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As organizations continually realign their activities to reach new and challenging performance goals, creativity and innovation become necessary and desirable processes that play increasingly critical roles not only to help organizations grow and prosper, but also to ensure their very survival in the 21st-century marketplace. As organizations’ boundaries expand and constituents’ needs change, managers are encountering problems and opportunities that are complex and that they have never before confronted. These may relate to the emergence of new global competitors across industries; the demand for new products, services, processes, and technologies; increased competition for the pool of talented employees; and the need for breakthrough solutions to persisting business and societal problems. Moreover, managers are discovering that the traditional methods and solutions that have historically been used to resolve many problems are no longer effective. With the recognition by management that different approaches and perspectives are needed to help their organizations survive and grow, the interest in managing creativity and innovation has exploded in recent years.
This research-paper examines the nature of creativity and innovation in the workplace and examines how these processes can be managed in the 21st century organization. The following topics will be addressed:
- Theories of creativity and innovation: definitions, components, and how the processes are distinguished from one another
- The creative process for individuals and teams in organizations
- Assessment of creativity
- Obstacles to successful innovation
- Dimensions of organizational climate that influence creativity and innovation
- Managerial practices that stimulate and reinforce creativity
- Organizational strategies for successful innovation
- Future directions for managing creativity and innovation
Creative thinking and behavior leading to successful, sustainable innovations are vital in most organizations. Managers who can effectively navigate and promote these processes will enable their teams, departments, and organizations to become entrepreneurial, and thus much more nimble in anticipating and responding to market changes.
Management scholars have defined creativity as the construction of novel and useful ideas, opportunities, or solutions. Amabile (1997, 1998), who proposed this definition of creativity, has written that creativity is the first step in innovation. For an idea to be considered creative, it should be different from what has been attempted in the past, it should be of good fit to the problem it may resolve or the opportunity it may enable, and it should be actionable. Therefore, a creative idea cannot be simply original or unusual. It has to be connected to a purpose, to be appropriate to the need it is attempting to fill. Creativity is often a response to something that prompts individuals and groups to find a solution. It has been described as going beyond the existing boundaries: knowledge boundaries, technology boundaries, current industry, management practices, social norms, or beliefs. It involves seeing and acting upon new relationships and combinations.
Creativity is a process: It involves perceptions and skills that enable individuals to see things from a different perspective and then act on those observations. There are many ways that individuals can be creative in their work, and researchers have described creativity as a way in which individuals actually approach their work. It might involve developing entirely new methods and arrangements of working, new strategies for the business, and combining products, services, or job processes in new ways to produce new or greater value. These creative outcomes should be unique and different, but not bizarre or so unusual that putting them into action is impossible.
Creativity is especially suited to unstructured, new problems or opportunities. The more ill defined a problem or situation is that managers and organizations face, the more likely a creative solution will be required. Creativity is not confined to a particular profession or occupation. Traditionally, creative behaviors or pursuits were considered the realm of artists, musicians, scientists, designers, and so forth. A more contemporary view is that every function, each position in an organization, entails some degree of creative thinking and behavior. The direction in which this creativity is expressed may be different across professions and functional areas, but it is still of value to the organization. Later in the research-paper, approaches to creativity that benefit from the diversity of perspectives available in organizations will be discussed, as well as creative problem-solving processes that have been developed and can be adopted by managers in organizations to assist them in solving complex challenges they face.
Innovation is a process of taking the creative ideas and solutions generated, and selected to be most appropriate to the situation, and implementing those ideas and solutions in a way that creates new value for the organization, the industry, or the greater society in which they reside. The value can be economic, social, psychological, or aesthetic.
This view of innovation rises out of scholarship that defines it as the deliberate introduction and implementation of ideas, products, services, or technological processes designed to ultimately benefit the individual, team, organization, or wider society. In the context of business organizations, innovations can be new products or extending product lines, adding new services or levels of services, expanding markets served, offering products and services to entirely new markets, deploying new technologies, and implementing new or redesigned work processes, among others.
Innovation can be viewed as a continuum, from incremental innovation that may involve a slight adaptation of what the organization already does, all the way to revolutionary, breakthrough innovation in which something that did not exist before is introduced, sometimes enabling the organization or entire industry to leap to a new level.
Contemporary theories of creativity suggest that all individuals are able to produce creative work, at least some of the time, in one or more domains or areas. This is in contrast to earlier beliefs that creativity was a condition of birth, something that individuals inherited from their parents or other ancestors, and that it was a set of traits that was part of some individuals’ personalities and not others. This distinction is important because it implies that individuals in organizations are capable of performing creative work in some area some of the time. If it is presupposed that employees can demonstrate creative thinking and behavior in some aspects of their work, then it becomes a management opportunity to identify these areas, and to build a supportive work environment in which that creativity can be demonstrated. Managers can influence the social environment in which people work, so that individuals can be encouraged to display higher levels of creative behavior more frequently.
