Evidence states the pursuit of creative endeavors by
employee's results in more entrepreneurial activities, higher
quality products, and long-term success. A skilled facilitator can
direct creativity. However, such efforts to enhance creativity are often
stifled by organizational structures themselves. The best way to
encourage entrepreneurial and creative endeavors on the job is to
understand the importance of creativity to entrepreneurship, to remove
obstacles that get in the way of creativity, and to know how to motivate
the creative individual.
New ideas, new products, or new approaches to traditional products
or services generally characterize the competitive edge in business. An
entrepreneurial spirit within an organization might generate notions far
beyond what could be originated within more traditional cultures.
Nevertheless, no culture can become "entrepreneurial" without
a reverence for--and encouragement of-creative endeavors.
Creativity is a term with which most are familiar, yet it still
remains a somewhat elusive concept in the business world. While there
are techniques for detecting and enhancing creativity, there are few
"rules" as to how to best manage the creative individual.
Enhancing creativity is the responsibility of management, but it is also
the responsibility of employees to use their creative insights and
intuitions in order to better both the organization and the individual.
There are as many definitions of creativity as there are authors
writing them. One definition is "Creativity is any act, idea, or
product that changes an existing domain, or that transforms an existing
domain into a new one" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Still another is
"The ability to find new solutions to a problem or new modes of
expression; the bringing into existence of something new to the
individual" (Edwards, 1989). In terms of corporate creativity, the
definition is even more elusive:
It is perhaps easier to determine what these diverse definitions
have in common--a sense of change, the possibility of new idea
generation, and serendipity.
Likewise, it is difficult to define what is meant by the frequently
used phrase, "creative person." A creative person can be
defined as one whose "thoughts or actions change a domain, or
establish a new domain" (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). Creative people
tend to be confident in their strength-areas, focused on learning and
application of that learning, and willing to live with the uncertainty
that comes with creativity (Nahavandi, 1999). Perhaps Feldman expressed
it best when defining creative productivity:
With this definition in mind, one can look at several authors who
have researched what constitutes an entrepreneurial, creative person.
While studies are by no means complete, they are starting points in
being able to identify creative individuals in the work place. These
cited characteristics include perseverance, risk-taking behavior,
willingness to try new things, tolerance of ambiguity, intuitive
decision-making, strong will or vision, joy, and compassion (Nahavandi,
1999; Miller, 1986; Ray, 1986).
Even with certain characteristics identified, it would still be a
mistake to hire individuals based solely on one or more of these traits.
In some cases, the environment slowly nourishes these traits, and true
creativity in an individual might not show itself for years. Moreover,
all these traits are descriptive of entrepreneurs. The distinction
between creativity and entrepreneurship is indeed murky in highly
PURSUING ENTREPRENEURSHIP=PURSUING CREATIVITY
Today's organizations, whether they are non-profit
organizations, huge conglomerates, or neighborhood churches, can and
should pursue creativity in the continuing quest for quality and
entrepreneurship. Some managers, however, still see
"creativity" as a bonus area of the organization, something
that can be done when everything else is finished or when a new
advertisement is needed.
Some cite budgetary reasons as an excuse for sticking to the tried
and true, ignoring the possibility that a creative approach to a problem
or a product might actually be less expensive to the organization than
the status quo. Nevertheless, all organizations should examine the
following reasons to pursue "creativity" as a means to improve
1. Superior long-term financial performance is associated with
innovation. Stockholders, stakeholders, employees, directors all need to
understand that it is only with innovation that a company can improve
and grow. An organization that remains unchanging for very long will
2. Customers are increasingly demanding innovation. Products are
modified with alarming frequency, and customers have grown used to a
disposable society, where products are replaced before wearing out. An
organization that repeatedly offers the same product with no
modification will lose even one-time loyal customers seeking change.
3. Competitors are becoming better at copying past innovations.
"Knock-off" products are virtually indistinguishable from the
originals. It is entirely possible for a successful organization to
never "create" a thing--copying successful products, maybe
making them better and cheaper. Constant innovation allows an
organization to keep one step ahead of the copycats.
4. New technologies enable innovation. Technology begets
innovation, and allows for faster movement with new products. Better
machinery, faster, stronger computers, and more technologically-adept
employees all produce better products at a faster pace.
5. What used to work does not anymore. Times change, people change,
needs and wants change, so tried and true management techniques must
also change with the times. A management philosophy of "if it
ain't broke, don't fix it" can actually hinder forward
progress (Plsek, 1998).
