many ways can you think of to find a needle in a haystack? How many golfballs would it take to fill a bus? How could you solve humankind’s biggest crisis given $1 billion and a spacecraft? What would you do if you had an unlimited budget to redesign the modern computer?

These questions seem daunting to most candidates, and that’s understandable. But the questions aren’t asked to intimidate or confuse. The questions aren’t asked to see if the job candidate can actually solve the problem either. They’re asked to see how a person can tackle the challenge of facing uncertainty, of potential failure.

The best candidates, the ones who get jobs at companies like Apple, Facebook, and Nike, come from diverse backgrounds of experimentation and play. They’re used to diving into problems, even when the odds are against them, because they know that success or failure isn’t what matters: trying is.

When faced with such an impossible problem, rather than panic or run in fear, those who are experienced with small doses of failure are more likely to run face-first into the problem.

If you want to live a more creatively life, you have to learn to live with uncertainty and, yes, failure. Because at some level it’s inevitable, you just have to decide how you’re going to deal with it when you cross its path. To do that, you can’t ignore risk, you have to instead embrace it.