We need managers to foster creativity and innovation at work because it is closely linked with productivity and economic growth. Many firms recognise the value of creativity and the imperative to produce ’new and improved’ products, processes, and services is critical. To improve their competitive edge organisations need to build a high level of innovative production.
Gerard Puccio at Buffalo State College in New York says it’s never been more important to arm people with the skills for creative thinking. “It’s no longer a luxury. It’s about survival”. He points out that industry thrives when creativity thrives, and fails when it doesn’t and contrasts the growth of Silicon Valley with the decline of Detroit’s automobile industry.
As we work our way out of the economic crisis it is essential that business leaders play a “culture-enhancing role”. An organisation that wants to innovate must cultivate buy-in from the whole workforce, not just senior leaders and R&D, but everyone. Creativity is not the preserve of ‘creative types’ or the design department, it can come from anywhere at any time. Effective leadership taps into the collective creativity of the workforce, encouraging new ways of thinking, enabling proactive exploration that unleashes the potential we all have to be creative.
Creative problem solving
Scientific research supports the idea that some activities can prime the mind to come up with less obvious solutions than would emerge otherwise. Psychologists call it “divergent” thinking. For example, Joydeep Bhattacharya of Goldsmiths University in London has shown that people in a relaxed mood are more likely to arrive at creative solutions when problem-solving. People who are trusted to take risks and try new ways of doing things just may stumble upon the next great business solution.
This way of working means that employees need a level autonomy, licence to think outside the box, explore new methods, experiment with novel and creative solutions to problems; to re-imagine existing structures and standards. Research shows that what we value in our most creative experiences is associated with problem solving and making difficult decisions, the expression of autonomy increases a sense of self-identity and self-expression. We value the opportunity to make our own decisions, and this is associated with a strong sense of valuing the ability to express ourselves and develop our identity.
The importance of autonomy to a sense of creativity also characterises our least creative experiences. Research subjects described their least creative experiences as being those in which they had limited choices and were expected to produce work or express themselves in particular pre-determined ways.
Explore the options
A major study published in the Academy of Management Journal reported that managers could assist and encourage employee innovation by:
- Providing high levels of autonomy
- Encouraging people to use a variety of skills
- Enabling people to identify with their job
- Providing personal feedback and ensuring jobs have built-in feedback
The Center for Creative Leadership distinguishes between business thinking and innovative thinking. Business thinking is about removing ambiguity and driving results; innovative thinking is about exploring multiple possibilities.
Puccio points out that successful creativity involves ensuring ideas are practical and convincing – “creativity is not a licence to be bizarre”. However, it may mean rethinking ideas around making time for creative projects and what constitutes failure. If you want creativity you need to encourage people to ignore convention and hierarchy, to argue the case for their ideas and you may find that you start rewarding failure, not just success; the greatest stumbling block in seeking innovation is inaction!