Curious. Connected. Confident.
So you were told you were brought in to your company because of your “out of the box thinking”; you want to be known for innovation, for pushing the envelop, for your freaking CREATIVITY!
And in today’s fast paced, entrepreneurial business environment, people desire creative ideas, right? Most of us answer with an obvious YES! After all, creativity is the engine of scientific discovery (Hennessey & Amabile, 2010), it’s the fundamental driving force of positive change (George, 2007), and it’s associated with intelligence, wisdom, and moral goodness (Niu & Sternberg, 2006; Sternberg, 1985) (excerpt from Mueller, Melwani & Goncalo, 2011).
As we read through article after article we see that creativity and innovation are a necessity. In fact, job descriptions are asking you to be a “rockstar” innovator; companies don’t hire or keep people that don’t complete complicated tasks fast enough; companies want you to take their products and apply innovative thinking so they can be “cutting edge” and “lead the industry.”
But the fact is…nobody really wants your creativity despite highlighting it in mission statements and company values. And perhaps this makes sense when we look at it with a new perspective.
The very process it takes, and costs that accrue, to embrace creativity goes against most fundamental needs of companies. Let’s look closer.
Innovation Celebrates the Individual
The tech media and Silicon Valley would be lost without being able to haul out the individual “overnight” success. We love to shine the spotlight on the person that overcame adversity, persevered with their idea and became a leader.
However, just outside that weird little world, companies do not prosper when they highlight individual efforts unless it’s the effort of their own CEO or leadership.
We also gladly overlook the personal sacrifices made to become a lone victory parade. If companies were to put the emphasis on the individual over and over again, they’d be hard pressed to follow many of the other stated corporate values — teamwork, balance, community, communication. Not to say that all individual innovators do NOT embrace these values, but when we spotlight one individual, we generally are not looking at the work of the full team.
On top of this, we really don’t know if the skills, mindset and strategies it took for one person to succeed will be transferable to anyone else. Coaches, consultants and program creators love to copy what they see innovators do and put it into step-by-step courses. However, rarely, if ever, are the tactics transferable to another individual. There is just no blueprint for success.
Creatives are Risk Takers — YIKES!
You can research the many, many studies done on what is creativity and theories of success. In them you’ll find a core base of characteristics that define “the creative” person. In general they are risk takers, willing to follow an unproven solution rather than embrace the proven path; they are nonconformists willing to defy authority in order to explore new ideas and find truth; they are persistent and do not give up due to an obvious (at least to others) lack of resources; they are flexible, and often change directions if they hit a perceived obstacle; they are hard workers who will put in long, long, long hours with a singular focus, often to the detriment of families or social life.
Frankly, that sounds rather exhausting to the average worker and definitely not someone most managers seek out for their team.
Various studies show most people are risk adverse in their decision making. For example, if given a choice between a large but uncertain reward or a smaller but certain payoff, people generally choose the sure thing. This behavior changes when offered discounts, but I’m not going into the motivation of game-ifying marketing, or when people are faced with losing situations. During those circumstances we opt for riskier options.
So, when company managers and leaders are faced with supporting the unknown “maverick” solution vs a more tried and true approach, it’s natural that the individual chooses safety. I didn’t say RIGHT, or JUSTIFIED. But Natural for our brain to choose safety.
Though we admire the successful innovator in the media, we tend to not invite them to the table as a team player.
Being Creative Requires you to be Wrong
This is where creativity generally fails at the organizational level. In order to truly embrace creativity, your manager or leaders must also embrace being wrong more than being right.
And our schools and business management classes don’t teach the necessary mindset to survive being wrong in a company setting.
Our hiring processes are usually looking for a set of skills and values that match those of the company. Innovation requires that you hire outside the peripheral pool of candidates and bring on the unknown person who has goals and ambitions that may seem suspect to the average manager.
Then we get to the “onboarding” process in organizations in which we help new members absorb the values and company culture. However, innovation and creativity require that you encourage people to NOT fit in to current thinking trends.
Top it off with that managers need to promote that you actively disobey and oppose the standard view points of management, pay no attention to the costs associated with new perspective thinking and stick their necks out with a high probability of failure and you can see why most organizations really don’t want your creativity.
My point in writing this is not to say we put innovation in a bag and walk away, hoping for it’s safe implosion. I’m just saying that if you’re a company outside Silicon Valley, and I hear there are still a few, you don’t get to simply add “Creativity” and “Innovation” to organizational values and not pay the price.
The payoff can be worth it, but it will change your current culture. The solution I suggest is that we need more “uncertainty” training for management and leadership. Once we teach people to remember how to stay centered and grounded while the world is spinning around them, how to make thoughtful decisions when they feel like they are standing alone at the edge of a cliff, and how to embrace the unknown with a sense of confidence and pride THEN we can put other un-procedures and un-processes into place that support creativity, creatives and innovation.
We also need to keep appreciating the risk takers rather than scolding the conformists for using caution and common sense. After all, it’s the conservative performers who are following existing procedures that are keeping most of our businesses alive.