CREATIVITY Organisational Creativity – The top 10 enablers

Talk to any organisational leader and sooner or later the words ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ will come up. But for many, these terms are simply buzz words. Few truly know how to foster creativity and innovation in their workplace. And even fewer actually do it.
Defining creativity in organisations as the process by which new ideas that make innovation possible are developed, I surveyed range of New Zealand organisations as part of masters degree research project. These organisations collectively identified the following top 10 critical organisational creativity success factors. They are in ascending order of priority. The quotes are taken directly from the survey responses.

10 Appropriate reward
Rewards do matter but they must be appropriate and that requires an understanding of what pushes each individual’s buttons.
“It’s money that brings me to work but it’s not money that gets the best work out of me.”

9 Clear organisational goals
There is growing message that the ability to act rapidly, seize new opportunities as they emerge and create new knowledge from previously unanticipated needs is becoming more important than staying focused and marching in the same direction.
The majority of respondents concurred on the importance of organisational goals. There were, however, some interesting exceptions: “My department has done all the visioning stuff – and we have goals for everything – but the reality is that if I get excited about something I will do the work I have to do as fast as I can so I can get on to the exciting stuff. I still try to meet my goals but if I wasn’t able to do some of this other stuff it would probably drive me nuts. Isn’t most work boring?”

8 Positive staff motivation
Motivated staff are essential to creative organisation. Most took this as given: no motivation – no creativity. Some described it as cyclical process: “If I am motivated I will be more creative but the reverse is also true. I have seen people get into upward and downward spirals and it can be catching.”
Positive staff motivation enhances organisational creativity.

7 Committed leadership
Leadership that can remove barriers will enhance organisational creativity.
“While the truly inspired and creative may break through the barriers to success, an environment that enhances organisational creativity may reap benefits from many surprising sources – the quiet, the reluctant, the plodders – not just the Einsteins. The leader’s role is to remove the barriers.”

6 Individual empowerment
Respondents talked about how much freedom and authority they had to initiate change. Some gave it to themselves while others waited for it to be given. Many spoke of the anxiety that at times accompanies empowerment. Ideally, empowerment of people results in increased initiative, involvement, enthusiasm, innovation and speed but it also carries the cost of increased anxiety and stress levels.

5 Supportive organisational structure
Described by one respondent as “an environment where problems are addressed without blaming or scapegoating”, supportive organisational structure was seen by others as having decentralised authority, flexibility and adaptability. Some respondents spoke about “organic versus mechanistic” approaches, with an organic structure being the preferred way to enhance organisational creativity.

4 Open communication and information sharing
Open communication of organisational changes, decisions and policies; opportunities to voice concerns, understanding and ideas; and sense of ‘being heard’ all enhance organisational creativity.
“For me, one of the barriers is an environment where people undermine each other, information is not shared and there is no credit given for creativity.” And from another respondent: “It is essential to have access to information as creativity is often spurred on by hitchhiking on new ideas that flow past the alert mind – often converting them to new situation or application.”

3 Space and resources to pursue ideas
This priority was closely linked to time but also included the physical space required to ‘trial’ new ideas and the funds to enable such pursuit.
“I am at my creative best when I can balance the need for access to people and resources with time for me. I do my best thinking when I am jogging in the morning but then I need people to test my ideas against – and sometimes that is hard.”
It is helpful to have an environment that is conducive to creativity. As one person commented: “Having appropriate music, artwork and ‘creative stuff’ around gets my creative juices going but I don’t think my tastes would appeal to all. I’m not sure how you get agreement on that sort of thing.”
Appropriate space and resources enhance organisational creativity.

2 Staff competence
There appears to be agreement that competent staff are important to organisational creativity but disagreement over the types of competencies required.
“If I know I can rely on my staff – that they are technically competent – then I am able to push the boundaries of their technical competence into areas of the unknown or the new to come up with creative and innovative ideas.”
Others offered contrary view. “Just because someone is technically competent doesn’t mean that they are capable of producing new and creative ideas. Some people are simply not competent or confident to do so.”

1 Time
More respondents raised the issue of time as the most important factor in enhancing organisational creativity than any other with comments such as, “Just having uninterrupted time would do it for me. It’s so rare that I make space and time in my day to just think. I know that when I do it works really well for me and I get lot more satisfaction from my work. It remains real challenge for me.”
This is supported by study conducted by creativity and business researcher Teresa Amabile in 1996 which indicated that, contrary to the belief that people often thought they were more creative under deadline pressure, the opposite was, in fact, the case. People were the least creative when they were fighting the clock. It seems that time pressure stifles creativity because people can’t deeply engage with problem. Creativity requires an incubation period; people need time to soak in problem and let the ideas bubble up.

The scary bit
The people surveyed had little difficulty in identifying the factors they regarded as necessary to enhance organisational creativity but very few said that they worked in an organisation that actually implemented them.
“I personally feel ‘congested’ to the point where dreaming up something new and innovative is totally unappealing, because it will just add to an already overloaded schedule,” said one. “I do recall feeling differently and have demonstrated an ability to make silk purse out of sow’s ear in the past. But I seem to have passed over the creative climax and am trying not to slip down the other side. I suspect this sentiment is not uncommon.”
Sadly, it is easy to suspect that they are right.

Thought Starters
“Uncreative people in the organisation need to be gently placed out of the way of the creatives – at all levels.”

“The environment has to be safe enough to make mistakes in – not repeatedly – but it is difficult to learn without making some mistakes.”

“Dead boring leaders create dead and boring organisations.”

* Wayne Morris is director of Future Edge which specialises in leadership development, coaching and organisational creativity. [email protected]

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