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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Creative ideas emerge tacitly, when people are relaxed

What are the attributes of a creative manager in a company? “Openness, perceptiveness, flexibility, responsiveness, involvement, a capacity and willingness to draw out the creativity in others, a focus on possibilities, the potential of networking and other opportunities rather than procedure,” says Ms Jane Henry, editor of ‘Creative Management and Development’ ( Facilitation and communication skills help, and so does a participative and inclusive style of management, she adds.

Ms Henry heads the Centre for Human Resources and Change Management at the Open University School of Management in Milton Keynes, UK. A chartered psychologist with extensive consultancy experience, and an author of several books, her research concerns ways organisations can develop their creativity and innovation and how individuals with different styles can best enhance their development over time.

“Creative management is more about open perception than a route map, an attitude that is flexible enough to listen to others and respond intuitively to opportunities, secure enough to allow their staff freedom to find their own way. The right way of doing this will vary according to culture and circumstances,” explains Ms Henry, during a recent email interaction with Business Line.

Excerpts from the interview.

First, what is creative management?

Creative management is a form of management associated with sustainable self-organisation. It is common in organisations wishing to engage the creativity of their workforce in improving products, processes and services, enhancing workforce commitment and customer/client/ staff satisfaction. Also, in the creative industries.

Can creativity be developed in organisations? Are there clear measures of creativity that can be used, for example, in a corporate context?

Creativity can be developed in organisations at the level of the individual, team, organisation and cross-organisation networks. Many people use tests of divergent thinking, i.e. how many uses can one think of for a plastic cup, as a measure of creativity. This is a very poor measure of creativity and not very helpful in organisations.

Another approach measures people’s cognitive style differentiating between different ways of being creative – those who like to do things better and those who like to do things differently. Those with an adaptive preference are more likely to be more comfortable working within existing frames and improving existing products. Those with an innovative preference are naturally more inclined to challenge the status quo and aim for breakthroughs.

Other measures of organisational creativity that have been used include the number of suggestions per employee and level of absenteeism (with the former increasing and the latter decreasing in creative companies.)

Have there been breakthrough findings in recent years about creative management?

This depends on your perspective and location. In the West, creativity had been associated with innovative breakthroughs – inventing processes from scratch, and glorified through individuals such as Einstein, Edison, Anita Roddick or Richard Branson. One of the changes in the West over the last quarter century is that organisations have come to appreciate the importance of engaging the entire workforce in improving processes, and made clear attempts to empower the workforce to do so.

Is increased competition the only driver for creative management?

Definitely not, many creative people are motivated intrinsically, i.e. with a marked preference for working on areas of interest to them. Freedom as to how people engage with tasks is often a sufficient driver for people to develop a more creative approach. Humans are naturally very creative so long as they feel safe enough and engaged enough to bother to try out new ways of doing things. Organisational bureaucracy can sometimes get in the way of these natural instincts.

What is the role of tacit knowledge in organisational creativity?

Tacit knowledge is central to creativity, organisational or otherwise. Cognitive science has shown clearly that we know things long before we realise we do or are able to explain how we know.

Creative ideas generally emerge tacitly, when people are relaxed. Organisations where people feel a measure of freedom, rather than those that are committee-bound and people feel obliged to look busy, are more likely to be safe enough for people to feel able to explore the half-baked tacit notions that develop into new creative ideas with a bit of nurturing. Many processes that attempt to encourage creativity in groups use processes that aim to tap into tacit ideas.

Are there lifestyle features that are associated with creativity?

The socially-embedded do indeed generally report themselves as happier than the more isolated amongst us. There is some work to suggest that those in a positive mood find it easier to make more associations and that these broad associations make it easier for them to be more creative. The creatively-fulfilled tend also to be happier not the least as their work offers meaning and often purpose.

Does creativity run the risk of turning into ‘spin’ or manipulated messages one finds so commonly used by politicians to their advantage?

Creativity is an essential component of human advancement through the ages. Currently it has extra kudos in the UK for example, as politicians wonder if other organisational sectors can build on the success of the creative industries (pop music, fashion, design etc.) ‘Cool Britannia’ seems to be a successful spin building on aspects of creative life in the UK.

