In the finest tradition of maintaining attention in this media, message, saturated world I am going to approach my first series of creativity blogs with a list - the twelve step programme of organizational creativity.

Here is the trailer...

Step 1: Blind men, elephants and other stories - What is creativity?
Step 2: Reclaiming creativity - Not everything is creative, not every approach is an innovation.
Step 3: Some people are more equal than others - What do creative people look like?
Step 4: Recruiting for creativity - How to assess for creativity.
Step 5: So now what - Are there hints and tips for inducting creative people?
Step 6: Creating teams - A new take on the diversity issue.
Step 7: Cogito ergo sum - Can we help people and teams think more creatively?
Step 8: Creativity is not just about creativity - What else do we need to work on?
Step 9: Pulling teams together - The long march from individual to team creativity.
Step 10: When two tribes go to war - Balancing bureaucracy and brainstorming.
Step 11: Building a culture and climate for creativity - Embedding creativity in the bricks and mortar.
Step 12: Bringing it all together - The leader as orchestra conductor.

So... the first stumble in the 12 step programme for organizational creativity is a pretty basic one. We're going to make sure we are all on the same page. A clarification of what we mean when we talk about creativity. Let's begin with an ancient story (provenance not entirely known - but many scholars believe the tale started in Thailand).

The story goes a little something like this...

Six blind monks are walking when they come to an elephant that blocks their path. "What is this?" asks one of the monks. Another, addressing the group suggests that they reach out to touch the object in front of them and describe what they find. The first man grasps a tusk of the elephant. He confidently proclaims that the object in front of them is a spear. "Ridiculous" says the second man (who has a taken a hold of the elephant's trunk) "this is clearly a snake". "I don't think so" said the third man, who, having touched the ears of the elephant suggests that it is in fact a large fan. "Nonsense" exclaims the fourth man. "This sturdy column can only be a tree" - for he has his hands around a leg of the elephant. The fifth man, lightly chuckling to himself as he runs his hands across the flank of the pachyderm pauses for a moment to interject that "this is clearly a wall". Last, but not least the sixth man tells the group that he has found a rope, as he has a grip of the elephant's tail... Due to the confusion, the monks cannot agree about what obstructs their path and as a consequence are unable to figure a strategy for continuing their journey. Of course each man, to a degree is "right", but equally they are all wrong too.

The parable is a little like the conversations that I have with people when we discuss creativity in organizations. Executives often use the terms creativity and innovation interchangeably. Sometimes they refer to creative people and at other times they will reference a product or idea. As a result the organization has rather too fuzzy a grasp of what they mean by creativity and furthermore struggles to make coherent plans, processes and procedures.

Therefore, I am going to...

a) Simply describe what I mean when I refer to creativity and innovation.

b) Lay down some key tenets that will be referred to throughout the rest of the 12 step programme for organizational creativity.

These are my definitions (they are largely drawn from the research literature, but they could not be described as absolute) so not everyone will agree with me. We can only hope that by pursuing a little clarity, that we can avoid some of the issues faced by those monks on their journey.

Defining creativity:

Creativity refers to the attributes of a product, person or process that is considered to be new and useful in some way by a particular group. So the key issues are that we may refer to a creative person or persons, a process (of the way an individual thinks or the dynamics of a team) and also a product itself (e.g. a new strategy, chemical or electronic gizmo).
There is also the issue of novelty and utility. Creative ideas or products are expected to have an element of "newness" and of "usefulness". Newness doesn't have to be totally new - e.g. an iPod brings together two existing products (a storage device and a walkman) and fuses them together in a new context. Usefulness is also important...

The following sentence may be entirely new in the history of humankind...

"My giblet lemons flanked a justice-laden cloud humdinger. Now nudge you flibbertigibbet!"

However, it serves absolutely no function (other than I love the word, flibbertigibbet, and have found a way of squeezing it into this post!)

On the other hand... if my daft exclamation served the function of highlighting that a creative notion needs to be useful, then maybe it was not so useless after all!

Lastly, in defining creativity, there is an aspect that relies on social judgement or evaluation. Thus, the Beatles catalogue of music (I believe the "yoof" of today prefer the term "choons") is deemed creative because (a lot of Western) society has decided so.

Defining Innovation:

If creativity refers to the creation of novelty and utility, then innovation is concerned with the utilization of creativity in an applied context. So the idea of the iPod is creative, turning it into a physical product on a shelf that produces profit = innovation. A key issue as we explore the 12 step programme is that the processes of innovation do not rely upon "creative" people alone. Transforming a creative idea into an innovative, profitable product requires a lot of planning, preparation and processes.

Ok... definitions covered? - check!

Now for the sacred cows, the key tenets, the guiding principles, etc.,

Good news. There are only two of them (and one has already been partly introduced)

Key tenet 1 - The 4 P's:

Creativity may refer to a Person (or group of people), it may refer to a Process (our cognitions for example), it can allude to a Product (deemed new and useful) and lastly is can refer to an environment (or Press) like the culture of a corporation.

Key tenet 2 - Combining Ideas:

Creativity largely involves combining different ideas, thoughts, etc. In the individual, creativity can occur as the person considers a myriad of notions and knowledge structures. In teams it occurs most easily when people from different backgrounds combine their knowledge, experiences and approaches in solving a problem. In organizations, creativity often commences when knowledge and experiences are combined across teams, divisions or companies.

Ok... definitions covered? - check! Key tenets covered? - check!

So there we are. The first of our 12 steps covered. Take home points?

  • Creativity involves "novelty" and "utility"
  • Innovation take creativity and applies it to a context or setting
  • Creativity is not just about a person or a product - it can refer to a process or an environment
  • Creativity at all levels is largely about combining ideas

In the next post I will push for elitism, clamor for exclusivity and drag back from the marketing man the idea that everything is creative.

See you soon...

Mark Batey CPsychol. PhD

is a Creativity Specialist at Manchester Business School, UK

For more insight and discussion... Join the Psychology of Creativity LinkedIn group

About the Author

Mark Batey Ph.D.

Mark Batey is a creativity researcher and Chairman of the Psychometrics at Work Research Group at Manchester Business School.

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