These questions can help guide an organization in need of more
creative endeavors. If competitors are gaining ground, if products are
no longer unique, and if management (as well as employees) is afraid to
take chances, then an infusion of creativity is mandatory. In other
words, squash creativity and destroy the entrepreneurial spirit.
Directed creativity, as defined, is "the purposeful production
of creative ideas in a topic area, followed up by deliberate efforts to
implement some of those ideas" (Plsek, 1997). This definition
implies that everyone can and is creative on demand. In modern
organizations, it is sometimes difficult to see such creativity at work.
Paul Plsek, director of Paul E. Plsek and Associates, Inc., and the
maintainer of the DirectedCreativity[TM] website, has developed the
"Eight Basic Heuristics of Directed Creativity": Each
heuristic for directed creativity also describes successful
entrepreneurs. These basic heuristics are explained below.
Make it a habit to purposefully pause and notice things. This
concept is frequently called looking at the world through "new
eyes." Many look but few truly see what is contained in the
physical world around them, and might miss clues for new products or
Focus creative energies on just a few topic areas that one
genuinely cares about and work on these purposefully for several weeks
or months. Plsek contends that focus, care, and working purposefully are
common characteristics of great creators throughout time. Cultivate the
ability to recognize potentially valuable ideas.
Avoid being too narrow in the way problems or topic areas are
defined; purposefully try broader definitions and see what insights
evolve. Looking at the big picture helps one see problems in a greater
context. Limiting vision when it comes to creativity is virtually the
same as limiting creative choice.
Try to come up with original and useful ideas by making novel
associations among what is already known. A creative individual is one
who can take common thoughts or associations and can combine those in
new, innovative ways. See the common and make those ideas or items
When one needs creative ideas, remember the following: attention,
escape, and movement. One thing to avoid when undergoing a directed
creativity process is saying or thinking "that's not the way
we've done it in the past." Pay attention to all that is going
on, break away from tradition, and move forward.
Pause and carefully examine ideas that cause laughter the first
time one hears them. Good humor is based on drawing unconnected ideas
together, thus "shocking" the listener into laughter. As Plsek
says, "Laughter is serious business."
Recognize streams of thought and patterns of judgment are not
inherently right or wrong; they are just what one thinks now based
primarily on patterns from an individual's past. Many thoughts are
emotion-based, and might not make logical or business sense. Letting go
of preconceived emotions might assist with the creativity process.
Make a deliberate effort to harvest, develop, and implement at
least a few of the ideas employees generate. Everyone knows of at least
one colleague who always has great ideas but never implements any of
them. Many U.S. businesses have strong bases in innovation, encouraging
and hiring intrepreneurs in order to keep one step ahead of the
competition (Plsek, 1997).
While it is great to come up with lists to describe the directed
creativity process, it is much more difficult to implement the ideas
contained within them. Without managerial support, or if management (or
even colleagues, for that matter), de-emphasize deliberate attempts at
creativity, new ideas might not get implemented. Still, understanding
the steps involved in creativity, and sharing ideas with those with whom
one feels comfortable can help an organization become more
entrepreneurial and move toward being one based on innovation and mutual
Still, many others assert that creativity cannot be forced. These
naysayers remark that creativity sessions are contrived and are
guaranteed to have at least one person say, "there are no bad
ideas." To these individuals, organizing creativity is
counterproductive and a waste of time. However, even those who believe
creativity has to happen on its own state that creativity can be
encouraged, although not to the degree relied upon in directed
creativity (Harkins, 1998).
The other side to just letting creativity happen is that workers
often interpret this more "hands-off" approach to managing
creativity as a lack of interest in creative endeavors. Elmwood, a
consulting firm in Great Britain, recently conducted a survey that says
25% of all British workers believe they are not listened to by their
superiors, plus they are never asked for additional contributions beyond
their basic jobs. The director of Elmwood, Paul Middlebrook, says the
reason why British firms are ignoring creativity is that "most
businesses today have structures which are alien to idea generation and
based around the premise of coordination and control" (Croft,
1998). The concept of coordination and control is not unfamiliar to
American organizations, many of which are so focused on the bottom line
that anything that is not perceived to be a direct contribution to
profit is ignored. Worse, it is highly likely that managers seeing
anything "creative" as being a waste of time can stop creative
ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURES AND CREATIVITY: Giant Hairballs and
Oscillation or A Bad System Will Beat a Good Person Every Time
In organizations that emphasize the bottom line (and which ones do
not?), the structure is often blamed for the lack of creativity and
entrepreneurship. Often, performance evaluations center on meeting set
standards or quotas. Obviously, some sorts of controls are necessary to
keep an organization from spinning into complete chaos; the challenge of
a creative and entrepreneurial entity could very well be to keep the
organization on the edge of chaos.
