Delivering creativity in the workplace

Workplace creativity

Chetan Walia, Associate Professor for Innovation and Leadership at the School of Management, University of Bradford and Rolly Srivastava, Chief Operating Officer of the BeOne Foundation for Transformational Leadership, explore the challenges of delivering creativity in the workplace

More than 50% of economic growth in twenty first century came from products and services that were either in their infancy or did not exist at all in the twentieth century. In a UNESCO report published in December 2015, the creative sector is estimated to generate US$ 2,250 billion of revenues and 29.5 million jobs worldwide. 70% of leaders surveyed across a range of industries cite innovation as among their top three priorities for driving growth. As essential as creativity and innovation seem to be in the success of global economies, creativity, unfortunately, does not usually find a place in organisation structure and design.

Creative and entrepreneurial acts establish industries, new products and services, or even solve problems that organisations may be grappling with. However, once the creations are settled, the organisations must capture value. Competitive and investor centred pressures ensure that mass production approaches be adopted to seize returns and market shares. Under these pressures, decision-makers tend not to favour innovation, rather they prioritise execution. Conformity and commitment to plans rather than creativity is rewarded more in most organisations.

The challenge of creativity

As the size of an organisation increases, it becomes more difficult to access and navigate the attention required to pursue creative ideas. Finance is a key metric of an organisation’s performance and leaders in established organisations are under pressure to avoid surprises. Creativity rests on producing novelty. Therefore the environmental tension persists.

Research on creativity and innovation acknowledges that creative outcomes depend greatly upon the environment in which they emerge. A great deal of focus thus tends to be to create conducive creative and innovative environments in organisations. It is often very easy to lose sight of two things. Firstly that it is the individual who is the source of any creative process, and secondly that creative pursuits are often the victim of top management decision making who judge the efficacy of ideas. The process of being creative is different and independent of the process of being judged as innovative. The judgement or decision making processes within an organisation will often have intrinsic motivational impact on the individual creative process.

Creative thinking processes, brainstorming, design thinking, or innovative processes such as problem confronting, combining and reorganising, are generally used to understand creative cultures in organisations. Decision-makers must pay attention to their processes for idea evaluation because research suggests that this plays a more significant role in workplace creativity than any other factor.

The performance anticipations

What does the organisation view as performance, or more specifically what sources does the organisation anticipate current and future revenues from? Are they going to emanate from efficiencies in the existing activities or are they going to emanate from innovations? These tensions dictate whether an organisation will pursue incremental change strategies or the riskier innovative change strategies.

Free flow of information, collaboration, risk-taking behaviours, aggressive goal setting, and open-minded leadership, are usually considered to be factors that foster creative cultures. An organisation may well be able to structure around all of these factors, and yet may not be innovative. A large number of organisations view innovation as doing things differently or finding better ways of doing the same things. These are essentially efficiency goals that are wrapped up in an innovation headline. Ultimately how the organisation judges performance determines its appetite and tolerance for creativity and innovation.

Is there a systemic design and intent to replace old sources of revenue with newer ones? In other words, is the organisation willing and ready to abandon the reasons for past success and embrace newer philosophies for future growth? Whether articulated or not, the leadership’s inherent view on these questions determine whether workplace creative potential will be realised or remain unfulfilled.

The profit or the problem

Workplace creativity is hidden in every corner of the organisation – in the salesforce trying to acquire customers, among executives making decisions, among engineers building solutions, and among managers who are allocating and managing resources. People will either conform or be creative and that depends on the strategic foresight of the organisation.

An organisation, for e.g., that is setting aggressive value capture goals such as market share acquisitions or revenue and profit increases, will seek to judge creative ideas within these lenses. Similarly, an organisation that is focusing on solving newer problems for the future will judge creative contributions accordingly. Our research suggested that organisations that pursue predominant goals of profit maximisations have very little or even a negative effect on creative outcomes, even when they are succeeding in their goals. On the other hand, it is the organisations that are focused on discovering and solving newer problems that create the highest value, even though the risks are higher.

The question to ask is not so much that how to build a creative workplace because behind every ‘suit’ and every ‘corner office’ in the organisation lies a person whose creative potential is yet to be realised. The question to ask is how to develop a strategic foresight and resilience to continually solve newer problems, even at the cost of disrupting ones own past successes.

The challenges of solving unique problems enable and energise people to access creative potential. The challenges of solving non-unique or common problems (e.g. profit) enable people to access expertise or creative solutions within a limitation of direction. People are the workplace. Their creativity is always present in the workplace. Whether it is utilised or left alone is largely dependent on the intent of the organisation — what occupies the decision making bandwidth the most? Is it to create more wealth or to discover and solve unknown problems? The answer to that question determines whether the ‘suits’ will conform or create.

References

Walia, C. (2021). Creativity and strategy, an integrative analysis. Springer International Publishing.

 

Please note: This is a commercial profile

© 2019. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license

Contributor Profile

Associate Professor for Innovation and Leadership
School of Management University of Bradford

Contributor Profile

Chief Operating Officer
BeOne Foundation for Transformational Leadership

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