Step two of the twelve step programme of organizational creativity kicks off below...

Step 1: Blind monks, 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.

Ok - a few words on reclaiming creativity from the banal...

We're lost. We have drifted. The safe shores of lexical precision, descriptive accuracy and the exacting use of words have slipped over the horizon. Etymologists the world over sob silently to sleep each night.

Once, a word like "awesome" would refer to the capacity to render someone struck with overwhelming, soul-smacking reverence. Now it is just as likely to be used to describe a promotion...

Truly Awesome Sale - Prices Slashed!!!

So too, is there a tendency for the advertizing industry or the "mad men" to proclaim any faint product improvement as an innovation or a marvel of creativity. Think of the boxes of soap powder which claim to be "New and Improved" but appear to be remarkably similar to that which went before.

The same charge of imprecision can be leveled as to the way the word "creativity" is used. "Creativity" is employed to refer from literally any artistic product of a child through to the intricacies of the theory of evolution, the poetry of Shakespeare, the music of Bach or the ingenuity of the Apple company.

So what?

...and what can we do about it?

So what? - Communication, common understanding and shared goals are the lifeblood of organizational performance. We cannot communicate effectively, meld comprehension or align objectives, without first expressing our notion accurately. If creativity within the organization is used to describe everything from the faintest incremental improvement through to a volte face in strategy and direction - the term becomes meaningless. When the chairman of Audi calls for a totally creative take on a new car, he doesn't want that to be interpreted to mean some new "go-faster-stripes". I appreciate that for some occasions a nice catch-all term will have value, but more accurate description will allow for a more accurate objective-setting and (hopefully) more elegant solutions.

Still with me? How can we add a little more delineation or clarity to what we mean by creativity at work?

Tenet 1 - clarity over the "domain" or area of creativity to be considered:

Earlier this year I was asked by the charming Professor Jan Dul to contribute to a small, but perfectly formed, Round Table Discussion group at the European Academy of Management on "Managing Creativity for Innovation". I presented a framework to explain how we could delineate different types of creativity, the different stakeholders concerned and how we might evaluate the efficacy of any creative effort. The diagram below is an outline of that framework...

The 3D framework distinguishes at the... Level at which creativity is operating (i.e. ranging from the level of the individual through to the breadth of society). We may further distinguish the... Facet(s) implicated (like the processes involved, the environmental surroundings or press as well as the product that may need to be created). Lastly, there is the... Assessment Approach (might we measure success objectively by considering a "hard" measure like profit generated, customers serviced, etc., are we to measure success by asking the people involved in the creative process or should we ask other people, like experts or consumers?)

This model might be a bit of an overkill for some organizational settings. However, the nub of the argument, is that we should try and apply clarity over who creativity is required from, what is being approached and how the output of any effort might be evaluated.

Tenet 2: Specify the "magnitude" or "extent" of the creative effort:

This involves the attempt to specify the extent to which the creative undertaking will break from existing paradigms or ways of doing things. There have been a number of relatively broad attempts to delineate the magnitude of creative endeavor - and for all intents and purposes these will suit us just fine. Here are two simple complimentary examples...

The first magnitude mechanism is little "c" versus BIG "C" creativity.

Little "c" creativity refers to small scale, garden, everyday or minor creative improvement. Some people would refer to this as adaptive creativity. Taking an existing idea, process or product and adapting it. For example, adding a screen to an iPod to show video or pictures, took the existing iPod and added some extra functionality. However, the most important aspect of the little "c" perspective is that creativity may be sought from anyone in the organization. Not just the preserve of R&D or marketing, but how we may innovate in how customers are related to, logistics are planned, expenditure is managed, etc.,

On the other hand, the leap from a fixed table top Hi-Fi to a portable walkman would be an example of BIG "C" creativity. A total paradigm shift, from fixed music delivery to portability. BIG "C" is about lasting impression, making a splash, etc.,

The second magnitude mechanism and of a similar nature to the first, would be Thomas Kuhn's "normal" versus "revolutionary" scientific progression.

Here, Kuhn argues that much of science progresses in a normal fashion, with minor incremental improvements, until the weight of evidence for the discontinuation of "old" ideas and methodologies becomes overwhelming. When the weight of evidence is so strong, so as to disable and disarm existing ideas, then a "revolution" takes place. A good example would be when Ptolemaic notions of a planetary system with the Earth at the centre were replaced with the Copernican revolution of a solar system with the Sun at the centre. The industrial correlates would be when the horse was traded for the internal combustion engine, the transistor outpowered by the microchip, etc.,

The over-elaborated point being... When setting objectives for creative work, provide clarity about the degree of departure from dominating ways of doing things.

So... there we have it. The argument unfolds thus to leave us with the following take home points...

Clarity of communication, objectives and goals are the currency of organizational performance.

The term "creativity" is prone to be indiscriminately applied, such that it becomes a meaningless concept. As a result clear communication is diminished.

We can provide clarity by considering exactly what we mean by creativity in the organizational setting by 1) clarifying the area to be considered and 2) the magnitude of the creative contribution.

Next post - we will look to describe the characteristics of highly creative people.

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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