Building a Creative Organization

Stop thinking of the creative spirit as a gift from God. You can get some down here on earth by following the four Ps

A 2010 study of 1,500 chief executives conducted by IBM's (IBM) Institute for Business Value identified creativity as the No. 1 leadership competency of the future. This paints a broad role for creativity in the business world in spurring economic growth. Creative solutions are needed for organizations to thrive, but how can business leaders deliberately increase creativity? Allow us to introduce the four Ps of Creativity, a holistic model for looking at creativity that leverages People, Products, Process, and Press to build creative competency, develop radically innovative solutions, and increase revenue.

Strategy No. 1 People: Form diverse teams adept at ideating, clarifying, developing, and implementing.

The Greek philosopher Plato believed people were born creative, but prevailing scientific research today refutes this theory. We now understand the question is not, "Are you creative?" but "How are you creative?"

You can determine someone's level of creativity by identifying preference for the critical creative problem-solving skills of ideation (thinking up ideas), clarification (asking questions), developing (building solutions), and implementing (getting things done). Each individual is naturally inclined to enjoy one or a combination of these creative problem-solving skills, but no one is proficient at all.

While some believe "big idea" folks are the most important to creativity, this is a myth. Innovation isn't an individual sport, but rather a team effort. Take James Cameron's 2009 release of the ground-breaking movie Avatar. A roll through the credits shows the great number of people with preferences for ideation, clarification, developing, and implementing it took to create the most significant 3D release of its time.

To boost organizational creativity, business leaders need to understand how individuals are creative and build cross-functional teams staffed with diverse thinking styles. When work activities are aligned with individuals' preferences, they can perform at their best.

Strategy No. 2 Process: Implement the right creative process.

To create radically innovative products or services, organizations need the right creative process. One of the most widely accepted creative processes is the Osborne-Parnes Creative Problem Solving Process (CPS). (See figure) Business leaders can draw on the CPS framework to build an approach that works for their organizations. And they can do so backed by the confidence of five decades of longitudinal research proving CPS is both valid and reliable in building creative thinking skills in a multitude of business, educational, government, service-oriented, product-oriented, for-profit, and not-for-profit environments worldwide.

Strategy No. 3 Products: Leverage customer insights to stimulate radical innovation.

Products are the lifeblood of organizations. When thinking about creative products that can transform industries, organizations, and our personal lives, it is important to understand the perspective of consumers. Reinventing the customer relationship and customer intimacy are top-of-mind among business leaders worldwide.

A simple formula for building mutual value-creating relationships with consumers leverages dialogue, data, and insights.

Some opportune ways for business leaders to learn about consumers include:

• Observing and connecting with consumers in their natural environments to learn how they think, feel, and act

• Mapping consumer insights into the decision-making and buying process

• Listening and interacting with consumers through social media channels

• Leveraging the data learned about consumers from various channels to create dialogue

• Inviting consumers to co-create products, services, and offerings

By implementing consumer-centric practices, business leaders can spur radical innovation, unleash consumer potential, and realize their far-reaching business strategies.

Strategy No. 4 Press (an industry term for "organizational climate"): Create a culture of creativity.

Dr. Theresa Amabile, a creativity scholar who studies the effect of an organization's climate on creativity, developed a model for determining key dimensions that either promote or inhibit creativity in organizations. Her research identified six stimulants and two obstacles to creativity.

Six Stimulants That Promote Creativity in Organizations

• 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 of what the organization is trying to do.

• 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.

• Supportive Work Groups. 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.

• Freedom. Freedom in deciding what work to do or how to do it; a sense of control over one's work.

• 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.

Two Obstacles to Creativity in Organizations

• Organizational Impediments. An organizational culture that impedes creativity through internal political problems, harsh criticism of new ideas, destructive internal competition, avoidance of risk, and an overemphasis on the status quo.

• Workload Pressure. Extreme time pressures, unrealistic expectations for productivity, and distractions from creative work.

Given these findings, the best way to build a climate for creativity is to identify how your company stacks up against the six stimulants and two obstacles, then address areas of opportunity in order to affect the dimension positively and affect creativity deliberately.

Scholars have identified creativity as a complex interdisciplinary construct influenced by a combination of personality (people), outputs (products), sequence of tasks (process), and environmental setting (press). Intentional creativity is achievable by understanding and mastering these four Ps. Using the framework above, business leaders can master creativity, launch radically innovative products, and ignite economic growth.

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