Amabile (1997, 1998) and other researchers recognized that the social environment of the workplace was of great importance and that individual skills and motivation have an impact on the creative process. Amabile proposed the componential theory of creativity, which is comprised of three major components: expertise, creative thinking abilities, and intrinsic task motivation. The more these three components intersect, that is, that employees’ skills overlap with their intrinsic motives (what they deeply care about), the higher the creativity of employees will be. The three components will be examined more closely.
Expertise is comprised of knowledge, technical competence, and particular talents related to the work that individuals are performing. It has to do with what people know, including facts and procedures that are needed to perform work effectively. Formal schooling, career and professional development, and training provided by the organization all help employees develop areas of expertise to do their work to the best of their ability.
Identifying the cognitive style of individuals can facilitate understanding of their approach to creative thinking. An individual’s cognitive style directs the person to pay attention to specific areas of knowledge and certain tasks and to reduce the extent to which the person focuses on other, similarly important, knowledge and tasks.
Cognitive style is generally thought of as a phenomenon with multiple dimensions including decision making, learning, personality, and awareness. One dimension, awareness—of people, ideas, objects, and incidents—is considered especially important to problem solving and searching for opportunities in organizations. This dimension can be conceptualized as a continuum ranging from intuitive to rational. Researchers such as Ornstein (1977) and Miner (1997) referred to these two modes of awareness that reflect the rational and intuitive sides of an individual. Intuitive individuals are likely to discover opportunities by noticing cues or signals in unfamiliar and sometimes puzzling information that is processed in a holistic manner. This can help individuals identify an opportunity and motivate them to take action. Intuition has been found to be an important thinking mode of expert idea generators.
The rational cognitive style can be described as orienting thinking to the analytic, relying on linear, sequential processing of information that allows individuals to evaluate and implement ideas or solutions. Individuals with the rational cognitive style may display competency in judging and evaluating information, and selecting actions to implement—skills that are needed as creative ideas are selected and put into action.
While creative thinking skills rely on some personality characteristics such as independence, risk-taking propensity, tolerance for ambiguity, perseverance, and low need for social approval, these skills can be taught through methods and techniques that enhance people’s abilities to see things from different perspectives and to explore unstructured problems and situations more deeply and effectively. Studies on training of creative thinking skills have disclosed that it has a positive influence on the generation of novel and useful ideas leading to innovations.
Motivation that is driven by a strong interest in the task by being involved in and challenged by the work and by curiosity and satisfaction is known as intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is more likely to lead to creative behavior and performance than extrinsic motivation. The latter is characterized by a need or desire to achieve objectives unrelated to the work itself, such as rewards (e.g., money) and other external goals. While most people are driven by some degree of both intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, intrinsic task motivation seems to influence greater creativity in the workplace. This is meaningful to managers, who can influence task motivation through supervisory support and the social environment of the team or the organization.
In the workplace, it is becoming increasingly likely that at least some of the work individuals do is performed in the context of a group or team. Early research on creativity led to the belief that groups were not likely to yield particularly creative ideas or solutions because of the dynamics of the group process (e.g., productivity losses, social pressure, etc.). Contemporary research has found that not only can groups achieve high levels of creative thinking and behavior; in fact, they can sometimes outperform individuals working alone. Further, interaction among members of groups is required in some stages of the creative process. In this age of information overload, time demands, and the changing needs of the marketplace, it is difficult for individuals working on their own to have all the knowledge, information, skills, and resources needed to generate creative ideas. Researchers such as Nijstad and Paulus (2003) contended that since creativity is a social construct, creative ideas must be evaluated and implemented by others before they can even be considered creative.
One of the most important components of group creativity is diversity. Creative collaboration relies on diversity of background, experience, education, perspective, and thinking. Functional, informational, and cognitive diversity is correlated to higher levels of group creativity and innovation. For example, Maddox and Galinsky (as cited in Yu, 2006) conducted a series of studies and found that graduate students who had lived overseas for 6 to 12 months were more likely to find innovative solutions to challenging problems and negotiations. The implication for managers is to create groups that are comprised of individuals who bring a set of distinct experiences and skills to the group. With managerial values that support and respect the divergence of views, the group will likely perform very creatively and will discover and implement solutions that probably never would have been generated if these individuals worked in isolation.
