What makes people and organizations more creative ?

I this blog I will discuss the creative capacities of a company, an individuals’ role in creating creative ideas in a company, common assumptions about the creative process that new researches have proven wrong. Innovation and creativity are something that everybody is confronted eventually, but in this blog I will limit creativity to the creative process inside a company and professionals working in companies.

1.  What are your personal experiences with organizational creativity?  Have you worked at companies that felt or behaved in ways that made them more creative or, even, especially uncreative?

When speaking about organisational capabilities managers usually think about key resources, processes, corporate culture, skills… Even though creativity can be indirectly derived from the capabilities above, the most successful companies like Apple and Google present creativity not only as separate organisational capability but even as a competitive advantage.  The importance if creativity is already highlighted during the recruiting process where candidate must prove that they are able to think out of the box. In addition, many managers incentivise their employees to take time off during the day and work on something outside of everyday work. According to the WSJ (2013) creativity is difficult to plan and employees get inspiration very often while doing something completely unrelated to everyday work. Finally, the most obvious way for company to drive creativity is the office design. According to John Lehrer from the New Yorker “Steve Jobs created open offices that should boost creativity and collaboration. But he soon realized that it wasn’t enough simply to create an airy atrium; he needed to force people to go there. He began with the mailboxes, which he shifted to the lobby. Then he moved the meeting rooms to the centre of the building, followed by the cafeteria, the coffee bar, and the gift shop. Finally, he decided that the atrium should contain the only set of bathrooms in the entire building. “and as usual, employees thought that it was waste of time, but soon they started admitting that they started running into unexpected people and speak about completely new topics.

new

I personally have worked in a working environment where the management based its vision on innovation and agility, but the creativity was wrecked by many years of focus on processes, automatization, individual work in separate offices and cost cutting. I will come back to this at point 2. Individual creativity.

 old

2.  Do you think you, as an individual, are even capable of being creative by yourself?  And, better yet, do you think a group within an organization is capable of being creative? 

According the WSJ it is possible to be creative by yourself. Entrepreneurial people, for example, have ideas about everything all the time. Creativity and self-motivation in trait that many top managers share. However, not everybody can be creative individually. Most people need to train creative thinking and use it actively. If an average employee is not engaged in creative thinking for many years, they turn lazy and start simply relaying on the existing processes. During my previous working experience, I was working in a company that was the synonym for bureaucracy for many years. The new management tried to change it but soon recognised that the employees lost the ability to work creatively.  So, the tried to create creative groups where employees would in new projects, workshops where they could work on a creative solution as a group. Brainstorming was used as creative framework most of the time, and the results were miserable. A grey room full of people, looking at each other all confused and trying to come up with creative ideas in a few hours. While I think brain storming and engagement in groups were a good start, I will explain in point 3. the shortfalls and most common fallacies related to brainstorming.

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3.  What do you think about the idea of different creative types of problems and, thus, different creative processes?  Should we trust ourselves just to know or sense when we need one type of approach versus another?

I believe that is also possible to create creative results the old-fashioned way, by simply thinking about an issue and waiting for an “aha” moment. There are many examples where bottom up ideas have been applied and created a great success, as the Frappuccino in Starbucks, where an employee had idea that the Frappuccino would be perfect for warm summer days.
ultra_caramel_frappuccino-ko

However, most companies don’t want to rely on pure luck and hope that one of the employees will eventually think about a current issue of the company. Therefore, they organise working groups that use creative frameworks to think about new products, services or anything else of importance. The framework that is applied by in most cases is the Brainstorm. According to Alex Osborn the thing that distinguishes brainstorming from other types of group activity—was the absence of criticism and negative feedback.

brainstorming

Nowadays there are many researchers that claim that the very backbone of the Brainstorm activity is limiting the creative output. According to the New Yorker Article brainstorming groups slightly outperformed the groups given no instructions, but teams given the debate condition were the most creative by far. On average, they generated nearly twenty per cent more ideas. Another interesting research touches the group relationships in a brainstorming group. best. Brian Uzzi, a sociologist at Northwestern, has spent his career trying to find what the ideal composition of a team would look like by observing group dynamics of successful Broadway crews. According to Mr. Uzzi “The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships. These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently—they had a familiar structure to fall back on—but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas”

The two articles prove that a group of people generally achieves better results that just one person. Furthermore, they also prove the result of creative group process will also depends of the relationships in the team and thinking and criticizing rules applied.

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