by V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

There is no such thing as an uncreative person.”

                                                                            ~ V. S. Ravi Elangkoh

Why creativity?

Businessman holding whiteboard showing creativityVery little of what is really pushing forward the frontiers of human endeavour and innovation can be achieved without significant creativity, asserts Teresa Amabile, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. That is why Amabile identifies creativity as one of the main driving forces of human progress.

Creativity in the wild

In the 1990s, Amabile, who has over 30 years of research experience, came up with a very creative way to study creativity.

With the support of an extensive team, she analyzed almost 12,000 daily journal entries from 238 research respondents who were working on creative projects in seven companies in consumer products, high-tech and chemical industries. The research respondents were initially not informed about the purpose of the study; they were merely asked to describe their work and work environment every day during the research period. Unknown to them, Amabile was looking out for moments when people grappled with an issue or came up with a breakthrough; a process she called “creativity in the wild”.

The findings of her study dispelled some of the common longstanding myths about creativity that had inadvertently led to untapped potential, poorly matched responsibilities and stressed-out employees. Amabile inferred six myths of creativity from her study, as follows:

1.   Creativity Comes From Creative Types
2.   Money Is a Creativity Motivator
3.   Time Pressure Fuels Creativity
4.   Fear Forces Breakthroughs
5.   Competition Beats Collaboration
6.   A Streamlined Organization Is a Creative Organization

This article, the first in a series of six articles, will focus on the first myth.

Myth No. 1: “Creativity Comes From Creative Types”

The million-dollar question for employers and human resource personnel is: Are creative people born or made?

In the fields of psychology and management, researchers believe that traits such as ambiguity tolerance (AT) and intolerance to conformity are associated with creativity. Unfortunately, these traits are hard to pinpoint and tend to be non-transferable across situations.

Creativity is a cognitive process, and since we are born with cognition, all of us are able to produce novel, beneficial and diverse ideas, thereby adding value to the whole creative value chain in the organizational context. Stereotyping individuals into those who “look creative” and those who “don’t look creative” would do great disservice to your pool of human capital. That is why discerning leaders understand that there is no such thing as an uncreative person!

Anyone with average intelligence is capable of producing creative work, so instead of limiting creativity to a select group only, leaders should give everyone – from the junior staff to the senior ones, across all departments – equal opportunity to exercise their creativity. But why is this not happening adequately in organizations?

In my view, one of the main reasons why organizations fail to fully tap into the creative potential of their employees is because the concept of creativity is so broad that they do not know where to begin or what to begin with.

To help us understand creativity a little more, I find the 4C Model of Creativity by James C. Kaufman and Ron A. Beghetto to be useful. The 4Cs are as follows:

(a) mini-c
“Transformative learning” which involves “personally meaningful interpretations of experiences, actions and insights”;

(b) little-c 
Everyday problem solving and creative expression;

(c) Pro-C
Demonstrated by those who are professionally or vocationally creative but not necessarily eminent; and

(d) Big-C
Creativity that is considered eminent in the related field.

By recognizing the different forms of creativity, leaders can appreciate where the creative strengths of their people are found, and are thus better prepared to coach them accordingly.

Removing barriers

From my observation, the top two barriers to creativity are rigidity (organizational element) and insecurity (human element). The first barrier refers to the rigid rules and structures that organizations consciously and unconsciously impose upon their staff, compelling employees to conform to traditional practices rather than exploring alternative possibilities.

The second barrier consists of the hidden personal issues that people harbour, especially the plethora of fears that stem from their own insecurity. These include the fear of violating standards, fear of failure, fear of rejection and so on.

To help overcome the impediments to creativity, facilitating workshops on personal leadership, creativity and innovation, supplemented by executive coaching, is critical and effective. Leaders can be coached to inspire and engage their employees, while employees can be coached to become more self-driven and to persevere in what they are passionate about. Only then will creativity flourish in organizations and lead to meaningful innovation, even in the toughest times.

[Image courtesy of Pakorn]

To be continued in Part 2