The Systems Approach To Creativity
The systems views of creativity take into account the multiple factors that influence creative performance in organizations. According to this theory, individuals are influenced by social networks including groups to which they belong, as well as other organizational, cultural, and societal variables that affect individual creativity. Scholars of the systems approach such as Csikszentmihalyi (1996), Gardner (1994, 2000), Simonton (1999), and Sternberg (1999) have referred to it as holistic. According to this theory, while creativity is still viewed as an individual phenomenon, it takes place within a particular social context rather than in a vacuum. The systems theory can be very useful to understanding creativity in organizations, because the work environment is the context in which creative performance occurs. Managers can shape and influence the social environment, thus having an impact on creativity in the work team and organization.
The Creative Process In Organizations
Wallas’ Four-Stage Process
The creative process for individuals, teams, and organizations has been studied intensively for over 75 years. It is concerned with the way in which creativity actually happens. Much of what we know about creativity comes from understanding the process that highly creative people go through when they get their ideas. Throughout history, artists, scientists, composers, poets, and inventors have attempted to describe their creative moments. Wallas developed one of the early descriptions of the creative process, and it is still widely used today to guide the creative process in business. Wallas (1926) suggested that creative thought includes four stages:
- Preparation—exploring the problem or opportunity in all directions, collecting knowledge and information from multiple perspectives
- Incubation—thinking about the problem or opportunity in a “not conscious” way, and putting it on the back burner to rest the mind
- Illumination—the light bulb comes on and ideas begin to flow; this is sometimes experienced as a flash of insight—a “eureka” moment
- Verification—testing of the idea and reducing it to its most exact form
This process is very useful for individuals and teams as they explore problems and attempt to recognize new opportunities. Individuals who are able to identify the specific stage of the creative process in which they are while solving a problem or searching for an opportunity are able to guide themselves to a more innovative solution by examining the issue from different perspectives, and allowing the issue to simmer in the background. One of the characteristics of creative individuals throughout history is their ability to use this process.
Csikszentmihalyi (1996) modified Wallas’ model into three stages, renaming the Illumination stage “Insight ” and segmenting the Verification stage into two parts, which he labeled “Evaluation” and “Elaboration.” During the Insight stage, individuals perceive that an idea is emerging, and experience that “a-ha” moment of discovery. During Evaluation, a deliberate decision is made about whether or not the idea is worth pursuing. During Elaboration, the creative idea is put into action. Csikszentmihalyi’s work has been very useful to managers and entrepreneurs, who have adapted his model for opportunity recognition processes, and for the development of clear innovation processes to implement in their organizations.
The Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving Process
Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation, studied the processes used by creative individuals, and his results challenged the assumption that only a unique few individuals can develop and produce creative ideas. Osborn pioneered the process of brainstorming, a method by which groups of people share ideas in an open and unstructured fashion, building on the ideas of one another while suspending judgment. Osborn collaborated with Parnes, and together they developed the Osborn-Parnes Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) Model.
The model, widely used in organizations, and adapted and refined by researchers over the years, is designed to help individuals and groups generate the most novel and useful ideas and solutions. It is comprised of six primary steps, each with corresponding questions and creativity tools that have emerged since the model’s development, to help facilitate CPS. In his work on the application of the creative process to managerial decision making, Hughes (2003) explained the model and provided linkages to new product development processes in organizations. Here are the six steps of the Osborn-Parnes CPS model:
- Identify the goal, issue, or challenge. This can be done by exploring ideal scenarios, and by asking probing and provocative questions to reveal the underlying need.
- Collect data. This involves asking who, what, where, when, why, why not, and how questions to gather facts and information about the challenge.
- Clarify the problem. Once data have been gathered it is likely that the original problem statement needs to be re-framed, given this new information. This step leads to a more specific and concise problem statement, which is very helpful to the generation of alternative ideas and solutions to solving the problem.
- Generate ideas. In this step, the development of many alternative ideas and solutions takes place. Creativity tools that stimulate breakthrough thinking, going “blue sky,” and digging to unexpected solutions are typically used.
- Select and strengthen solutions. Decision criteria are selected and applied to the ideas and solutions generated. Criteria might include discussion of required resources and of whether each of the ideas has the potential to solve the problem or fill the need.
- Plan for action. A plan is developed to put the ideas and solutions selected into action.
