Managing Creativity Productively
In one of my recent blog posts I explored the idea of fostering creativity in the workplace and why there is still resistance to its implementation despite growing understanding and evidence of the importance of creative thinking to business success. The main reason it seems, is the reluctance of businesses to risk losing productivity - the measurable stuff of getting things done often linked to profits.
In this post I would like to look at how creativity and productivity can be managed to co-exist effectively, maximising the potential to propel innovation forward.
In the context of rapid change in today's society, particularly in the area of technological development, a company's ability to innovate by developing and utilising its people’s creativity and generating new ideas is considered key to forging a competitive advantage and solving increasingly complex business problems.
Promoting creativity at work requires a few key ingredients, the scariest of which is time and space, and arguably, the most important of which is effective management. It is one thing to promote and encourage creativity and creative thinking at work, and another completely to effectively harness and turn that creative thinking into innovative usable products or processes to benefit the business.
I would argue that the first step in the process of driving innovation is to foster creativity and collaboration through changes in both the working environment and management style, elaborated on below; and then, through effective guidance and support of management who has an understanding of the different cognitive processes to channel the increased creative potential of the workforce to generating new innovative solutions to specific business issues and goals. By guiding teams and employees through effective workflows involved in creative problem solving it is possible to productively manage creativity.
Key ingredients for fostering creativity at work
Creative thinking requires time and space, people cannot think creatively while they are 'doing' all the time. According to the Chartered Management Institute’s checklist on Managing Creativity “People need "white space" for thinking and time to explore different approaches in different ways. Creativity is more likely to thrive when there is time for reflection than in a stressed and pressurised working environment. If you trust people with space and time, generally they will be more able to come up with new ideas and fresh approaches.”
Collaboration and Diversity
Creativity has been seen to thrive best in an environment of openness and interaction. “Out of the box” thinking can only be enhanced by mixing with different people, perspectives and expertise. Take a look at my previous article which talks about the importance of nurturing collaboration both within a business and across industry as a tool to foster innovation.
Creating enriched physical environments where people can rest, interact and explore new ideas as well as flexible working regimes helps to encourage taking a step back and time out to think as well as fosters collaboration and cross departmental interaction. When it comes to generating innovative ideas and solutions to specific business problems forming diverse teams made up of individuals with a variety of backgrounds, experiences and opinions is a key aspect to consider.
Reward Culture and Encouragement
In addition to the above more physical adjustments, adopting the right management technique is vital to encourage the creative contribution of employees. An open culture of contribution needs to be embraced, employees need to feel their input and ideas are valued and respected, without fear of failure or criticism. Failure is, after all, one step closer to success. Encouraging contribution is so important to some companies they use elaborate reward schemes and incentives for employees to put forward ideas, like Cisco for example who pays $500 for every new idea it receives and more if the idea is used.
Management technique is key to, not only fostering employee creativity, but to harnessing the potential of that creativity to effect change. As previously mentioned, while creativity cannot effectively be managed, when employees are encouraged to think creatively and the creative process is supported, it can be guided and supervised in a supportive, non controlling fashion to help solve problems and drive innovation. In fact, using a balance of both types of thinking, divergent to imagine solutions and convergent to put these creative ideas into action is essential to capturing and utilising the benefits of enhanced creative thinking. While creativity is desirable and effective, it is not on its own sufficient to drive innovation. The process of using both types of thinking should be managed to create a balance and management must still take responsibility for follow-through.
Clarity of goals and purpose
When a company or team has clear direction and understanding of the goals and issues at hand, the creative process can be effectively channelled to work towards these goals. Furthermore, when creativity and respect is cultured in an organisation it often leads employees towards seeing the bigger picture, and productive focus can be given to issues with a deeper business impact.
Managing Creativity and Productivity
If you look at the processes involved in creating a solution there are definite roles for both types of thinking. Awareness and understanding of the two types of thinking can have a big impact on overall productivity.
As a slight deviation from the original creative problem solving process, solving a problem is essentially made up of a variation of this 5 stage workflow;
Preparation requires convergent logical thinking to identify the problem, gather relevant information and gain a clear understanding of the issue.
Exploration of the issue requires divergent thinking to seek out possible causes, opportunities, associations and connections.
Definition requires convergent thinking to accurately define the problem and pinpoint what needs to be resolved in order to effectively solve the problem.
Ideation involves creative divergent thinking to come up with as many creative solutions as possible, exploring and building on them until all possible options are exhausted.
Validation requires convergent thinking to evaluate the ideas and options and make decisions on actions to take.
Utilising this workflow and applying it to problem solving requires the ability and opportunity to think creatively and only when combined with the more traditional work orientated convergent ‘get things done’, decision making mindset can true innovation be achieved.