Many high-wage economies see creativity as a means of adding value in the face of increasing competition. In more hierarchical cultures there is often an appreciation that organisations might be more creative if the culture could be somewhat more open.

Is creativity linked to income and wealth levels? How far is creativity relevant to developing economies, as compared to the developed countries? Do you think creative solutions can be applied for bigger problems that prevail in the developing countries?

Creativity can be applied at any level from very large to very small issues, and in any country. As I write, scientists all over the world are advancing new technologies to help alleviate climate change, and micro-credit unions finance mini-creative ventures for very poor would-be entrepreneurs.

In my work in India, Malaysia and China I have found managers as open to the idea that they need ways of opening up and pushing more responsibility down as in the West though the form this may take can differ. I also use similar approaches advising and facilitating government officials and NGOs attempting to address large-scale issues such as corruption, for example as when helping companies make technological breakthroughs. The key here is to free up thinking to help people reach new and better way of doing things.

Are there negative states of creativity? What are the differences between creativity of nature and nurtured creativity? Should education be so geared to ensure the development of creativity?

Creativity is generally defined as something that is new and apt, so inherent in the definition is the notion that the creative idea or product is not any old worthless invention but something that offers quality and answers a need. At the same time, it is no accident that Shiva is the God of creativity and destruction embodied, as one usually has to destroy something to create something new.

There are win-win situations where all parties benefit from a new idea, approach or agreement; but often bringing in the new advantages may be involving extra work or disadvantaging others. Shifts to greater creativity in organisations for example often entail middle managers giving up some of their power. Many organisations have found about 10 per cent of their managers are unable to adapt to the new ways of working.

Can there be a tussle between staying course with a sustainable idea, and trying out a creative idea, as for example with product launches? Can dynamism in creativity lead to negative returns, at times?

Generally to make way for something new something else has to be destroyed. We see this with new products and processes all the time, the ice selling industry lost out when home refrigerators came in, film gives way to video, analogue to digital TV. There is generally a conservative tendency in organisations and a preference for sticking with the status quo. Any creative endeavor is going to involve something new, it takes persistence and often a champion or sponsor to steer new ideas through an organisation. Historically companies that stick with what they are good at without creatively adapting to circumstances tend to fare badly in the long-term.

Socialisation, externalisation, internalisation and combination – which of these knowledge conversion modes has the highest impact on creativity?

There are many different ways of being creative and different people favour different routes. For example different people may use very different processes to get to the same creative idea, some people are more comfortable with analytical techniques like checklists and matrices, other warm to the fun involved in lateral thinking, like imagining how your hero/ine (whether Gandhi, Superman or Tata) would tackle the issue, others prefer more intuitive approaches such as visualisation.

Socialisation, externalisation, internalisation and combination modes of knowledge creation can all have their place at different stages of the creative process.

Does luck play a role in creativity, especially in the commercial success of the product?

Luck plays a role in many situations including creative ones. However, experience and good judgment are also critical. Generally in organisations good timing owes as much to the latter two as the former.

On creativity versus type of work, genders, age, and technology.

There is scope for creative action in professional, craft, farm and organisational work. The degree of creativity that is appropriate varies according to the situation. Research scientists have a lot of scope for being creative. In contrast most of us happy that an aeroplane pilot sticks to some standard procedures for checking that the plane is in a good condition to fly.

Both sexes are creative. All ages can be creative though the peak age for important breakthrough varies by domain; in mathematics many breakthroughs are made by the rather young, many writers on the other hand have creative success late in life.

The creative process also varies by sector. Many artists and poets choose to work alone, whereas many innovative technological breakthroughs involve a group of people with different skills combining their talents.

The opportunity for creative action is satisfying to the people involved as they are able to contribute something meaningful. Satisfaction is related to a number of factors including temperament and the degree to which one is socially supported. A key factor is control. On the whole, people who have more control of their lives, including their work, tend to report themselves as being more satisfied than those with less control.

Temperament also plays a big part in satisfaction. In the West extroversion is associated with greater happiness. It would be interesting to see if, in a culture such as India, where surrender is more readily accepted as a route to happiness, a different pattern emerged.

By D. Murali and A. Paari


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

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