Hughes (2003, p. 9) integrated CPS into the management decision process, by linking the steps just described to the progression of a typical business decision process such as new product development. This helps managers adapt and apply the CPS steps to key managerial activities:
- Identify the goal or challenge: vision and goals
- Gather data: situation analysis at macro and micro levels
- Clarify the problem: opportunities, problems, subproblems, and causes
- Generate ideas: alternative solutions and resources required
- Select and strengthen solutions: evaluation of alternatives and selection
- Plan for action: action plan, implementation, and measure results
Divergence and Convergence
The CPS model includes steps for both divergence and convergence, two important behaviors for CPS to be successful. Divergent behavior includes building on the ideas of others (or one’s own, since the model can be used by individuals working alone on problems or projects), identifying ways to enhance the potential of an idea, and using departures from conventional thinking (or “what is known”) to reach unexpected alternatives. Convergent behavior is judging, evaluating, and selecting among alternatives suggested. It is a process of refining ideas, eliminating ideas, and applying decision criteria to the selection of ideas. Without convergence, no ideas would be implemented. Research on creativity in groups has shown that, for groups to perform effectively in the divergent process of idea generation, it is required to be open to others’ thoughts and opinions. Further, during idea selection, it is necessary to employ critical thinking and constructive debate among group members leads to a better decision. Groupthink can occur when there is premature consensus to an idea, and it can result in the selection of a bad idea or ineffective solution. Therefore, both divergence and convergence are necessary elements of the CPS process.
Adapting CPS to Organizational Settings
Isaksen, Dorval, and Treffinger (2000) built on the work of Osborn and Parnes and adapted the basic CPS model. Three major components represent how the stages were actually being used in organizations: Understanding the Problem, Generating Ideas, and Planning for Action. Within each stage, divergence and convergence takes place, to enable movement to the next stage (Isaksen, 1995, p. 166).
- Component: Understanding the Problem
- Mess Finding
- Divergence: seeking opportunities for problem solving
- Convergence: establishing a broad, general goal
- Data Finding
- Divergence: examining many details, looking at the mess from many viewpoints
- Convergence: determining the most important data to guide problem development
- Problem Finding
- Divergence: considering the many possible problem statements
- Convergence: constructing or selecting a specific problem statement
- Component: Generating Ideas
- Idea Finding
- Divergence: producing many, varied, and unusual ideas
- Convergence: identifying promising possibilities and alternatives that have interesting potential to solve the problem
- Component: Planning for Action
- Solution Finding
- Divergence: developing criteria for analyzing and refining possibilities
- Convergence: choosing criteria and applying them to select, strengthen, and support promising solutions
- Acceptance Finding
- Divergence: considering possible sources of assistance and resistance, and possible actions for implementation
- Convergence: formulating a specific plan of action Isaksen et al. (2000) described divergence and convergence as creative thinking and critical thinking, respectively. Creative thinking is described as making and communicating connections that enable people to think of many possibilities using different points of view, and generating and selecting among alternatives. Critical thinking is described as analyzing and developing possibilities to compare and contrast many ideas, improving and refining ideas, making effective decisions and judgments, and providing a solid foundation for effective action in organizations. Contemporary managers are adapting CPS, and divergent/convergent behavior processes to opportunity identification, the management of change, and many other contexts in which creative thinking and critical thinking are required for organizational success.
Assessment Of Creativity
Creativity Styles: Approaches To Cps And Implications For Teams
The CPS process is most effective if it is supported by management values, attitudes, and behaviors that encourage new ideas, embrace risk, and learn from failure. However, in some organizations, conformity is stressed, and managers are not rewarded for thinking and behaving differently than others. Research on the most innovative organizations including those with the quickest and most effective new product or service development cycles and those who embrace change and experiment continually reveals that managers seek to understand their employees’ problem-solving styles and help employees understand and value one another’s styles. There are several measurements of individual problem-solving styles. Two will be discussed here, as they are the most frequently used.
The Kirton Adaptor Innovator (KAI), developed by Kirton (1989), is a measure of individuals’ preferred approaches to problem solving. The assumptions of the KAI are that everyone is creative, that creativity and problem solving are indistinguishable, and that an individual’s style of problem solving is unchangeable. The two orientations that are measured are referred to as Innovator and Adaptor. Innovators prefer making existing situations and systems different. They enjoy unstructured problems and are particularly adept at solving such challenges as the following: What new markets might the organization enter? What new technologies should be developed or integrated into the business? How can the organization improve its competitive position? Innovators enjoy sharing unusual and sometimes wild ideas, sometimes to the consternation of their Adaptor colleagues.
Adaptors prefer making existing situations better rather than different. They are especially skilled at mapping out projects and task details including such challenges as the following: How can the costs of operations be reduced? How can the efficiency of the system be enhanced? Adaptors approach problem solving by invoking precision, conciseness, and attention to detail, which may not always be appreciated by their Innovator colleagues.
