If you’ve been looking at creative thinking for a while, you already know that it’s a process of discovering something new, and useful (that’s the general definition, but there are others).
You can discover something new in a variety of ways. One of those is by destroying that which exists, and building anew. This has been known in business for years as creative destruction … an example might be something as simple as dismantling your current filing system and creating another one which makes maximum use of .pdfs and other digital processes to replace actual paper. Another may be to stop selling your main revenue producer in order to free resources to develop new product lines.
Creative destruction is terrifying in its implications.
Some people have described the idea of dismantling and rebuilding your company while continuing to do business as akin to doing the same to a passenger airplane in flight.
You encounter near-impossible planning and execution problems.
But here’s what might be the greatest problem … giving yourself permission to destroy the very thing you’ve built and protected over the years.
Forget, for the moment, about all those employees and other stakeholders who have vested interests in keeping things as they are. More importantly, think of the person who really wants things to remain the same.
Think of yourself for a minute here.
You’ve poured the proverbial blood, sweat, and hopefully not too many tears into your business. How much do you really want to change it up? Your gut instinct will be to preserve what you’ve fought so hard to create and build. Your gut instinct will do you a disservice.
It’s clear that competition in nearly every business will continue to out-date current practices. It’s clear that the speed of change will only increase in the coming years. And it’s equally clear that just keeping pace with change will leave a company unable to control its own destiny, or secure its survival.
To gain control, a company has to leapfrog the competition. This means moving into untested waters. Heading into The Big Unknown. This is pretty much a description of the act of creative thinking. Developing ideas you’ve never explored before. Unknowing of where they will lead you.
Only the pathological leader would be happy about entering this self-diagnosis and change. But perhaps it’s become time to find pathologically strange leaders. Because now, more than ever, without the willingness and ability to change up dramatically a company falls to the mercy of the competition and that competition’s drive to lead.
No one is safe from the need to change. And every leader must become a creative change agent, rather than remain a manger of what exists.
Is the PC-world Killing Competitive Advantage?
Here’s how the PC-thought goes. Everyone, every employee is deemed creative. True enough. Every person is creative to some degree, from painting abstract art, to figuring out how to substitute for oregano in a spaghetti sauce when they discover the herb bottle’s empty.
To say that certain people are more creative than others is where some people get worried. We begin to lose that sense of equality among all when we elevate one above all others.
But if we use the simple LAY rule (Look Around You) that I’ve developed, we see that the facts of the matter do force us to accept the idea of greatness in a single person above the others in terms of creative thinking. The physicist Einstein. The artists Warhol, Pollack, and Rauschenberg. The guy whose creativity went into improving things other people created, Steve Jobs. The list goes on.
Here’s the point … the really creative people exist in our world. They exist in business. Most times, they are ignored, not recognized for their creative input, or fired because they are inconvenient.
Why? Because according to the idea that we are all creative, these people can be easily replaced, so why should we bother with them? Why put up with them?
Because they are not replaceable. The really creative mind is a unique quality few people have. This is not acceptable under PC/postmodern rules because it suggests a “retreat” to The Great Man/Woman/Person philosophy, in which these people, by themselves, create major change in society and organizations. The postmodern prefers to have humanity do things, not individuals.
Even the study of creativity has fallen for this idea that The Great Person is dead. Creativity is now seen as a group process, where a person becomes exposed to the ideas of others around them, and incorporates those into a New Creative Idea.
That, of course, is partly true, and partly bullshit.
Yes, we all, Bigtime and SmallTime creative thinkers are influenced by the world around us. But only the individual selects relevant facts, turns them around and reconnects them in new ways to develop the Bright & Shiny New Idea.
That capability resides in only one person. It does not reside in all the people who have passed by him or her during a day. It does not reside in group-think.
When we lose that BigTime creative person through firing, through their moving on because we don’t offer enough rewards … there is no one to step in to develop those Bright & Shiny New Ideas.
We may delegate that function to teams. Teams will produce compromises and present them as New Ideas. But compromises are generally nothing better than the result of combining the worst from both worlds.
So, as we increasingly buy into the idea that The Great Person is an outmoded way of thinking and that he or she can be replaced by the more egalitarian notion of the team, we degrade our ability to find the Bright & Shiny New Idea, and settle for a dim & dull hack job of an idea. And it is just an idea. Nothing really new about it.
We lose our competitive edge to those who understand, feed, and otherwise nourish the creative mind.
Motivation – The difference between everyday projects and creative projects; and intrinsic & extrinsic.
Everyday problem-solving is a logical process. You’ve got a problem, you solve it. And you generally choose solutions that you’ve used before and know will work.
In contrast, creative problem-solving is distinguished by a need to seek out new ideas/solutions.
The motivation to seek out a creative solution classically comes from the individual. It’s intrinsic motivation, where the need to express one’s self creatively comes from the core of the person.
Think of yourself as an artist. You create work that expresses who you are. In the background, you’ve got the need to sell your work, but your main thing as you produce the work is to express yourself.
Being motivated by your own desire to create something new is one mark of intrinsic motivation.
Now, imagine you’ve just been given $4,000 a month to support you while you pursue your art. Classic creative thinking theory says something is going to happen to your motivation. You’ll likely shift your motivation from expressing yourself, to doing work that expresses yourself, and meets the expectations of your sponsor.
In this, your motivation has become diluted. And so has the creativity of your art.
Dr. Teresa Amabile from Harvard proposed this idea back in the mid-80s. She updated it in the mid-90s with the idea that perhaps outside motivation need not necessarily kill creative motivation or compromise the art. In something she termed synergistic motivation, she allowed for the common-sense notion that the $4,000 per month might free the person of money worries and allow the artist to really express herself.
