Archive for March, 2011

The Creativity and Innovation Experience: a delicate balancing act for leaders in a turbulent environment

19 Mar

Every organization’s leadership desires success and, with limited resources in a slowing economy, tight budgets drive creativity and innovation.1 For-profit organizations strive for sustainable competitive advantage. Non-profit organizations, not motivated by earnings, endeavor to achieve their mission and vision by inspiring participants and donors to contribute to a cause “bigger than themselves.” Whatever the motivation, organizational survival requires the articulation of a clear, emotionally engaging, and consistent vision, and an organizational culture that stimulates creativity and innovation.2 This article shows the interdependence between creativity and innovation and that organizations working in an environment with positive turbulence orchestrated by transformational leadership generate more creative ideas and original solutions.3

 

The typical business organization in the mid 20th century highly valued predictability and repetition. In the name of efficiency, its configuration was intended to maintain order and reduce variability. “Keep it the same and everyone will be happy” was the mantra of the day. Post WW2 consumers were content to receive whatever was available and competition was minimal, almost nonexistent. Although labor unions meted out demands for fair labor practices, employees, for the most part, made few demands on their employers and were happy to have a steady job and regular paycheck.4

 

The climate of the 21st century, however, is entirely different. Deregulation, social change, environmental issues, foreign competition, a national and global economic crisis, and overwhelming advancement in technology have shattered the stability of the 50s, leaving a fast-moving uncertain new global environment. It is a world that is unpredictable, and sometimes terrifyingly so.5

 

As leaders try to cope in this volatile environment by seeking to impose order, organization, and focus, their organizations pay a high price: lack of creativity and innovation. Although training, intuition, and habit lead in this direction, a counterintuitive approach is needed. Leaders must see in new ways, come up with new ways of doing things, and change direction.6 The challenge for leaders is towards effective people management – enhancing, releasing, and harnessing their creativity. It is to look forward with optimism, reflect on the past, and determine what shift is needed now and in the future.7

 

The Dynamic Duo: Creativity and Innovation

When we have an idea that works, it is common for us to dispel alternatives. We tend to develop tunnel-vision about what will work or what can be accomplished, sticking with the familiar till proven wrong.8 Consider Thomas Edison. In 1879, he was a bold and courageous innovator. However, by 1889, when his invention of the incandescent light bulb was challenged by the fluorescent bulb, he was a cautious and conservative defender of the status quo.9 Thus, it appears that it is at the center of any tradition where individuals become blind to alternatives.10

 

Transcending this dilemma requires a willingness to embrace the uncertain, a willingness to move beyond the comfortable into the realm of creativity; creativity being defined as, “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination.” 11 Simply stated, creativity is about ideas. It includes discovery or invention of a significant idea, pattern, method, or device that gains recognition.12 Creativity requires that we step away from first impressions and, as Leonardo da Vinci believed, learn how to restructure problems and situations to see them in many different ways.13

 

Creative thinking also refers to how people approach existing problems to come up with a variety of solutions.14 It is carefully coordinated efforts that put existing, conventional ideas together to create new ways of solving problems. Therefore, it does not necessarily come just from an individual’s intellectual capacity but it is an outcome of their creative thinking skills and expertise, based on past experience.15

 

Innovation is as much about escaping old ideas as it is about the successful implementation of creative ones. The success of the organization does not come just from the articulation of vision, strategy, and objectives, but from their execution. As such, innovation is about getting it done.16 It is a central determinant of longer-run success and failure for organizations.17

 

Creativity and innovation have been considered the cornerstones of healthy organizations.18 It is the dual capabilities of creativity and innovation together that engender success. And, this combination is important to an organization for two reasons. First, creativity and innovation are not adjuncts to organizational life, they create the future. They excite employees by focusing on what is possible.19

 

Second, creativity and innovation are crucial capabilities for successful organizations that cannot be simply dismissed. They form fundamental organizational processes that together are an essential competencies for their leaders. Together they are central to effectiveness because they form a process of generating ideas and possibilities and transforming them into reality. Imagination and implementation, possibilities and products, ideas and impact – these are everyday terms that talk about creativity and innovation.20