The KAI measures three dimensions of problem-solving styles:
- Originality: Innovators are likely to suggest ideas and solutions that seem to them to be out of the ordinary. Adaptors prefer ones that are directed closely to the challenge.
- Mastery of detail: Adaptors have a greater preference for developing and attending to details than Innovators.
- Rule conformity: Innovators prefer to question the rules; adaptors are more tolerant of them.
One of the most important implications of the KAI in the workplace is that both approaches (i.e., Innovator and Adaptor) to CPS are valuable. If a work team is comprised of only Innovators, there will likely be many unusual ideas suggested, but nothing may get done because no one wants to attend to the details of planning. Conversely, if a team has only Adaptors, there may be a lack of fresh and intriguing ideas to stimulate the discussion. The implication for managers is to assemble teams that are comprised of both Innovators and Adaptors to enable the team to be creative and to solve problems innovatively.
The Hermann Brain Dominance Instrument, developed by Herrmann (1996), who was manager of management education at General Electric, assesses four different modes of thinking. The Four Quadrant Model of Thinking Preferences includes the following:
- Analytical thinking: a preference for logical, critical, quantitative, and technical thinking
- Sequential thinking: a preference for organizing, attending to details, planning, and structuring
- Interpersonal thinking: this mode is characterized by emotional, sensory, and expressive approaches
- Imaginative thinking: a visual, intuitive, and holistic mode of thinking
Similar to the KAI, this model provides connections between thinking preferences and preferred activities. For example, analysts prefer collecting information, determining how things work, and judging based on factual criteria. Sequential thinkers prefer working from one step to another, organizing information, and implementing decisions. Interpersonal thinkers enjoy listening and expressing opinions and ideas, and motivating their colleagues to contribute ideas. Imaginative thinkers prefer to envision the big picture of a situation, challenge the rules, and creatively solve a problem. However, this model is distinctive in that it encourages what Hermann (1996) coined, “whole brain thinking,” in which individuals are capable of using all four quadrants, depending on the situation, problem, or challenge they face.
The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking have also been used by many individuals, schools, and other organizations over the past few decades to assess four areas of creativity:
- Fluency refers to the number of different ideas that can be generated in 10 minutes.
- Flexibility refers to the number of different conceptual categories into which the responses can be classified.
- Originality refers to the uniqueness of an idea (determined by statistical infrequency).
- Elaboration refers to the number of details added to an idea to embellish or explore it more fully.
These models and measures are examples of assessment tools that can be used by managers to enable and enhance team collaboration, creativity, and productivity. The presence of diverse perspectives and styles in a team promotes divergent and convergent thinking, requisite to creativity and innovation in organizations.
Obstacles To Successful Innovation
Decades of research on managing organizational change and innovation have revealed a number of underlying factors that can cause innovation efforts in organizations to fail. Some of these factors include organizational structures that hinder the innovation process, management strategies that are unclear or misdirected, inadequate support systems for innovation initiatives and efforts, and lack of knowledge about how to proceed from idea generation to implementation. Here are some of the principal obstacles to innovation, according to Wycoff (2003) and other researchers:
- Managers do not create a culture that values and supports innovation including the encouragement of new ideas, risk taking, and resource allocation to new initiatives. The lack of well-articulated expectations and recognition for efforts and performance are pitfalls of a weak culture for innovation.
- Managers may fail to get commitment from other managers whose cooperation and involvement are needed. While most top managers in organizations state that they desire innovation, middle managers sometimes do not buy into the process, and thus innovation is stifled. It is important to get the involvement and commitment of all levels of management early in the process, so that they can in turn provide the unit-level support for employee creativity and innovation.
- Lack of a widely understood, organization wide process— innovation must be institutionalized; it cannot exist only in the research and development (R&D) lab, for example, or for only some employees and groups. The innovation process should guide employees through the front end (creativity) to the evaluation and implementation of new ideas, products, services, technologies, and other innovations.
- Lack of resources allocated to innovation efforts—individuals and teams need specific skills, resources, and systems that support collaboration. If no strategic vision, time, and other resource commitments are provided, the message is that innovation is not important to the organization.
- Innovation projects are not connected to the organization’s (or team’s) strategy. Focused creativity in the context of a well-articulated organizational strategy works best. Managers can direct employee thinking and efforts toward a purpose.
- Insufficient time is spent on creativity at the front end of innovation. Managers can adopt the CPS process to ensure employees have taken the time to identify the correct problem, to gather data from multiple points of view, and to generate as many alternatives as possible. Rushing employees through stages or activities shortchanges the innovation process, and outcomes are likely to be unsatisfactory to both employees and customers.
