Creativity at Work

'the ability to display productive originality'

In an attempt to gain a competitive advantage, organizations are now focusing on enhancing their employees creativity, and not merely developing their technical competencies and skills. In a changing world and economy, the role of creativity in the workplace is becoming ever more prominent. However, a recent report by the Confederation of British Industry found that not enough firms are fully exploiting the business ideas of their employees and are not making the most of their skills. Whilst firms may be encouraging creativity, the implementation and management of the ideas generated is lacking. Consequently, many companies are deemed to be falling short of their potential, creating an 'innovation gap'.

Organizations are finding that, as markets become saturated and competition gets stronger, it is increasingly necessary to find novel or innovative approaches to business problems and issues. They may look for this creativity in their staff or may even recruit new, more creative employees. This can help both the marketing of the organization by being seen to be creative or 'cutting edge', and it can improve productivity and efficiency by solving current problems or business obstacles.

Of course, the concept of creativity is an illusive one. How can one hope to enhance creativity if it is not first defined and measured? This article will provide an overview of the concept and ways in which it may be measured and enhanced in the workplace.

There are many aspects to creativity, but one definition could include 'the ability to see existing objects or processes and combine them in different ways for new purposes or to solve existing issues'. Therefore, a simple definition of creativity could be 'the action of combining previously uncombined elements'. From art, music and invention to household chores, this is part of the nature of being creative. Another way of approaching the concept of creativity is by seeing it as a process of exploring the way things are interrelated.

'Creativity is the ability to generate novel and useful ideas and solutions to everyday problems and challenges'

Creative thought can be divided into two types of reasoning: Both abilities are required for creative output. Divergent thinking is essential to the novelty of creative products whereas convergent thinking is fundamental to the appropriateness.

Measuring Creativity

The concept of creativity may be delineated into three dimensions; the person, the product and the process.

  •   Person-based - there are many ways to measure or infer creativeness directly from an individual. For example:

  •   Product-based - a more objective measure involving the assessment of an individuals previous work for creativity and innovation.

  •   Process-based - an examination of the creative processes employed by an individual to come up with solutions to problems or design novel products (e.g. feelings experienced before/during/after the innovation).

  •   Enhancing Creativity

  • All people have the potential to be creative but those who are recognised as being creative have an certain awareness or insight that others don't. Without the abilities needed to be creative, it is highly unlikely that someone will solve a creative problem. However, just because an individual has an ability to do something does not necessarily mean that they will do it. It is for this reason that employers resort to various techniques to enhance their employees' creativity.

    Organizational techniques to enhance the creativity of employees:

    Idea Elicitation Techniques - To enable individuals in organizations to generate more and better new ideas to tackle particular problems or meet particular challenges.
    Brainstorming. By removing 'evaluation apprehension', the fear that a new idea will be met with derision or hostility, one can eliminate one of the most significant blocks to creativity. This practice is based on two key principles:
    Deferment of Judgement - resisting any kind of comment or criticism of ideas until the end of the session no matter how strongly you may feel. The aim is to get as many suggestions 'out' as possible before judging or trying to refine them.
    Quantity Breeds Quality - encourage individuals to say whatever comes in to their mind no matter how silly or absurd they think the idea is. Again, the aim is to get as many ideas as possible.

    There are four rules which must be adhered to when conducting a brainstorming session:
    Criticism is ruled out - no matter how strange the idea
    Freewheeling is welcomed - let imagination run as free as possible
    Quantity is wanted - generate as many ideas as possible
    Combination & improvement sought - building on ideas of other members

    Other Idea elicitation techniques

    Checklists - checklists are a simple and often useful method of spurring thought about problems in a different way

    Attribute listing - like checklists, listing the attributes of an issue can help focus the mind and explore the problem at hand

    Forced relationships - exploring the ways unrelated objects or ideas may be related to come up with novel solutions

    Online Tools - there are many websites on the internet offering idea generation tools to help guide the mind through a particular problem. These tools may be entirely web-based, or may be in the form of downloadable software.

    Creativity Training - training an individual or group with the skills required for successful creative performance Consultancies and training centres can be used by sending employees on Creative Problem Solving (CPS) programmes. Many advocate a 5-stage problem solving process consisting of Fact finding, Problem finding, Idea finding, Solution finding, and Acceptance finding.

    Selecting for Creativity - By using assessment and selection techniques to recruit creative individuals, an organisation can slowly establish a more creative workforce. Examples of common techniques include personality & biographical measures: Personality tests - trait measures, attitude & interest inventories. Cattell's 16PF and OPQ (Occupational Personality Questionnaire) but faking is a problem and traits are complex. Biographical Inventories - biodata. Domain specific. Pattern of specific creative behaviors in past. Bad for school leavers/young people. Assessing creative products - by looking at samples of previous work, you may ascertain a certain level of creativity prior to making a hiring decision.

    Creativity & Organisational Characteristics - the structure, climate & culture of an organisation are important factors when it comes to facilitating creativity. Examples of such characteristics are: Leadership style - should ideally be participative, democratic and non-authoritarian. Job characteristics - desirable characteristics of the job include discretion and autonomy. Structure - a non-hierarchical, flat organizational structure with permeable boundaries is most conducive to creativity and innovation. Climate - should be supportive of risk-taking, playful with ideas and tolerant of debate. Culture - should be liberal with the acceptance of non-traditional thinking and a relatively low emphasis on rules. The new millennium promises to bring more change, more complexity, and more competition. As a result, organizational creativity and innovation will become a required operational discipline and organisations will have to learn how to manager and enhance the creativity of their most valuable assets - their employees.

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