 

Leadership that Encourages Creativity and Innovation

It has been asserted that creativity and innovation are the most important sources of economic growth. However, despite this growing acclaim, there remains an interesting paradox: organizations need innovation but usually resist it because innovation and organizations have conflicting aims. Innovation tends to unsettle the established order of organizations. At its very core, the entrepreneurial process of innovation that brings about incredible change is at odds with the administrative processes of organizations which are designed to ensure consistency and repetitiveness.21

 

As previously stated, creative thinking refers to how people approach existing problems and come up with a variety of solutions.22/23 It is a person’s carefully arranged efforts to put existing, conventional ideas together to generate new approaches to solving problems.24 As such, it does not just come from an individual’s intellectual capacity to invent something new but is also an outcome of their accumulated creative thinking skills and expertise based on experience.25 However, although an individual has creative thinking skills and expertise, a high level of creativity cannot be achieved if they lack motivation26 or the opportunity to engage in creative processes.

 

As such, there are a number of personality traits that research has indicated help people increase their level of creativity skills. For example, if a person feels comfortable disagreeing with others, creativity can be enhanced not only for themselves, but for the entire group or organization.27 Consequently, creativity can be achieved when organizational processes encourage individuals to try different approaches that depart from the status quo without the unnecessary fear of being punished for negative outcomes.28 The creation of such an organizational environment (discussed later) may assist employees in generating diverse perspectives on addressing old problems as a matter of normal process.29

 

Research also demonstrates that intrinsic motivation is perhaps one of the most important factors that increase creativity among individuals and that it can be enhanced substantially by making subtle changes in the organizational environment. Since individuals may have to spend enormous amounts of time and effort to increase their intellectual capacity, expertise, and creative-thinking skills, the creation of such an environment/culture may be an excellent strategy for introducing innovation into an organization.30

 

Therefore, it is the responsibility of the leaders to leverage the creative energy of the workforce and, at the same time, find new ways to create an organizational culture that is less resistant to the change required to carry out ensuing innovations.31 It is the responsibility of leadership to make it okay throughout the organization to be risk-takers,32 to be creative, and then make it part of people’s responsibilities.33

 

In this process of reshaping the organization’s environment to assist in the generation of creative ideas, researchers have emphasized the important role leaders play in this process. It is the leaders that define what the organization’s mission and vision are and facilitate the whole process of motivating followers to apply their maximum efforts to cooperatively achieve the objectives. They also have a strong impact on how their subordinates engage in achieving their goals. As such, it has been hypothesized that certain leader characteristics are important determinants for enabling creative behavior and divergent thinking in organizations.34

 

Of the numerous studies conducted on leadership, creativity and innovation, more than 35 have found that transformational leadership is positively associated with higher levels of follower performance and creativity.35 These leaders tend to exhibit distinct behaviors that promote creativity: intellectual stimulation, individualized consideration, and inspirational motivation.36 By definition, intellectual stimulation promotes creativity by developing members’ generative (divergent thinking, including remote association and pattern switching)37 and exploratory thinking (refining of ideas through elaboration and successive improvements of ideas). Individualized consideration recognizes each member’s viewpoint and ideas and leads to an expanded source of knowledge and information for group members to use in solving problems. Inspirational motivation helps elevate member’s goals above the ordinary. This network broadens the knowledge base throughout the organization that may stimulate an additional creative idea.38

 

Transformational leaders also inspire followers to link their self-concept to the collective interest of the organization and its mission, which increased followers’ intrinsic motivation to work collectively. As such, there is a direct correlation between this intrinsic motivation and creativity that enhances and encourages the idea generating processes. 39

 

As seen, transformational leaders engage in the active and emotional relationships with followers at whatever level they operate.40 They are able to mobilize and sustain energy and activity within their organizations by taking specific personal actions. They influence their colleagues’ values, goals, needs, and aspirations through their relentless attention to shaping interpretations and creating a sense of purpose and energize the organization by finding ways to motivate its members to achieve the mission. They demonstrate empathy, listen, understand and share the feelings of others and express their confidence in their own ability and in the ability of others.41

 