While some organizations have kept pace with societal changes, many
are still structured in ways that were popular decades ago. The shift of
U.S. businesses from product-providers to service and
information-providers necessitated a change in organizational structure
as well, which, for the most part, has not happened.
Most organizations start out as entrepreneurial endeavors, ones
that have strong visionaries or commitments to particular goals.
However, as organizations grow and change, more controls are implemented
over time, until the very entrepreneurial phenomenon that started the
organization in the first place is exiled. This tangled mass of rules,
policies, procedures, and controls is sometimes referred to as the
"giant hairball." Creativity survives in this giant hairball
only by finding a way to still contribute creative thoughts while
adhering to the policies of the organization (Tapsell, 1998). Generally
speaking, the more "corporate" an organization becomes, the
less entrepreneurship and creativity are seen.
In some cases, "creative" parts of an organization are
farmed out to other organizations, like advertising agencies, graphic
designers, etc. The book, How to Manage Creatives, asserts that
corporations do not have to outsource creative endeavors. However, the
creative employee must be managed differently than other employees
should be. The book says that creative people are by nature insecure and
are perfectionists, partly because of the failure inherent in being
creative. These employees must be encouraged more after failure than
after success, as the insecure side must be reassured constantly. Most
corporations pride themselves on diminishing mistakes rather than
perpetuating them. Still, highly creative employees might fare best in
less structured, less "corporate" structures (Krohe, 1996).
Oscillating organizations are notorious for defeating creative
endeavors. Oscillating organizations are characterized by moving toward
a particular point, then moving away from that point, much like an
oscillating fan moves back and forth. These organizations often have
two-to-three year cycles of laying off and rehiring workers. The
instability employee's face often cancels out the motivation to be
In contrast, advancing organizations move toward a goal but with
employee involvement. The key to advancing organizations is that people
work together to accomplish goals, and teamwork and creativity are
encouraged (McManus, 1998).
According to business consultant, Robert Fritz, it is common
management theory that "structure follows strategy." Changing
an organization from an oscillating one to an advancing one might be as
simple as gaining commitment to a new version of that old adage:
business strategy drives management strategy. Management strategy deals
with accomplishing work and meeting goals. Goals must be congruent, and
strategies must be aligned; when that happens, an organization has
shifted to an advancing organization (McManus, 1998).
Harry C. Stonecipher, president and CEO of the Boeing Corporation,
has expressed concerns about whether a large organization like Boeing
can maintain any sort of creative element. His summation of the dilemma
between control and creativity was stated:
In reviewing great inventors, Stonecipher says most innovations are
not necessarily new; rather, they are the combination of new and old
ideas. Stonecipher contends that while innovators and creative thinkers
are welcome in any organization, it takes much longer to get things
accomplished in larger organizations (Stonecipher, 1998). This slow
movement tends to frustrate those employees who are innovative or
According to La Rose, the eight-hour workday is an outmoded concept
and a hindrance to creativity. He states, "The reduction of working
time, its leisure, its time for reflection and withdrawal into moments
of creative expression is the world of the artist, the world of cultural
creativity. It is life without regimentation" (La Rose, 1996).
Many organizations require far beyond a 40-hour workweek for
employees, and layoffs are an easy way to adjust to demands of the
market and shareholders. Nevertheless, while layoffs are easy, those
workers who take on additional work are frequently ignored. Adding work
to already-- overburdened employees can also mean a dramatic decrease in
quality as well as creativity.
REMOVING BARRIERS TO CREATIVITY
It is easy to see that while creative endeavors can produce good
results, it is equally easy to see that organizations can assist with
the creativity process by removing obstacles that hinder creativity.
Alexander Hiam, writing for the Futurist, sees nine major obstacles that
organizations must remove in order to allow employees to be creative.
Hiam calls this list "Creativity for Dummies," and the
highlights are listed below.
Obstacle #1: Failure to ask questions. Asking questions is vital
for creativity to emerge. Hiam says the failure to ask questions is a
societal issue--most institutions, organizations, and corporations
actually hinder the question-asking process. Make the workplace one
where questions are not only welcomed but also encouraged. More
entrepreneurial organizations seem to rely on questions as a way of
improvement and as a way of settling into a particular niche.
