Organisations have to adapt to changing environmental demands to survive. Adaptation that is creative rather than merely reactive will lead to the organisation being better placed in the future situation than the present one.
However, it is not obvious what changes the organisation will need or how to make them creatively.
What is creativity?
Creativity is a high level, innate, human set of skills and activities. People invent brand new and appropriate responses to situations and stimuli they have not met before. I assume that any person and organisation can be creative. The problem is how to unlock the appropriate skills and behaviour.
How do you recognise a creative organisation?
First, by results, in that people are continuously developing new and marketable products and services in a way that makes business sense.
Second, by observation, there is an air of excitement and enthusiasm, people are exploring and developing ideas and alternatives. Management has the problem of too many good ideas and projects to consider in the time available!
Thirdly, individuals are taking powerful personal initiatives and thinking for themselves. They are making independent links to other departments, to outside organisations and talking and listening actively to each other. They are constantly testing and challenging the assumptions about what is possible and not possible with constructive alternatives also suggested.
Fourthly, by everyone enjoying being successful!
What are the dimensions of creativity?
To produce new insight and action demands the ability to suspend judgement and allow new ideas and experiences to connect and form. This is play, internal and mental play, or play with others where the rules are we can consider that anything is possible! Play is the natural way we learn about the world and each other.
- Flexible Persistence
If creative ideas are to be successful, someone has to carry them out in practice. The skill needed is flexible persistence. Persistence because any new idea or project is bound to challenge existing thinking, organisation and people. Unless you pursue the idea persistently, it will fail prematurely. However, the persistence must be flexible so you can harness organisational energy to help it along. The skills needed are influencing and political skills-most of these are listening to others and understanding their point of view before making proposals! People are usually interested in “What is in it for me?” They will accept proposals that meet their needs.
Creativity and innovation demand the highest level skills of people. The exercise of these skills is rewarding in its own right. People will put their whole selves behind a project most easily if they see it as having an ultimate purpose that is beyond themselves. Some organisations find it difficult to believe that ‘Making more profit than last year’ may not be enough to bring out the best from people. Motives like ‘Relieving suffering’, ‘Creating rewarding jobs’, ‘ Being the best at *** ‘ are more energising. This needs to be as true at the micro-level of a project as at the corporate one.
People often see power as self-seeking or destructive. I think it is ‘the ability to get good things to happen’. It contradicts our feelings of being dependent victims who await others’ decisions. Power is about taking charge of our destiny and being creative. We were all powerful once when we were babies and young children, and can be so again. No organisation can be creative unless it has lots of powerful people who can be models for others. You can learn to be more powerful.
People are hungry for attention and will act in ways that get them good attention. ‘Good attention’ is someone else being interested in and encouraging about what you are doing, are saying, have done…
The implications of this for an organisation that wishes to be creative are profound. People will do strongly that which attracts positive interest. New ideas do not always as they are often disturbing and do not fit. If people get rewarded for innovative ‘tries’ they are more likely to have a go and produce a successful innovation.
Many people find it extremely difficult to give good attention even if they think it’s the right thing to do and they want to do it. Perhaps this is because they have had little experience of it themselves. However, giving good attention is a developable skill that gives powerful benefits.
Sometimes creative action and insight happen ‘providentially’, somehow we are inspired and good things follow. We believe and have tested in a small way, that there are consistent patterns in the circumstances and experiences that lead to inspiration. Small amounts of inspiration go a long way.
Certainly, a drab office environment, a highly prescribed job, and an atmosphere where people punish mistakes are unlikely to be very inspiring.
This complex idea is more than knowledge, it includes knowing what you know and knowing what you do not know. People engaged creatively with projects about change need at least to be aware of who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The first need of an innovative idea is an open mind to grow in! They also need to know what is going on in the world. This is the technical world of competitors, products and technology and the ‘soft’ world of social change, emerging markets and even new ways of thinking about the universe. New thoughts are the most powerful change agents.
Aware individuals and organisations actively seek out new knowledge and experience, in all sorts of unlikely places, where good clues exist that will help them achieve their purposes.
How to make your organisation more creative.
Effective change starts by understanding your present situation. Then, you create a joint vision of how you want things to be. When both are clear, you plan how to move from one to the other. Thus, you make your organisation more creative by first clarifying what is happening now.
How creative are you now?
You can find this out by asking your employees. The best way is by individual interview, using someone from outside the organisation. People will be open when personal confidentiality is guaranteed. The issues people raise can be explored in depth. The “Dimensions” above should not constrain the enquiry. They do not make an exhaustive list.