Transformational leaders create events to signal and celebrate transitions and turning points by providing contingent rewards.42They also express support for individuals struggling with the pressures of change efforts by reinforcing the new vision and culture. They provide an emotional focal point for the energies, hopes, and aspirations of people in the organization. They also serve as powerful role models whose actions and personal energy demonstrated the desired behaviors, a standard to which others aspire. Through their commitment, effectiveness and consistency, they also build a personal bond between themselves and the organization.43

 

Within this leadership style, there are a number of tools used to generate creativity among workers. And a large amount of literature on creativity, discovery, design, innovation, and composition can be classified into three intersecting schools, identified as structuralists, inspirationalists, and situationalists. Shneiderman identifies the characteristics of these personalities as follows:44

  • Structuralists believe people can be creative if they follow an orderly method, typically described with several stages, such as preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. Structuralist thinking encourages systematic tools that include progress indicators with reminders of what is still needed.
  • Inspirationalists argue that breaking away from familiar structures elicits creative solutions. They advocate working on unrelated problems, getting away to scenic locations, and viewing random photos or inkblots. Inspirationalists promote meditation, hypnosis, dreaming, and playful exploration. They seek to liberate thinking from old habits so as to break through to the Aha! moment of inspiration. This school of thinking advocates sketching to quickly explore possibilities, concept mapping to discover unexpected relationships, and visualization strategies to see the big picture.
  • Situationalists recognize that creative work is social. They seek to understand the motivation of creative people, their family history, and their personal relationships with challenging teachers, empathetic peers, or helpful mentors. They understand the need for distinctive forms of consultation at early stages when fear of rejection, ridicule, and rip-off are high versus later stages when validation, refinement, and dissemination are prominent. Situationalists seek to understand the motivating roles of rewards and recognition, as well as completion vs. collaboration.45

 

While these schools of thought are not prominent within the discussion of transformational leadership, each is unique, distinctive, and offer different approaches to innovation and creativity. It is again emphasized, however, that research supports the transformational leadership style as one which provides a greater opportunity and  better environment for creativity and innovation among employees. And while the Aha! moments of discovery and innovation are typically very personal, the processes that lead to them are often highly collaborative. As such, it is essential the organization develops communication systems that enable users to expose their uncertainties in a safe, trusting environment.46

 

A New Culture/Environment

At the center of any tradition, it is easy not to see the alternatives. On the edges, however, where lines are blurred, it is easier to visualize that the world might be different. It is from the place of uncertainty that vision and new direction sometimes arise. As such, organizations must acknowledge this different, uncertain world and perceive this new unstable environment as a reservoir crowded with new creative possibilities and ideas.47

 

In addition, the survival of an organization does not depend so much on the degree to which the employee sees eye-to-eye with their leaders, except, of course, with regards to some core values like honesty and fairness and agreement as to what their strategic goals are. It often depends on the degree to which people differ from one another, or even seek conflicting information. It is typically out of respectful dissention that creative ideas come that form the basis for organizational growth. Diversity, varied viewpoints, diverse styles, and opposing opinions: all of these variations are necessary if an organization is to renew itself and move ahead. 48 Thus, the task of leaders is to create a safe haven for new thinking, a culture that encourages a broad range of ideas, including those not immediately seen as feasible or even sensible, but from which birth seeds of creativity and innovation.49

 

This environment can be an energizing climate that upsets the status quo but impels people toward change. Purposefully engineered to create an environment compatible with change and filled with members who can adapt to the change opportunity,50 leaders recognize the need to make creativity part of the culture.51 This is where positive turbulence is generated. Based on a counterintuitive notion that turbulence can be introduced to organize the chaos out on the edges of the organization, it provides a process of turning change into a productive force that can lead to creativity, innovation, and the on-going revitalization of an organization.52

 

It also fosters a culture where uncertainties and new information are embraced, not feared.53 And leaders can ease the fear by building in stability. Even as the change occurs, by preparing key people for change, and providing information and detail on the change in advance, it mitigates the destructive aspects political behavior may cause. Thus leaders must always be honest and candid, and constantly sending consistent messages to lessen uncertainty. Also, critical to this process of forming new culture is the need to be clear about what is not changing – what people can hold onto in the future. This helps lessen fears of the future and must be communicated and reinforced early on in the process.54