- Lack of sufficient diversity in the process—as discussed earlier, the more diversity that exists in cross-functional teams and other groups, the more people will be able to deliberately focus diverse thinking styles, experiences, skills, and perspectives on a challenging problem or opportunity, and derive a more innovative solution.
- Lack of criteria and metrics for measuring innovation success—since more ideas will be generated than can be implemented, criteria should be developed and available in advance that will help people choose among the ideas. Some common and useful methods are PMI (the pluses and minuses of the idea, and what is interesting about the idea or solution); and ALUO (advantages, limitations, uniqueness, and opportunities inherent in the idea or solution). These are easy to implement, and the methods remove selection biases such as the power or political position of the idea generator, interdepartmental conflicts, and other irrelevant criteria. Benchmarking innovation success to other organizations is crucial, using metrics such as the number of products or services introduced within a specified period of time, the nature of the new product development cycle, the effectiveness of an idea collection system, and the number and quality of interactions among employees, customers, and other constituents that led to new ideas and solutions.
- No training or coaching of innovation teams—creativity and innovation skills can be taught. Managers should not assume that the skills required for these processes are the same as for other work expectations and assignments. Individuals and teams can be taught approaches and tools such as why diagramming for problem diagnosis, mind mapping, lateral thinking, and others to assist them in problem identification and idea generation for alternatives and solutions.
- Lack of an idea management system—organizations need a system that collects and disseminates ideas that are generated. Robinson and Schroeder (2004) conducted research that has contributed to the development of guidelines to help managers establish successful idea management systems:
- Involve employees throughout the organization, not just in certain areas. Each suggestion should receive a response, indicating whether it will be implemented, and if not, why not? If individuals are permitted to follow the progress of their ideas through evaluation, their sense of ownership will be enhanced and they are likely to be motivated to continue contributing ideas.
- Managers do not need to evaluate each idea. Instead, appoint or ask for volunteer evaluators who are experts in key areas of the business. Suggestions can then be sent directly to the experts to provide the feedback, or if preferred, a centralized collection system can disseminate ideas to areas of expertise in the organization.
- Should management reward all ideas or all implemented ideas? Most scholars and practitioners agree that small rewards that are symbolic in nature (e.g., recognition, acknowledgement, logos, etc.) provide greater reinforcement of the desired behaviors than do monetary rewards. The system should primarily reward the employee’s initiative, and mention rewards only secondarily.
Managers have a wide range of idea collection systems to choose from, including software systems that capture ideas and allow employees throughout the organization to build on one another’s ideas. These systems can be powerful means of capitalizing on employee creativity, while increasing work satisfaction and employee engagement.
Dimensions Of Organizational Climate That Influence Creativity And Innovation
The Climate for Innovation
Researchers have studied the dimensions of the work environment that seem to have the greatest influence on creativity and innovation. Organizational climate, the way it feels to be a member of the organization, reflects the attitudes and reactions of employees to what the organization expects and values. Ekvall (1987), of the University of Lund in Sweden, pioneered the research that examined the work environment for creativity and innovation, and he identified 10 dimensions of the organizational climate. These were later refined by Isaksen (1995), of the Center for Creative Studies at the State University of New York at Buffalo, with a focus on 9 dimensions that were measured by the Climate for Innovation Questionnaire. The 9 dimensions are summarized in the following, with explanation of how each dimension strengthens the climate for innovation and of how its absence affects the climate. Note that one of the dimensions (conflict) is inversely correlated with the climate for innovation.
Challenge and Involvement
Challenge and involvement refers to the degree to which people are involved in daily operations and long-term goals. The climate inspires and energizes members of the organization. Employees feel engaged and find meaning in their work, and are intrinsically motivated to perform at high levels. Without challenge and involvement, employees feel indifferent and apathetic.
Autonomy is given to members to define and carry out their work. Employees take the initiative in pursuing assignments. Without freedom to do their work the way they feel best accomplishes the goals, strict guidelines exist, roles are prescribed, and there is little possibility to define the tasks.
Trust and Openness
People can be open and honest with each other, there is mutual respect, and they feel emotional safety in work relationships. Where trust is lacking, employees are suspicious of one another, they keep their feelings and opinions closely guarded, and there is a lack of open communication.
There is time to explore and elaborate on ideas, permitting employees to go beyond the formal task assignment and consider possibilities. If there is no slack time, employees feel time pressure and do not pursue interesting ideas.