You could ask questions like: –
How easy is it to get something new to happen?
How do people react to new ideas?
What happens if you suggest a new way of doing something?
What happens if you try something and it does not work?
How does the organisation encourage creativity and development?
What does it do that discourages creativity and development?
You would also explore people’s experience of the “Dimensions” directly.
Eg You could explore “Purpose” by asking. What is the company here to do? How important is that to you? Why?
Workshops could explore the same questions. The people attending could be in natural teams or across the organisation. The choice would depend on the Company’s developmental objectives.
The data from the interviews and/or workshops would show which factors the Company should work on to make it more creative. Before starting to make plans, you should work with the people on their vision of how they would like their world of work to be.
You can ask people, in a group, to list publicly the words they would use to describe work if “everything was right” and they were “thoroughly enjoying it”. I am always amazed by how much people agree and how easily they find a “slogan” to describe their preferred situation. A group of production workers chose “Everything running smoothly” to describe their preferred vision.
When you have the situation now clearly understood and a clear vision of a desirable future, you can start to plan. I will describe some possible plans derived from the dimensions above. In a real situation, only some of them will need work. There will also be new things that I have not listed.
Making improvements in practice
It will help your staff to play at work if you keep the rules, procedures and monitoring down to the minimum possible for their part of the business. You can still be clear about the outcomes you expect and the boundaries they must keep within. Unreasonable control will inhibit playfulness and creativity. Can the organisation provide places for people to meet, support each other and explore their work freely? You could involve your staff by discussing this issue with them in a light-hearted way!
- Flexible Persistence
You can encourage your staff to support each other, rather than competing. Support groups, action learning sets and co-consulting are all good mechanisms for this. When people know that they have some support, they will persist. If they hit obstacles, then talking these over will help them find a way through. Influencing skills training can help people build good quality relationships with decision-makers. When you understand another person well, you can present proposals in a way that meets their needs (and your own).
Many successful companies consider they serve many stakeholders. These could be employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers and the community. If all these stakeholders support a common purpose for the company then it will thrive.
You can develop a common purpose at a workshop involving representatives of the above. You could start the process by asking people to list “What will be happening when the company is successful? Then develop a summary statement that all can support with enthusiasm. You refine this statement by a discussion with the rest of the stakeholders.
The simplest way to develop personal power is to increase the amount of support in the organisation. Being listened to is enormously empowering. This works best when people take turns. One form is “Coconsulting“. Here, one person talks about and explores an issue while the other listens, encourages asks questions and challenges assumptions. Half to three-quarters of an hour each way is usual. It is very simple, cheap and effective. If you can encourage your “client” to decide to do something, then their power increases.
You can decide to give someone else some attention rather than concentrating on your concerns. It is not easy but it is possible. The process of “Coconsulting” above is an excellent way of developing your ability to give attention. The structure challenges you to do so for half an hour even if you do not feel like it. When you see the enormous benefits of doing so, most people want to continue. A few minutes’ feedback after each half session helps this. Both parties can discuss what the helper did that was helpful and how it could be better next time. Key employees in stressful positions gain enormously from some one-way attention. Meetings of groups and teams work better when everyone has equal attention and does not have to fight for this. The team leader just asks everyone for two minutes contribution on a topic while the rest of the people just listen.
This is difficult to manage by a simple mechanism. You will know what happens in your organisation that dampens peoples’ energy and enthusiasm. Avoid them. Too many rules, too much formality, no laughter, rigid job descriptions, grey offices all reduce the opportunity for inspiration to happen. It needs space and time to grow in. People get inspired in the bath after all. Inspirational ideas often happen after an intense stimulus like a conference. The pace of working life can mean people move from stimulus to stimulus with no time to reflect and become inspired.
Being aware is about thinking broadly and looking to discover the truth. The aware person attempts to avoid blaming and instead tries to understand why people do the things they do.
This openness to new knowledge and experience develops through experiences in which the persons’ self expands. Such experiences can be off the beaten track travel, small group courses, learning new things like pottery, dancing, or sailing, or a close relationship with someone very different from you. An aware manager can help his/her subordinates become more aware by delegating challenging assignments with thoughtful support. The organisation can encourage awareness by seeking the contributions of its members and asking provocative questions. Excessive insularity will destroy it.
This article was written to stimulate thought and debate. The components will connect in many ways to suit your circumstances. They are not the last word. Please write to me if you have any insights or comments on the article or the subject. I would be pleased to hear from you.