 

Generating an environment with positive turbulence and creating a culture receptive to change, leaders can actually create stability within an organization. Although it has a negative connotation, turbulence is used to describe the constantly changing environment in which modern organizations must operate. It is in this chaotic frenzied environment, which threatens all organizations, where new ideas are birthed. And it is out of this disruption and change that useful information, new perspectives, and new ideas are generated. As leaders identify new trends and assimilate new information, they introduce it to the organization and work with it, thus guarding the organization against being blindsided.55

 

One additional consideration. Since an organization’s culture is key to both short-term and long-term success, managing stability for today and introducing uncertainties for the future are essential. The development of an ambidextrous organization that can celebrate stability and incremental change as well as manage experimentation and discontinuous/sporadic change simultaneously may help lessen the likelihood leaders will be trapped by the successes of the past. Although culture provides competitive advantage, it can also create obstacles to innovation, creativity, and change needed for successful sustainability.56 Balancing these by generating an environment with positive unrest and creating a culture receptive to change may help mitigate the scenario of short-term success but long-term failure.

 

Concluding Thoughts

Tushman and O’Reilly make this significant observation; “The stultifying, innovation-numbing effects of success are a global phenomenon. Managing by guiding internal congruence, strong culture, and continuous improvement is not sufficient for sustaining competitive advantage. Worse, under a remarkably common set of conditions, it can trap an organization in its past and lead to catastrophic failure as technologies and markets shift. Erhard Pfeiffer, who has transformed Compaq, succinctly notes that “nothing is harder than casting aside the thinking, strategies, and biases that propelled a business to its current success. Companies need to learn how to unlearn, to slough off yesterday’s wisdom.””57

 

As the global environment becomes more turbulent, more competitive, and as creative and innovative people become more integral to an organization’s success, one of the most important roles leaders can play is to find out how they can inspire subordinates’ creative potentials in the 21st century.58 Leaders identified as having this characteristic and those necessary for an organization to move past yesterday’s successes exemplify transformational leadership traits. Transformational leaders accomplish this by communicating a clear, consistently articulated, and engaging vision and by creating environments where creativity and innovation can be freely explored.

 

As such, the most effective organizations are the ones in which creativity flourishes. And success comes less from knowing the right answer than having the ability to pursue multiple courses of action generated from creative ideas and to innovate quickly. It is leadership that is the most important dynamic that affects organizational creativity and innovation and who must also recognize the unsettling nature of turbulence, even though it is energetic, forceful, catalytic, and unpredictable. These leaders recognize that what is needed to turn the turbulence into a positive force – generating an environment with positive turbulence – and creating a culture receptive to change.59

 