Playfulness and Humor
An environment in which employees can be spontaneous, feel relaxed, laugh, and have fun is likely to spark new ideas. Without these, the atmosphere is serious and gloomy.
This dimension is inversely correlated with the climate for innovation. Employees feel tension; disagreements and power struggles persist, sometimes to the point of interdepartmental “warfare.” Where conflict is managed and kept to a minimum, employees respect differences and do not let them get in the way of work goals.
New ideas are treated with interest and attention, and are encouraged. Feedback is constructive. Without idea support, the automatic no prevails. Feedback is destructive and discouraging, leading to fewer ideas generated.
There is the opportunity for discussion of opposing views and sharing diverse perspectives. If debates are suppressed, the climate is authoritarian. Employees do not question anything, and groupthink is likely to emerge that leads to poor, if not disastrous, decisions.
There is tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity, and managers are not averse to undertaking bold new initiatives, even if the results are unclear. If risk taking is discouraged, people become cautious and make only “safe” decisions.
Ekvall (1987) grouped the dimensions into three areas: resources, motivation, and exploration. The Resources area includes idea time, idea support, and challenge and involvement. Motivation includes trust and openness, playfulness and humor, and the absence of interpersonal conflicts. Exploration includes risk taking, debates about the issues, and freedom. Ekvall tested his model of the work climate for innovation on a representative sample of 27 different organizations that were divided into innovative (8), stagnated (4), and average (15). Innovative characterized firms who were capable of developing new products and services speedily, delivering them to the market more efficiently, and whose products reached high commercial success. Stagnated described firms that were unable to effectively develop and produce new products, and the products were not as successful. The innovative group of organizations scored highest on all dimensions of climate except conflict, and the stagnated group scored lowest on all except conflict. Interestingly, the dimension of risktaking accounts for the greatest difference between the innovative and stagnated organizations. Further, freedom and debates play an important difference between climates that support radical innovation versus those that support incremental improvements. These results correlate closely with studies undertaken in other countries including the United States.
Managerial Practices That Stimulate And Reinforce Creativity
KEYS: Assessment of Managerial practices for Creativity
The KEYS Assessment of the Climate for Creativity assesses the management practices that support creativity and innovation. Developed by Amabile (1997, 1998) for the Center for Creative Leadership, it assesses perceived stimulants and obstacles to creativity in the work environment. The items on the KEYS form eight environment scales (six stimulants and two obstacles to creativity) and two outcome scales (creativity and productivity in the work). According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the following six scales measure management practices that support the work environment for creativity:
- Organizational encouragement. An organizational culture that encourages creativity through the fair, constructive judgment of ideas, reward and recognition for creative
work, mechanisms for developing new ideas, an active flow of ideas, and a shared vision
- Supervisory encouragement. A supervisor who serves as a good work model, sets goals appropriately, supports the work group, values individual contributions, and shows confidence in the work group
- Work group supports. A diversely skilled work group in which people communicate well, are open to new ideas, constructively challenge each other’s work, trust and help each other, and feel committed to the work they are doing
- Sufficient resources. Access to appropriate resources including funds, materials, facilities, and information
- Challenging work. A sense of having to work hard on challenging tasks and important projects
- Freedom. Deciding what work to do or how to do it; a sense of control over one’s work
The KEYS measures the two scales of management practices that inhibit creativity:
- Organizational impediments. An organizational culture that impedes creativity through internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, an avoidance of risk, and an overemphasis on the status quo
- Unrealistic workload pressure. Extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity, and distractions from creative work
The KEYS also measures productivity (efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity of the organization or unit) and creativity (where a great deal of creativity is required, and where people can actually produce creative work).
The previously described models of the work environment for creativity have led to the emergence of several key management practices that matter most in supporting organizational creativity and innovation. These practices can be categorized into six general areas: challenge, freedom, resources, work group features, supervisory encouragement, and organizational support. As we have seen, there are some key managerial approaches and behaviors associated with successful innovation. Build and sustain a culture that supports creativity and innovation. Recognize and reward idea champions. Clearly articulate the innovation process from idea to launch. Foster open communication among employees across functions and levels, and reduce barriers of hierarchy and structure. Embrace risk, and invest in innovation projects. Celebrate experimentation, and learn from, rather than punish, failure.
