In many industries, new products and services are entering the market at increasingly shorter intervals. Consequently, creativity and innovative capability are becoming ever more critical in determining the success of modern companies. But why do so many organisations find it difficult to leave well-trodden paths?
“We have a tendency to simplify creativity, turning it into something we already know: a best-practice example," says Prof. Alf Rehn, a discovery he has made during his work around the world in both research and practice. Most industries or corporate fields have their preferred role-models – for example Apple, Google, Philips or 3M. "By copying the creativity of others, we limit our own capacities and possibilities to create really new ways of working, new products or new services", says the management thinker, who the "Times" once referred to as a "Star of the Future".
Final destination: creative stress
Another killer of creativity is the lack of balance between give and take: "We cannot promote creativity without creating the necessary conditions for it to thrive." There is often a sort of innovation stress to be found in companies. "Employees are steadily overworked and then the boss comes along and says, by the way, can you also be creative and innovative." A counter-movement is becoming noticeable with the trend towards the mindfullness culture which the training sector has picked up with offers for relaxation and self-reflection. Rehn finds this approach a promising one as long as it is part of the greater innovation-mix – adapted to the company's individual situation.
Creating a more provocative leadership culture
However, the leadership culture is more important. "We need more provocative managers," declares the management thought leader. Managers are often too well-behaved and cautious because they do not want to rub anyone up the wrong way. But taking this attitude means there can be no productive friction as this occurs when people have diverse perspectives and opinions. "We need leaders and employees who are not afraid to speak their mind or to say we should try something completely new, even if it would be considered disgusting or horrible within the company." Things only change through these kinds of shake-ups and not by everyone proving that their visions and working methods are true.
"We need to empower our employees to take their own decisions and to experiment with their ideas," believes the innovation expert. Democratization within companies is therefore becoming a megatrend. Steps are already being taken to distribute authority and decision-making through self-organizing teams instead of vesting them at the top of a hierarchy. Prof. Rehn also warns against the complete abolition of leadership: "Even a perfectly democratic organization needs someone who actually makes decisions. We need both democracy and leadership, not just one without the other.”
Social Media as a creativity engine?
Social media was long considered a tool for democratising knowledge. But Rehn demystifies this idea: social media is increasingly becoming another old media channel. "Too often I see how people just share the same stuff, retweet the same things from the same channels over and over, without really thinking about how to use it in a more productive, deeper fashion." says the Professor, who is an active Twitter user. "We have to remember that social media is just a tool. It’s a thing that only works as well as we work with it."
– Alf Rehn, management professor at the Åbo Akademi University (Finland), in his keynote speech on 14 October 2014, at the exhibition HRM Expo (Zukunft Personal) in Cologne.
About Alf Rehn
Alf Rehn is an internationally recognized business thinker, author, speaker and management professor. He currently holds the Chair for Management and Organisation at the Åbo Akademi University in Finland. Previously, he was the SSES (Stockholm School of Entrepreneurship) Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and has taught at universities all over the globe. Thinkers 50, the listing of the world’s top 50 business thinkers, included him on their “Guru Radar” in 2009. Alf Rehn has published a wide range of academic literature but also a series of books, articles, and columns for a general audience. He has also made a name for himself on Twitter (@alfrehn). He currently lives in Finland and Denmark – and in many other places around the world.