Creativity Starts Here!
The ability of an organisation to create new products/services and innovate new processes is an essential skill providing a sustainable form of competitive advantage.
Given that organisations need to be creative, why are only a few really good at it and why are only a few individuals perceved as creative?
In this article we will examine the theories that underpin creative organisations and the attributes of the managers and individuals who work within them.
Theories of why one individual may be more creative than another have changed dramatically over the last 50 years. In the 1950’s it was considered that individuals with creative flair were ‘born’ not ‘bred’ and as such the hunt was on for people with these elusive skills. This theory evolved during the 1960’s but the feeling was still that individuals could not be trained to be creative.
In the 1980’s and 90’s two new theories came to dominate the discussion surrounding creativity, these being ‘intrinsic motivation’ (how much the individual wants to be creative) and the ability of the working environment to either stifle or promote creativity, so called ‘climate’.
Table 1 – Summary of thinking on Creativity
- 1950’s – Creativity is an ability that you either have or don’t have
- 1960’s – Creativity is a function of how mentally flexible you are
- 1970’s – Creativity can only flourish if you have relevant experience
- 1980’s – You must be intrinsically motivated to be creative
- 1990’s – Creativity exists only in the right climate
- 2000's - Innovation is a combination of skills, motivation and climate
The intrinsic motivation, or desire, of an individual to be creative is linked to both their personal values and drives, tempered by the environment in which they work and we need to examine the drivers of the organisational environment next.
Research undertaken by Ekvall defined 10 dimensions, or characteristics, of a creative working environment. Each dimension has a scale that extends from very uncreative through to very creative and the aim is that through both observation and questionnaires the climate of a business is plotted against each of these 10 categories.
Table 2 shows what each of Ekvall’s 10 dimensions would mean in an extremely creative and a powerfully uncreative climate:
-Dimension: Creative Organisation->Uncreative Organisation
-Freedom: Independent Initiative->Rule-Bound
-Dynamism: Excitedly Busy->Boring/Slow
-Openness: Trust & Failures Accepted->Failure Punished
-Idea Time: Off Task Play->Little Off Task Play
-Playfulness: Happy & Humorous->Dull & Serious
-Conflicts: Debated with Insight->Warfare
-Support: People Listen->Negative/Critical Comments
-Debates: Contentious Ideas Voiced->Little Questioning
-Risk Taking: Act on New Ideas->Detail & Committees
From experience, few businesses define themselves as having a highly creative environment as many of the characteristics in this area go against cultural norms for business in many Western cultures, but the best are working toward the creative end of the scale, whilst the norm tends to be toward an environment that stifles creativity.
Having used Ekvall to assess the ability of an organisation to be sustain a creative environment, to then change the environment we need to look at the things that create, or drive, the organisational environment and the biggest driver of all is the prevailing management style.
In this context, a Creative Manager is not one who is themselves creative, but one who is able to manage the creativity of others and capable of building a creative environment.
Many researchers have analysed the attributes of such a person. Morgan stated that Creative Managers require 5 skills:
1. They must be proactive and flexible, not tied to rigid methods of working.
2. They must have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (see later).
3. They must possess good man-management skills.
4. They must be able to create a vision of the future for others.
5. They must have a series of competences enabling them to cope with different situations, for example in a single day they may be required to be a friend, a counsellor, a technical wizard as well as a manager.
Morgan refers to Emotional Intelligence as a key skill of the Creative Manager. Emotional Intelligence was popularised by Goleman and consists of 5 main elements:
Try to think about your current, or last, manager and which of the emotional characteristics they had or did not have - why were they good (or bad?)
Research by Henley Management College into Emotional Intelligence shows that it can be more important that IQ in the success of senior managers, and it gets more important as a person moves up the management ladder.
A Creative Summary
The environment in which people work can severely affect their ability or desire to be creative and it is the job of managers to create the right environment that will allow indviduals and teams to be creative.
These managers are incredibly powerful, having the ability to both stimulate creativity as well as kill it - and those with the highest levels of Emotional Intelligence will tend to be working in the most creative organisations.
Mark Eaton was awarded the Viscount Nuffield Medal for his contribution to UK Industry and was until recently Director of the UK's Manufacturing Advisory Service in London and South East England. Mark now runs his own practice focused on organisational productivity and change management.
Mark Eaton MSc MBA CEng MIEE FIOM FRSA