According to this author, creativity doesn’t dart down haphazardly from the blue. A company’s “next great idea” requires effective management and at least as much perspiration as inspiration. So how do companies adapt their operations and culture to unleash the creative genius within?

One expert quoted in the article states that every company he has worked with has had creativity and innovation as core values but 90 percent of them have done nothing about it. In assessing breakthrough innovation over a ten year period for one large company he found that they all came from a small number of people categorized by their colleagues as “difficult to work with.” None of them was still with the company.

This illustrates a key difficulty that companies wrestle with – creativity can be disruptive and often incompatible with the smooth running of a commercial concern. People get promoted for cutting costs and getting things done on time, not for taking risks and creating surprises – the very heart of innovation.

This article calls for companies to cut back on their rules and allow employees the freedom to have pet projects. Above all, management should praise and reward people who try new things and be more tolerant of uncertainty. The author recognizes that it is difficult to allow people the time to explore new ideas when short-term pressures on management make the time and space needed to create a new service or explore a new idea seem frivolous. Companies simply have to allow longer-term projects to flourish.

Readers are then provided with insight into what sort of corporate culture fosters creativity and innovation. It cannot be a culture that is risk-averse, intolerant of differences or focused solely on smooth sailing. It must be a culture that values and rewards success, risk and even a splendid failure or two. The surroundings should include the sorts of music, art, color and sense of play that became discredited after the fall of the dot-coms.

Examples are given of companies that have succeeded with this formula. The article warns that companies need creativity every day to achieve operational excellence. It also warns that companies may lose many of their best creative minds anyway, as a natural course of events. But as the CEO of media giant WPP puts it, “Every CEO wants the power of a global company with the heart and soul of an entrepreneurial company.”

The article ends with a list of “Twelve Things People Say To Kill Good Ideas.” They make for interesting reading.

Source: Stefan Stem, Management Today; March, 2004

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