How to manage creativity

We’re all operating in a world driven by innovation. Product life cycles are shorter than ever before, business start and expand overnight, the cloud computing revolution enables the instant turn-on and shutdown of resources at the click of a button… Entire industry landscapes change and evolve at a higher rate than many of us can keep up with.

As businesses, we try to make as much sense of this as we can. We often find ourselves on the sidelines, watching the game to see which side is winning before joining them on the pitch to help score a few goals.

The most successful companies don’t do that. They’re busy re-writing the rule book and sacking the referee.

Creativity and innovation go hand in hand and are essential to not only entrepreneurship but to the sustained success of established businesses. Unfortunately, many managers don’t know how to manage creativity. It is considered an elusive concept and less direct in its result generation compared to streamlining efficiencies or improving processes.

The first instinct of a manager is to refuse to consider ideas that are challenging and “impossible” (i.e. never been done before) – killing ground-breaking concepts.

“Revolutionary ideas come about when we doubt our existing view of the world,” says Alan Iny, co-author with Luc de Brabandere of Thinking in New Boxes: A New Paradigm for Business Creativity. “In this respect, true leaders must develop the capacity for radical originality: they must re-imagine and reinvent the world in totally unexpected ways. By doing that, they can create a culture that is open to creative risk-taking and an environment where failure is accepted as part of the creative process.”

Failure makes a great teacher but a lousy friend. A successful creative culture will nurture the process of generating enough ideas and hypotheses to counteract any setbacks from failures – but there will be no focus on failure as a word, which is negatively charged. Instead, it’s all about building resilience where the learnings are part of the creative journey and help form the backdrop for new innovation.

As for encouraging and maintaining the creative streak in our organisations; that’s going to be the next big challenge.
A recent Harvard Business School colloquium on creativity landed in the viewpoint that “One doesn’t manage creativity. One manages for creativity.”

I like the sound of that.

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