Friday, May 20, 2005

Creativity, Inc.

Because I’ve studied and read so much about creativity I must admit that I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to read it. I told myself, just read the intro and the first chapter and then stop if you don’t like it. Well, I didn’t stop. It was an enjoyable read throughout with many insights along the way. What the authors bring forward in this book is a methodological approach to creativity in organizations, more particularly corporations. They describe a system that seems to touch all the right points in order to increase creativity in an organization. In addition, they provide some helpful information for individuals who want to improve their own creativity.

The book is divided into three parts and eight chapters:
Part 1 – Creative Thinking

  • The Dynamics That Underlie Creative Thinking

  • Becoming Creatively Fit as an Individual

  • Breaking and Making Connections for an Enterprise

Part 2 – Climate
  • The Climate for Creativity in an Enterprise

  • Personal Creative Climate: The Bubble

Part 3 – Action
  • Leadership: Fostering Systemic Creativity

  • Purposeful Creativity

  • Sustaining the Change

When an organization has systemic creativity, the authors write “systemic creativity becomes an integral part of everyday operations and spawns new thought, from small changes to breakthroughs, that organizations now need in every activity that makes a competitive difference.

For this to happen, creativity must become the responsibility of everyone – every leader and senior manager as well as every employee. Systemic creativity is only systemic when everyone in an organization learns how to practice it and then promotes it constantly.”

This is not an easy task in today’s short-term, bottom-line, stockholder-value driven organization. The authors point out “The behaviors required for successful creativity are out of tune with the behaviors that make a company operationally efficient, well-organized and clear-sighted on its mission and goals.”

The authors also correctly point out that there is no “right way” to foster creativity in an organization. The approach depends upon a number of factors. “There are, however, basic principles and practical techniques that have stood the test of time.” This book is a great contribution that goal.

The book is informed by six basic understandings:
  1. There is no recipe for systemic creativity.

  2. Creativity and innovation are two distinct concepts.

  3. Creativity happens with individuals, coalitions and teams, and organizations.

  4. There are four critical dynamics.

  5. Creativity depends on climate.

  6. Systemic creativity asks everyone to be a leader.

According to the authors, the four inter-linking dynamics of creativity are motivation, curiosity and fear, making and breaking connections, and evaluation.

In the authors’ model, making and breaking connections within an enterprise is the pivotal dynamic of the creative process. To foster this, they encourage conflict of ideas, encourage risk taking, the promotion of diversity, organizing for intrinsic motivation, the development of information flows that support creativity, and the utilization of more and less information.

The “conflict of ideas” concept is one of the few areas in the book that I find myself disagreeing. I have found that the metaphor of battle in creativity to be de-motivating for many people. There may be certain personality types that enjoy competition over new ideas, but there are even more people who find this stressful and a turnoff. I think what needs to be fostered in organizations to promote creativity is the development and facilitation of conversations about ideas. Non judgmental conversations about ideas usually generates new ideas that quite often are better than the originals. To converse is to turn around together.

The authors make a distinction between climate and culture. The difference according to their definition is understandable. Many models of culture include a hierarchy of philosophies, beliefs, values and behaviors. Values set expectations and therefore the author’s definition of climate encompasses values and behaviors.

The concept of a personal creative climate, a “bubble” is an extremely powerful one. There are many distractions, conflicting priorities, and decentives to creativity in organizations. I have always found for myself, as well as observing the behavior of others, that those who can create this “bubble” are the most productive and the most creative.

The authors end the book with some wise advice to would be promoters of creativity in organizations. They write “As the change to systemic creativity goes forward, everything covered in the introduction and the first seven chapters – from the dynamics of the creative process and their relationship to individuals and companies, through personal; and corporate climate, through leadership and innovation – requires continued attention, reinforcement, exercise, follow-through, and reinvention.” They explain that the forces against creativity are so strong, that without continued reinforcement and reinvention, any approach to systemic creativity will fail. Their advice:
  • Plan ahead

  • Record results

  • Expect resistance

  • Encourage the flow of information

“More than forty years ago, in The Human Side of Enterprise, Douglas MacGregor challenged the command-and-control assumptions about the business establishment: ‘The distinctive potential contribution of the human being…at every level of the organization stems form his capacity to think, to plan, to exercise judgement, to be creative, to direct and control his own behavior.’

MacGregor was arguing on behalf of the creative climate. Today, while there has been much progress, too few leaders ask and expect creativity of their employees; too few leaders provide the climate in which creativity can flourish.”

How true!

Jeff Mauzy is a Consulting Manager and Richard Harriman is Managing Partner at Synectics, a pioneering consulting firm specializing in business creativity and innovation.

Creativity, Inc.: Building an Inventive Organization
Jeff Mauzy & Richard Harriman, Harvard Business School Press, 2003, Hard Cover, 232 pages

© 2004 The Innovation Road Map


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