Organizational Strategies For Successful Innovation
One of the myths of innovation is that valuable innovations are always revolutionary. In fact, most innovations in organizations are derived from incremental or evolutionary changes. Incremental innovation involves taking an idea that is already in existence such as product, service, distribution method, process, and so forth, and adapting it to bring new value to the customers. These may be a series of small changes to what the organization produces or distributes. Evolutionary innovations involve taking existing ideas and building on them in entirely new ways such as offering a way to do something better (or quicker, cheaper, or with more choices) than it is done presently or for different market segments. Revolutionary innovations reject existing ideas and present a way to do things that is radically different. Revolutionary strategies are often breakthrough in nature. However, very few organizations have implemented revolutionary strategies because of the risk and the resource commitments required. Hickman and Raia (2002) proposed four distinct innovation strategies for organizations that have unique advantages and structural requirements.
Improving Core Business
This strategy involves the development of incremental improvements to core products and services that can be rapidly developed and produced inexpensively. The advantages of this strategy are speedy execution, since “new and
improved” changes to the organization’s offerings can be done quickly. Further, competitors often do not notice small changes, and they can add great value to the overall product or service experience. However, a disadvantage is that the incremental improvement may be an inadequate response to environmental changes (i.e., too little, too late). To implement this strategy, innovation supports that encourage these types of improvements are necessary.
Exploiting Strategic Advantages
This strategy moves the firm’s innovation focus beyond its current strategic scope. It enables managers to leverage a unique brand and expand to reach a broader range of customers. Its advantage is a relatively low-risk investment for potential high return. A key disadvantage is this type of innovation could be easily duplicated by competitors. To support this strategy, managers may need to acquire external resources such as consultants, researchers, or advertising agencies.
Developing New Capabilities
This strategy involves developing or acquiring new technologies, competencies, services, and businesses to serve the current strategic scope better. Major advantages of this strategy include builds and sustaining long-term customer loyalty. However, it requires a much higher investment and execution time. To deploy this strategy, managers must create a structure that is highly flexible and permits boundary crossing including joint ventures, strategic alliances, and licensing.
Creating Revolutionary Change
This strategy involves going far beyond the organization’s current product and service lines to achieve fundamental changes to the strategic scope. Using this strategy, the organization envisions new business models, new markets, and new industries. The advantages of this strategy are that the organization becomes known as a “first mover” and “groundbreaker.” Weaknesses include a lack of urgency, since the organization is likely way ahead of market needs, and there is a high risk of imminent failure. Managers who select this strategy use virtual teams and alliances.
These innovation strategies help managers carry out the organizationwide vision. The selection of the appropriate strategy, and building the organizational structure that supports it, is more likely to lead to successful innovation.
Future Directions For Managing Creativity And Innovation
As creativity and innovation processes come to play even greater strategic roles in organizations, it is vital for managers to identify desired innovation goals and to promote creative thinking and behavior within a supportive work environment. As the field moves forward, here are some areas of significance to managers in the 21st century.
- Managers are a key influence on the work culture, and they can powerfully encourage, or inhibit, employees’ creative behavior. As flexible work arrangements increase, and managers supervise employees and teams in multiple, and even remote locations, managerial practices that harness diverse perspectives inside and outside the organization, and apply them to increasingly challenging business problems will become crucial.
- The development of an innovation strategy that is aligned with resources and rewards available in the organization is a key part of the process of managing innovation. Most organizations can implement incremental strategies, few can develop revolutionary strategies; the point is to articulate the strategy to employees and provide the mechanisms to achieve the goal.
- Recently, researchers have begun to uncover relationships between creativity and the way people feel at work, to their emotion or affect. Amabile and her colleagues (e.g., Amabile, Barsade, Mueller, & Staw, 2005; Amabile, Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996) found that positive reactions can stimulate creative thinking. Fong (2006) found that emotional ambivalence, the experience of positive and negative emotions at the same time, made people more sensitive to unusual relationships between concepts, an ability that is important to organizational creativity. What this means for managers in terms of their influence on employees’ emotions, and whether it increases or reduces creative behavior, is likely to be explored further and in greater depth as the field moves forward.
- Organizations and workplaces are likely to become even more diverse, reflecting populations and the growth of strategic alliances across occupational, cultural, and national boundaries. Managing diverse teams and organizations is quickly becoming a valuable managerial skill that powerfully stimulates creativity and innovation.
The management of creativity and innovation is one of the most essential activities in organizations today. Building and reinforcing a work environment that encourages employees to think about the new and complex challenges and opportunities facing the organization are becoming key management competencies. Models and methods managers can use to assess and stimulate creativity and to facilitate innovative performance by diverse work teams have been discussed. Researchers have studied the most important managerial practices that support creativity and innovation, as well as those that cause bottlenecks and break down the process, so managers can be more aware of the influence of their own strategic actions. Fostering and sustaining high levels of creativity leading to meaningful and purposeful innovation has become one of the most significant roles of managers in the 21st century.
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