I’ve been writing some general ideas about creativity in the last couple of posts (Little creative fingers, Difference between innovation and creativity). This time I would like to touch more on the role of managers and different areas they can influence to foster creative work in an organisation.
First let me start with a little explanation of three important components of creativity.
- Expertise – a bag of knowledge. Technical skills, procedural skills and general intellectual knowledge, which exist in our head. Things that we learned and skills acquired over period of our lifetime. All of that exists in our memory ready to be used for greater creation. Nobel price laureate, Herb Simon calls it a “Network of possible wonderings”.
- Creative thinking skills – approach, flexibility and imagination when solving a problem. It defines how we attack the problem and arrive at the conclusion. The way could be very different for anyone as it is being shaped by previous creative endeavours, observations and ones personality. Personality plays important role. For example someone more open for environment could be easier seeded with ideas and include it in the solution he or she works on. Someone more comfortable with disagreeing will try status quo ways to achieve desired outcome.
- Motivation – that’s the driver of the creativity. It’s something that makes us work countless hours, drink liters of coffee and carry on regardless to the progress. When there is no motivation, people waste energy on doing everything else but not looking for creative solution to solve the problem.
Expertise and creative thinking skills are hard to influence by managers. They can organize knowledge sharing sessions, encourage training, simplify the communication between team members but this will not directly influence ones expertise and creative thinking skills. The easiest to influence component is the motivation. Thus, the following part of this article will focus on the motivation.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
We can distinguish two types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic. Our passion and interests drive intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation comes as a result of reward or a threat. Here’s an illustration of the difference between these two types of motivation and its influence on creativity.
Imagine maze and finding a way out of it as a problem. Two people are asked to find exit from the maze, a solution to a problem. One of them is told that at the end of the maze there will be a reward waiting (extrinsic motivation). The other person is a huge maze enthusiast and enjoys a challenge, is also told to take all the time needed to find the most interesting way out of the maze (intrinsic motivation). Two solutions delivered by both maze solvers could be very different as:
- Extrinsically motivated person will rush as quickly as possible to get to reward and will use the most common, beaten path out of the maze. Not a particularly very creative solution.
- Intrinsically motivated person will wonder around the maze sometimes getting into a dead end. This person will have much fun in doing so and after a number of mistakes and failures more creative and interesting solution will emerge.
By influencing the intrinsic motivation in the organization the employees will burst with novel and creative ideas.
Extrinsic motivation will create temporary results and common solutions that will not place any organization on top of the “creative chart”.
Bellow is a list of categories that I think management can influence that would affect creativity. Those categories emerged to me after a little research in the creativity area and my personal experience.
Matching people to tasks according to their abilities. When working on a problem we are passionate about, the right type of motivation is triggered. The knowledge and interest possessed by us is being used to wonder around the solution paths that could not possibly be discovered by someone with no interest in the subject of a problem. It’s also better to stretch our abilities and skills so we will be presented with a problem that we never faced before, in the area we care about.
However stretching ones abilities is fragile. Stretching it too much will make problem look impossible to solve. Not stretching it enough will make it look dull and uninteresting.
The most common mistake that kills creativity is when managers assign people to work on whatever tasks are available at the moment. This approach is going to yield some results but they are not going to be the most creative and interesting. Quite often the results will lack on quality if they are particularly uninteresting.
I know that when I’m faced with challenge it makes me work harder and research the subject deeper. It makes work fun and interesting. However, when fixing bugs and just working on “Business As Usual” tasks, I’m not as engaged and I’m looking forward for the day to finish. A good challenge is what makes me tick and come out with new ideas.
Autonomy in delivery process. I like to have my targets clear when I’m working. However, clear targets don’t mean that my “personal manager” will hold my hand and tell me what to do, when and how. I need freedom in my work and in the choice of how I’m going to deliver the solution. Freedom gives me the sense of ownership and responsibility. This in turn increases my intrinsic motivation.
Frequently moving targets require management to guide people all the time and reduces ones autonomy. It also makes anyone afraid to take responsibility for any targets as they are not clear and might change any time.
Quite often people are enchanted with illusion of freedom where delivery process is strictly prescribed and should be followed.
Time and money management. Legitimate reasons of time pressure will trigger intrinsic motivation. For example, if product needs to be delivered before competition, team will feel the need to rush. Motivation goes up as the bar was raised into a higher level thus making challenge more interesting.
I found that fake deadlines create a feeling of distrust in the team. Deadlines are often imposed with regards to managers personal agendas, with no legitimate reason. Tight deadlines burn people out and there is no chance of creating intrinsic motivation and creative ideas.
Managing resources means also managing money and equipment that team can use in delivery. I’ve seen projects where money was constraint and lead people to find ways of avoid money limits. This also mean that all the creative energy and time was wasted into creating ideas that were not adding any additional value to end product.
Diversity in backgrounds and skills. I like working in the teams where people have different backgrounds. I’ve been making software for many different industries: media, marketing, communication, insurance, finance and I always find ideas from one industry useful to spawn ideas into another.
Whenever I work with non-technical members of a team they are providing more detached and higher-level view of a problem. Quite often it opens perspectives that I was unable to see before.
Putting together a team of people with different skills and different background will make ideas combust and burst. Different skills and backgrounds will create different points of view.
Homogenous team will be creativity killer. Everyone comes to the table with the same mindset and leaves the table with the same.
Everyone likes to be noticed and rewarded for the work done. It’s our ego that needs some pleasing and keeps us motivated. It is important for managers to recognize effort of a team as well as individuals. I noticed during years that my colleagues who were recognized for their creative work and received some kind of reward for it, were even more motivated next time. It appears that commercial impact didn’t create a feeling of a bribe for creative work.
One company I worked for as a consultant had extensive layer of evaluating new ideas. This means that every new idea that someone came up with was immediately criticized by management, put into pile of other ideas to be reviewed and waited there for months just to be rejected at the end. It caused many employees of the company to stop breeding ideas and stop carrying about work at all. Eventually most of the creative people left the company.
Keeping open mind for a possible solutions and removing evaluation layer should be the management’s aim. If evaluation is too long or is to criticizing, people will fear to propose any novel ideas and stop carrying.
More layers and time between idea and its introduction in the organization can cause lost of potential market edge.
Entire organizations can be structured in a way that supports creativity. Open communication, clear processes and systems should come along with no internal politics.
Lack of recognition and reward could spawn negative feeling within employees. People will feel used and unappreciated. Using money as motivator can also create a feeling of control and kill any creative endeavors.
The best way to get creative results in a team is to get everyone intrinsically motivated. If you are a manager or a leader and your aim is creativity of your team, I hope the things mentioned above could give you a starting point.