Obstacle #2: Failure to record ideas. This is also a timesaving
step. If all ideas are recorded, say from a brainstorming session, the
next time an issue comes up the list can be consulted. Some ideas might
not be valuable ever, but some might be in a decade or so.
Obstacle #3: Failure to revisit ideas. Spend time once a month
looking at old projects or papers. Old decisions can and should be
questioned. Hiam warns that this could be most beneficial on an
individual level, as most executives do not like past decisions to be
scrutinized, and certainly not in a group setting.
Obstacle #4: Failure to express ideas. Do not censor ideas. If
someone discounts his own ideas too quickly, some terrific ideas might
be rejected because they are not fully developed. With a little
cultivation, some bad ideas, at first look, might become part of
something else, or altered to make them work.
Obstacle #5: Failure to think in new ways. Draw a picture of a
problem that is plaguing the organization. Think up words that describe
what the problem looks like. Seeing problems in new ways automatically
leads to creativity.
Obstacle #6: Failure to wish for more. If something works, it is
far more difficult to be creative. Encourage employees to think of
alternative ideas, even if an idea is working. Most ideas can be
improved, even if they are currently good.
Obstacle #7: Failure to keep trying. It is sometimes hard to see
how creativity is useful, and some organizations do not encourage
creative processes. As Hiam says, "We all mess up creativity from
time to time."
Obstacle #8: Failure to try being creative. If employees are told
they are not creative, they will make no effort to be so. Often,
organizations see failure as being "bad," therefore derailing
employees who might want to try something new in spite of the risk.
Obstacle #9: Failure to tolerate creative behavior. Managers must
learn to tolerate creative behavior. If employees are not physically
doing something, it appears they are not "busy." Another error
is to encourage creativity only at certain times, such as at meetings or
when the organization's survival is at stake. Creativity needs to
be encouraged throughout the organization on a daily basis, no matter
how hard the temptation to encourage "real" work (Hiam, 1998).
Removing these obstacles--and probably many others--can encourage
employees to be more creative on a daily basis. However, these barriers
to creativity also imply that managers know about and understand the
creative process. Without serious managerial training into creativity
and creative processes, it will be impossible to remove these barriers.
Organizations that remove these obstacles to creativity are well on
their way to becoming more entrepreneurial. If employees are encouraged
to express creative ideas, the possibilities are endless. Perhaps one
employee with a terrific idea and a supportive supervisor can lead the
entire organization, whether large or small, into a position of market
What is creative to one person is merely the day's work to
another. Knowing how to motivate a creative person requires patience,
understanding, and avoiding the temptation to micromanage. Even
"non-creative" employees can be encouraged to develop their
creativity skills. Directed creativity, where individuals are guided
through creative processes, appears to work for some.
In some instances, it appears the structure of an organization
itself can lead to or hinder creativity. Most businesses start out as
small, entrepreneurial entities, often relying almost exclusively on
creative ideas or services. However, as businesses mature, often into
large corporations, the very thing that made them
successful--creativity--is shunned as being a waste of time.
With the stakes growing higher for market share and long-term
survival of organizations of all types, creativity might become an area
that is actually enhanced by management. Understanding how creativity
works is a good place to start. Also understanding what the creative
individual needs and wants could prove valuable. Even those pessimistic
about creativity cannot always argue about the results creative
exercises can generate. If businesses want to develop and maintain an
atmosphere of entrepreneurship, it becomes just a matter of time before
creativity training becomes mandatory for managers and employees alike.
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Most creative acts, as they now occur in companies, are not planned for and
come from where they are least expected. It is impossible to predict what
they will be, who will be involved in them, and when and how they will
happen. This is the true nature of corporate creativity, and it is here
that a company's creative potential really lies. For corporate creativity,
the real power is in the unexpected. (Robinson, 1997)
[Creative productivity] requires a unique juxtaposition of the person's
mastery of the domain of knowledge in which creativity will be elicited,
the person's ability to think beyond the current limits of that domain, and
the perseverance and willingness/proclivity to take intellectual risks to
produce something new and transformational within a community or context
that is amenable to the transformational idea or product. If any of these
elements is missing, then creative production will probably not happen.
Creativity involves a great paradox. One the one hand, it depends upon a
profound grasp of what is already known. On the other, it depends upon
thinking differently ... and that often begins with selecting the right
principle ... the right idea or the right connection ... and then applying
it in a new setting. With 20-20 hindsight, that often seems a matter of
stunning simplicity. (Stonecipher, 1998)
Associate Professor of Business
Winfield, KS 67156-3405