It is well known that public sector organizations all over the globe are facing extreme pressures.  Massive budgetary surgery, but without sacrificing frontline services.


Effectively…  public sector organisations are going to be asked to do more with less.

The ‘old world’ approach of shaving and slicing cost out of budgets will not cut it.  We simply cannot maintain services with huge budget reductions by seeking efficiency.

Instead it is time to get radical, get innovative and look for startlingly new ways of working.  At the heart of these efforts MUST lie creativity.  Creativity in all staff at all levels.  Creativity in the way that people interact, that teams work and in the way that work is approached.  Lastly, this needs to be set within the milieu of a culture and climate that supports and nurtures creativity and innovation.  Not an easy task within massive organisations that must have bureaucracy, strict procedures and a plethora of stakeholders and interested parties to consider.

But how?  That creativity is essential at work is largely without question.  The real question is what to do about it…

I would suggest three simple approaches for starters.

1.  Grow the creative capacity of the workforce

Creativity within the individual is as a result of a myriad of different dimensions, traits and behaviours.  Sure, there are some people who are more prone to be creative than others, but we can all learn how to be more creative.

This process should start with self-awareness.  Instead of asking “am I creative?” we should instead consider “HOW am I creative?”  What do I do?  How do I approach problem-solving?

Just like any form of training (think about seeing a tennis coach or a golf trainer) we first start with a diagnosis.  Serve a few balls, swing the club or sink some putts.  From there you can look to work with what you’ve got.

Creativity is no different.  We should look to understand our natural approach and how this influences HOW we are creative, rather than determining IF we are creative.

I have produced a new model to help us do exactly that.  In the model I examine people’s approach to Idea Generation.  How do people have ideas, how many, in what form, when..?

Then we move on to consider our personality traits that relate to creativity.  Are you curious and keen explore your internal world of ideas and the external world of opinions and experiences.  Perhaps you are open to uncertainty, tolerant of ambiguity and able to manage the state of ‘not-knowing’ while the creative process unfolds.

From Idea Generation, to Personality we then move to appreciate our Motives.  Am I driven by internal desire or a sense of challenge, perhaps your energies derive from interacting with the rest of the world or maybe you have a desire to achieve that makes you keen to push boundaries or ask the big uncomfortable questions.

Lastly, the model looks at our Confidence (or Self-Efficacy as it is often referred to in the psychological literature).  Do people have the confidence to approach problems with creativity in mind, do they possess the confidence to share their half-baked ideas or have the belief that they can turn ideas into reality?

The power of the model is that it does not seek to label people as ‘creative v uncreative’, but instead consider how your approach fits in with the innovation process.  Everybody has a positive role to play in the creative process, irregardless of their ‘profile’.  For example highly original, fluent thinkers are a bonus when trying to generate new ideas and strategies.  They can derail the innovation process when it comes to implementation.

2.  Build creative teams

Creativity is clearly not all about individuals.  We do a lot of work in groups.  Here the power of diversity becomes hugely important.  Creative teams have repeatedly been shown to have a wide variety of attributes.  Members with different personality traits, different experiences, different values and different abilities.

To make the most of our work groups we need to ensure there is sufficient diversity.  In some organizations you wonder where the creativity is supposed to come from when everyone is a middle-aged, university educated white male with a background in finance!!

So… when building ‘Change Teams’ or “Innovation Committees’ make sure that diversity is in abundance.  This rule applies to other teams too!

Some things are obvious and easy to assess – gender, age, work experience, etc.,

Some are less so – thinking styles, personality, motivations, values, attitudes, etc.,

Just try to get a good blend.

3.  Build a creative culture

In trying to form a creative organization you might have worked with individuals to grow their creative capacity and looked at forming diverse creative teams to tackle the challenges facing the organization.  However, there is still (at least) one more serious issue to face.

The culture, or the “way we do things around here”.

If we empower employees to be creative and encourage them to work creatively together, there also needs to be support for creativity in the culture.

Do managers and supervisors encourage new ideas and approaches?  What happens if mistakes are made?  How quickly do successes have to be realised?  What is considered a waste of time?  Does bureaucracy overrule bravery?  Do we reward creative effort?

So in the face of a huge issue (maintaining public services whilst drastically cutting budgets).

There is one simple answer (creativity).

Which can be tackled through three approaches (growing individual capacity, building creative teams and nurturing a culture that supports creativity)

It appears that the answer is relatively simple on paper.  Now we need to make it happen.

Mark Batey CPsychol. PhD

is a Creativity Specialist at Manchester Business School, UK

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