End Notes:
1Maddox, K. (2007). Tight Budgets Drive Creativity, Innovation. Business to Business. Vol. 92, Issue 10, p.25.
2Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002). Winning Through Innovation: A Practical Guide to Learning Organizational Change and Renewal. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation.
3Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998). Transformational Leadership and Dimensions of Creativity: Motivating Idea Generating in Computer-Mediated Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 11, No. 2, p. 111-121.
4Gryskiewicz, S. (1999). Positive Turbulence: Developing climates for creativity, innovation, and renewal. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
5Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
6Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
7Bichard, M. (2000). Creativity, Leadership, and Change. Public Money & Management. April-June, p. 41-46.
8Michalko, M. 2001). Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius. Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.
9Utterback, J.M. (1996). Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
10Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
11http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/creativity, accessed September 2008.
12Shneiderman, B. (2007). Creativity Support Tools: Accelerating Discovery and Innovation. Communications of the ACM. Vol. 50, No. 12, p. 20-32.
13Michalko, M. 2001).
14Amabile, T.M. (1996). Creativity in Context: Update to the Social Psychology of Creativity. Boulder, CO: Westview.
15Amabile, T.M. (1998). How to Kill Creativity. Harvard Business Review. Vol. 76, No. 5, p. 77-87.
16Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
17Utterback, J.M. (1996).
18Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
19Nissley, N. (2007). Good Leadership Demands a Combination of the Two. Leadership in Action. Vol. 27, No. 2, p. 21-22.
20Nissley, N. (2007).
21Nissley, N. (2007).
22Amabile, T.M. (1996).
23Amabile, T.M. (1998).
24Jung, D.I. (2001). Transformational and Transactional Leadership and Their Effects on Creativity in Groups. Creativity Research Journal. Vol. 13, No. 2, p. 185-195.
25Amabile, T.M. (1998).
26Jung, D.I. (2001).
27Amabile, T.M. (1998).
28Amabile, T.M., Conti, R., Coon, H., Lazenby, J., and Herron, M. (1996). Assessing the Work Environment for Creativity. Academy of Management Journal, No. 39, 1154-1184.
29Jung, D.I. (2001).
30Jung, D.I. (2001).
31Nissley, N. (2007).
32Bichard, M. (2000).
33A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006). Is Your Organization Creative Enough? Gallup Management Journal. Release date Thursday, May 11, http://gmj.gallup.com.
34Jung, D.I. (2001).
35Kirkpatrick, S.A. and Lock, E.A. (1996). Direct and Indirect Effects of Three Core Charismatic Leadership Components on Performance and Attitudes. Journal of Applied Psychology. No. 81, p. 36-51.
36Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
37Guliford J.P. (1984). Varieties of Divergent Production. Journal of Creative Behavior. No. 18, p. 1-10.
38Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
39Sosik, J.J., Kahai, S.S., and Avolio, B.J. (1998).
40Jung, D.I. (2001).
41Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
42Sternberg, R.J. (2005). A Model of Educational Leadership: Wisdom, Intelligence, and Creativity, Synthesized. International Journal of Leadership in Education. Vol. 8, No. 4, p. 347-364.
43Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
44Shneiderman, B. (2007).
45Shneiderman, B. (2007), p. 25.
46Shneiderman, B. (2007).
47Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
48Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
49Goveno, J.A. (2001). Six Steps for Encouraging Employee Creativity. Innovative Leader, Vol. 10, No. 7, Article 533, accessed November 2008 at http://www.sinstonbrill.com/bril1001/html/ article_index/articles/501-550/article533_body . .  .
50Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
51A GMJ Q&A with Jim Clifton (2006).
52Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
53Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
54Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
55Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
56Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002).
57Tushman, M. L. and O’Reilly, C. A. III (2002), p. 158.
58Jung, D.I. (2001).
59Gryskiewicz, S. (1999).
 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.

Silos, Politics and Turf Wars

01 Mar

Within the framework of every organization, there is a tendency for departments to act as autonomous entities. Unless leaders help followers see the ‘big picture’ (systems thinking), these little kingdoms independently compete for limited resources without regard for the effect it will have on the entire organization.

In this book, Patrick Lencioni defines silos as ‘nothing more than the barriers that exist between departments within an organization, causing people who are supposed to be on the same team to work against one another . . . in most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together.’

The notion of context is critical since, without it, individuals at all levels of the organization easily lose focus and begin moving in different directions. Often these diverse courses conflict with one another and with the fundamental mission of the organization.

Lencioni presents a model for combating the tendencies organizations have towards establishing silos, those hindrances within an organization that ultimately lead to political in-fighting and deadly turf wars. His model consists of the following four components:

  1. Establishing and clearly articulating a thematic goal. This is a single, qualitative focus that is shared by the entire organization and that applies for only a specified time.
  2. Establish defining objectives. These are action items that members of the team realize must be completed to accomplish the goal.
  3. Standard operating objectives are the ongoing priorities of the organization that are shared by all members. These standard operating objectives often include topics like revenue and expenses, customer satisfaction, productivity, quality, etc.
  4. Lencioni’s last component is metrics. Simply stated, this is about measurement. Although each department has ‘numbers’ to meet, they must understand how they fit into the ‘big picture.’

.

The size of the organization is of little consequence. The propensity to establish silos is prevalent everywhere because of our human nature to self-protect. The model Lencioni presents is a viable option.

Enjoy the journey . . .

 

No part of these articles may be reproduced in any form without permission from the author.