Creativity is an imaginative process that results in the creation of something new, be it a product, a service, or a technique. In his book Managing Creativity, John J. Kao of Harvard Business School observes that creativity is "a human process leading to a result which is novel (new), useful (solves an existing problem or satisfies an existing need), and understandable (can be reproduced)."
Creativity involves the merging or synthesis of differing concepts into a new concept that did not previously exist. Because creativity reflects the process of integrating diversity into new realities, many researchers have been interested in the skills necessary to be creative in one's work. Personality characteristics associated with people who are creative in nature include: openness to experience; being able to see things in unusual ways; curiosity; the ability to accept and reconcile apparent opposites; having a high tolerance for ambiguity; possessing an independence in thought and action; needing and assuming autonomy or self-reliance; a healthy level of nonconformity; a risk-taking orientation; persistence; sensitivity to problems; the ability to generate large numbers of ideas; flexibility; openness to unconscious phenomena; freedom from fear of failure; the ability to concentrate; and imagination. All of these skills reflect the complexity of trying to measure and predict the creative process. It is a multidimensional and often complex phenomenon that does not easily lend itself to social scientific investigation.
Many management scholars and social observers have argued that in order to stay on the cutting edge of an industry, companies must be able to respond quickly to market opportunities and threats, utilize the ideas of their people more comprehensively, and create new products and services more quickly and efficiently. All of these conditions require the creation of new ways of doing things within the company. Thus, some observers have argued that companies need to develop cultures that foster creativity rather than suppress it. Although this argument has been made by many management scholars since World War II, during the 2000s the rapid pace of technological change within the business world made the issue more cogent than in previous decades. In fact, an American Management Association survey of 500 CEOs, reported in Psychology Today, selected "practice creativity and innovation" as the top factor in ensuring corporate survival during the twenty-first century.
Kao notes that, in order to understand how to develop creativity in organizations, it is sometimes useful to study how not to facilitate creativity in organizations. He finds that the following organizational norms/behaviors suppress organizational creativity:
How, then, can managers foster creativity in the workplace? It requires an approach to managing that many managers find counterintuitive, and that goes against many values in traditional corporate cultures. Kao offers the following as requirements for enhancing creativity in organizations:
Managing creativity does not involve anarchy. Rather, it requires that organizational control systems—culture, norms, policies, programs, and reward systems—are loose enough to allow creativity to germinate and grow, while at the same time providing enough structure and overall control to ensure that the organization runs smoothly on a day-to-day basis.
In their article for Psychology Today, Stanley S. Gryskiewicz and Robert Epstein termed the optimal environment for organizational creativity "positive turbulence." The authors wrote: "The paradox of positive turbulence is one business leaders today cannot afford to ignore. The energizing, disparate, invigorating, unpredictable force that often feels like chaos is the same creative energy that can provide continuous success and organizational renewal. Without such risk-taking, without embracing uncertainty, many of today's leading businesses will be tomorrow's failures."
Gryskiewicz and Epstein describe sources of positive turbulence—which have the potential to help employees expand their horizons and gain a new perspective on their work—both within and outside of the company. Internal sources of positive turbulence include foreign assignments, cross-functional teams, and cross-generational teams. External sources of positive turbulence include conferences and training sessions, museum and gallery visits, presentations by outside experts, reading outside periodicals, and forging joint ventures and alliances.
In addition, Gryskiewicz and Epstein recommend a number of games and activities to stimulate creativity and innovation. These exercises are intended to develop four basic skills that employees need in order to express their creativity: capturing (noticing and preserving new ideas); challenging (looking beyond established ways of doing things and seeking out difficult problems); broadening (looking beyond one's area of expertise in order to make unusual connections); and surrounding (creating a diverse and interesting work environment).
Mark E. Mendenhall
Revised by Laurie Hillstrom
Gryskiewicz, Stanley S., and Robert Epstein. "Cashing In on Creativity at Work." Psychology Today 33, no. 5 (2000).
Kao, John J. Managing Creativity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1991.
Mauzy, Jeff, and Richard A. Harriman. Creativity, Inc.: Building an Inventive Organization. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2003.
Simon, Ethan S., et al. "How Do You Best Organize for Radical Innovation?" Research Technology Management 46, no. 5 (2003).
von Oetinger, Bolko. "From Idea to Innovation: Making Creativity Real." Journal of Business Strategy 25, no. 5 (2004).
Williams, Geoff, and Richard Florida. "Let's Get Creative." Entrepreneur 30, no. 10 (2002): 42.