If the money is interpreted in this positive way, the $4,000 is not outside motivation, but becomes an intrinsic motivation for the artist as a means to continue doing her art.
What does this tell the supervisor about motivation at work:
First, if you seek a creative solution, the problem addressed has to be constructed in a way that makes it interesting to the team assigned to solve it.
This means that your more creative teams are likely to be internally motivated to work the project creatively simply because they find interest or excitement in the experience. If you have teams who see the project as just another project to get done, scrap them and get yourself some other people.
About that bonus … a number of people believe it must add to the intrinsic motivation to do the work, like that $4,000 added to the ability to create more art without concern. I don’t think that’s the only way a bonus works.
I’m convinced that for the experienced and smart creatives, a bonus … more money, more time off, better games in the rec room, whatever … is just “a thing” in many cases. It’s just there. And has neither positive nor negative effects on the work itself. It’s never really folded into the idea of intrinsic motivation.
What matters is not the bonus, but the personal challenge of the work … the intrinsic motivation and how it’s taken personally.
I base this on the time I spent in advertising.
There’s some disturbing research that suggests most of our workforce is not terribly creative.
In a relatively recent study of creativity and affect/emotional states at the workplace,* a total of 222 people reported their thoughts daily to the researchers.
People basically reported their emotional states, their accomplishments, and so on. You would think that if someone had a creative idea, they would report that, too, to the researchers in their daily reports. Here are the results …
You may already have permanent teams created specifically for critical functions such as monitoring popular culture for NPD opportunities and creating marketable innovations around those opportunities. Or you may be looking for ways to set up effective teams of this sort. On considering them closely, however, it becomes clear that teams assigned to develop creative outcomes own their own set of questions … for example, have they been trained in thinking creatively as a group; have they been together too long to be at their creative best; do they need to become more social to be more effective?
There is a lot about a team that is like the individual. The training to think creatively as a team is a variant of individual create-think, but the differences are critical. The idea of a team that has become expert at performing its function may seem appealing, but research shows that teams have a tendency to begin repeating functions that have worked for them in the past, which could prove deadly in terms of adjusting to new conditions or developing ideas outside the team’s area of expertise. Other research and organizational creativity theory suggests that keeping a team psychologically or physically within the boundaries of the company may produce ideas which do not reach far enough.
This only begins to consider the questions around team development, training, and maintenance. Since teams have become the way many businesses do much of their internal work, it’s critical to know that the groups in place are actually capable of providing the best ideas.
Dunbar’s number. The rule of 150. Can be important. It’s the idea that building an organization the reaches beyond 150 people goes past the human capacity to negotiate the relationships, and the sense of the “whole” of the organization begins to fail, with smaller, clannish groups starting to occur within the 150+ group. According to Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, Gore Associates of Gore-Tex, recognize this as a real issue and builds out a new facility every time they hit the 150 mark.
In a way, it makes logical sense. You end up with a group of people who see themselves as a coherent whole. They work well together because of it. But creatively, things could actually act against this kind of structure.
There’s a lot of current thinking, and some research suggesting that the thing that needs to be fostered is the development of networked connections to other groups and organizations beyond your own. So if the 150 remains insular because of their being this “whole” body, they could be denying themselves tremendous opportunity for cross-fertilization and recombinant innovation - the bringing together of two or more previously unrelated technologies. You need the networks of connections outside your own group(s) to know what’s out there beyond your field’s breadth of knowledge to be able to innovate in this way (see How Breakthroughs Happen, by Andrew Hargadon; see also Steven Johnson’s, Where Good Ideas Come From, the Exaptation section).
If, however, the 150 interact with other 150s of their own kind (say Gore-to-Gore) on a regular basis, the interaction may be all that’s needed. But that also may be too limited. Technicians talking to technicians in the same field, across groups of 150. What will come of it? Likely, odds are against it being the best cross-over.
Consider this … a group of journalists, all of whom specialize in local reporting going to the same conference. After a few new surprises when they first meet, they’re not going to be able to contribute anything meaningfully new, because their expertise is relatively similar since they are doing the same job, functionally, so the experience of doing the job has actually functioned as the sharing point. They need not even come together to share ideas; the job has done it for them. But if they brought in some people who reported from the Arab Spring uprisings, some people from the old USSR underground papers, and others who had to produce locally under duress, they might find some really incredible sparks of innovation for their own work.
The lesson behind this is that, yes, we need networks. But we need networks outside our own areas of expertise or comfort. Generally, says the research, the best connections are with groups who are not close to us, since we will share much of the same information with those we know and are comfortable with. And we should seek the breadth of many contacts, not the depth of a few.
The creative part of this is figuring out how to find the right connections in the first place, then how to mine them and contribute to others as a shared exchange of creative ideas.
My name’s Greg Stene. I’m the Lead Consultant for Creativity 51 (C51). We develop the creative skills of management and employees, and design organizational creativity programs for companies to better meet the competitive challenges of this new age.
recently validated our lifelong concern with the issue of creativity. In
May 2010, it released the results of a survey it conducted with more
than 1,500 CEO-types around the world. For the first time, creativity
ranked highest among the most-needed traits of a leader.
Creativity. Not strategic vision. Not planning.
Why? Because the massive changes business will undergo in the near and foreseeable future cannot be handled with old ways of thinking.
That should scare the hell out of anyone running a business. Because, no offense intended, most managers, and most employees do not have a glimmer of how to go about thinking creatively. And a leader cannot do it alone. The CEOs in the study said so. They need creative contributions from everywhere in their organizations.
We don’t teach that kind of thinking in school. And with rare exception, we don’t teach how to think creatively at work. It’s time we did both.
address for the IBM study: http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/ceo/ceostudy2010/index.html