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Diagonal Thinking - finding creative minds

People who never dreamed of achieving a career in advertising can now take an online recruitment test for the industry, created by V-On for the IPA

1. Background

The UK is internationally renowned for its professional creative talent and the services that stem from this contribute £60 billion a year to the British economy – more than seven percent of GDP.

For many groups in society there are significant barriers to entry, something the government is keen to address. The ‘Creative Britain’ strategy led by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is doing so in association with a range of partner organisations.

Representing the advertising industry, which is worth £6.5 billion to the UK economy, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) spearheaded an initiative based on a concept that has been a passion of its Director General, Hamish Pringle. Pringle had long suspected that those who were most successful in the industry possess the rare ability for both linear (sequential, logical) and lateral (imaginative, uninhibited) thought, something he called “Diagonal Thinking”.

This conviction inspired a five-year study, conducted by occupational psychologists, of over one hundred advertising luminaries drawn from five job disciplines. The findings validated Pringle’s hypothesis.


2. Challenge

The IPA’s challenge was to bring Diagonal Thinking to a wider society, in support of the Creative Britain agenda. Using tools based on the hypothesis, the advertising industry should be able to identify its future budding stars from a more diverse range of backgrounds. The difficulty was that the existing assessment procedure required an individually marked test taking over three hours to complete. A more expedient approach was needed if goals for greater accessibility were to be realised.

3. Solution

With Internet access available throughout schools, colleges, libraries and other public centres, the IPA knew that a test delivered online would be the ideal option.

The challenge of creating a self-administered online test was complex. Fundamental differences exist between left-brain and right-brain thought.  The site architecture therefore had to recognise and manage these differences.  

With a reputation for developing online tools that translate complex organisational strategies and ideas into tangible digital solutions, V-On was an obvious candidate to address these challenges.

The agency devised a custom-built digital test system, one that is automated, completely scalable and able to maintain the scientific integrity of the examination procedure.


4. Result

The Diagonal Thinking Self Assessment Test was launched by Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Culture Media & Sport at the ‘Creative Britain’ event in London, during September 2008.

In the initial few months around 4,500 people took the test.  

The results gathered online are now regularly disseminated to Agency members by the IPA. This provides a useful permission-based database, which aids agencies both in terms of general recruitment and in early identification of true ‘diagonal thinkers’.

The project gained a high profile, not only with specialist industry media and the UK broadsheet press but more importantly rapidly created a buzz over wide-ranging Internet channels

5. Perspectives

The Government Perspective

Balancing support for business and help for under-served minorities was a complex challenge. The Diagonal Thinking Self Assessment Test met the strategic aims of the government perfectly.

The Human Resources Perspective

People who probably never dreamed they could work in advertising can now take a online recruitment test for the industry. With free access to the Diagonal Thinking Self Assessment Test they can discover their individual skills and gain an insight into their aptitude for left brain / right brain thinking . Whether or not they prove to be diagonal thinkers, the free availability of the test creates a new employee stream for the advertising industry.

“The new Diagonal Thinking tool will help spot those who have what it takes to succeed in advertising. And with hundreds of new apprenticeships already helping to nurture raw talent and turn dreams into reality, I'm optimistic that our success in the creative industries is set to grow.”
Andy Burnham MP, Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media & Sport.

“It's about how you think, rather than your background that really makes you successful in this business. We hope that the online Diagonal Thinking test will become a standard part of the recruitment process and help IPA member agencies attract a more diverse and talented workforce.”
Hamish Pringle, Director General, IPA.

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