Cherish novel ideas to improve your organizational creativity culture

These days, most organizations seek creativity, but seem to be unable to sustain it. I refer to the non-Googles and non-Apples of this world. In the below post, I argue that understanding what constitutes organizational creativity is crucial for such organizatons. What I term organizational CREATIVITY culture could use remodelling — in particular how novel ideas are addressed.

An academic article I recently skimmed through carried the title “The elusive definition of creativity”. There couldn’t be a better allusion to the ambiguity which surrounds creativity. What do you think of when you hear “creativity”? Do images of the Renaissance all-rounder Michelangelo or Asian child prodigies come to your mind? Creativity has many different facets — and everyday creativity (termed “little c” creativity”) and the creativity inherent to the learning process (“mini c” creativity) are those facets that impact organizations most.

These days, it seems that organizations seek everyday creativity, but quite a few entities may neither be able to get a handle on it, nor to sustain it. However, no creativity = no innovation = no competitiveness.

What I find striking is that quite a few large and complex organizations (in essence, multinationals) unknowingly suppress creativity at the individual (employee) level. This in turn affects group and organizational level creativity. You may wonder how this applies to YOU — the Medium audience seems to predominantly hail from the gen Y start up and tech population (with a lack of creativity not being a big concern)?

Your 2017 startup might be a medium-sized company by 2022, on its way to becoming a multinational company — and then, the struggle to maintain everyday employee creativity will be very real. That is, if you haven’t laid the foundation for an effective corporate creativity culture (back in 2017).

There are a multitude of factors that suppress organizational creativity. In my view, the most important lever for rejuvenating it consists in changing how novel ideas are treated. In essence, how everyone communicates with each other when new ideas are being voiced.

Organizational creativity relies on individual creativity. If an employee is often criticized for expressing a novel insight, he or she will refrain from doing so. The challenge is that in most organizations, being able to pick apart an idea is perceived as a sign of analytical rigor and intelligence. Visualize a brainstorming workshop where every single new idea gets criticized — what will be left?

I argue there is a time and space for everything — including for embracing new suggestions. Last year, my colleagues and I were suprised when receiving instructions to only positively comment on ideas during a brainstorming session. Guess what, it worked! The positive atmosphere, the number of ideas being generated — it was a success.

Wrapping our heads around the brainstorming concept (while enjoying Snapchat)

How can this be implemented at the organizational level? In many cases, senior management would benefit from familiarizing itself with the notion of everyday creativity and its impact on innovation and competitiveness. This knowledge should be made available to all employees to ensure a shift in mindset. A second step would consist in assessing how the current organizational culture suppresses or enhances creativity. As part of an ensuing action plan, new rules for encouraging everyday creativity could be introduced.

Baby steps, as they say.

Thank you for your comments and sharing.

Read these articles if you are want to know more:

  1. Teresa Amabile: How to kill creativity (article). Harvard Business Review. This 1998 article is a classic. To me, Professor Amabile is the “guru” of organizational creativity research.
  2. James C. Kaufman, Ronald A. Beghetto: Beyond B and Little: The Four C Model of Creativity (article). This article discusses the different facets of creativity — in particular “little c” everyday creativity and “mini c” creativity (creativity inherent to the learning process).
  3. Donna Y. Ford: The elusive definition of creativity (article).
  4. Maria M. Capozzi, Renée Dye, Amy Howe: Sparking creativity in teams: an executive’s guide (article). McKinsey Quarterly, April 2011.