Managing Creativity And Innovation

Creative Thinking

by Kal Bishop

Leaders, consultants and managers must be competent in at least thirteen domains to even begin effectively managing creativity and innovation.

a) The difference between creativity and innovation. Often used interchangeably, the two must be thought of as separate and distinct. One definition for creativity is that it is problem identification and idea generation, whilst innovation is best described as idea selection, development and commercialization. These definitions alone imply at least six competencies (including one holistic). At a minimum, the differences mean that, at each stage, varying skills, processes and structures are required.

b) The size and richness of idea pools. Initially creative thinking is used to generate an idea pool and then critical thinking reduces those ideas to feasible ones. To maximize the quantity and quality of the idea pool, a conscious application of processes and techniques must be applied. Some of these include

i) Using a variety of stimuli and frameworks to open up pathways

ii) Not stopping when a good idea seems to present itself

iii) Consciously stimulating change in direction

iv) Distinguishing between the numbers of ideas produced, their novelty, diversity and frequency of production.

c) Creative types. There is common belief that some people just are more creative and certain theorists argue for creativity characteristics such as tolerance of ambiguity and intolerance for conformity. However, traits are notoriously difficult to detect and not stable nor transferable across situations. Also, motivation is thought to be more important than traits – this is similar to possessing high intelligence - one must be motivated to improve and apply it.

d) Learning versus Talent. Can creativity be learned and developed or is it a natural talent or gift? The best way to answer this question is to investigate whether creativity improves with practice. The experience curve, automisation, learning theories and the experiences of practitioners suggest that people do get better at generating more, better, diverse and novel ideas - but there are caveats, such as an increase in path dependency and peaks and troughs in motivation.

e) Motivation. Someone with natural ability or placed in the right environment may not take advantage of it unless motivated. Intrinsically motivated individuals tend to expend more effort and create more output and synergistic extrinsic motivation better enables a person to complete an endeavour. On the other hand, non-synergistic extrinsic motivation leads to a person feeling controlled and manipulated and is incompatible with intrinsic motivation. Specific motivators such as material reward, progress to the ideal self, self-determination, self-evaluation, feedback, enjoyment, competency expansion, recognition and feasibility can all be quantitatively measured and monitored.

f) Organizational Culture. We can all be more creative, so what is stopping us? Often people complain of some degree of evaluation apprehension – this manifests itself in many ways but two of the most common are a fear of seeming unintelligent or unoriginal. Some cultures are more risk averse than others, others do not manage competition well and yet others engender friction by misallocating resources.

g) Organizational structure. Many theories argue that certain structures, such as hierarchical and mechanistic, hinder creativity and innovation. Whilst these theories generally tend towards validity, there are many reasons why a business has a particular organizational structure - history, logistics, market segmentation, product line, strategy and so forth – therefore it is unreasonable to ask a firm to change it. Ultimately, what managers need, is a knowledge of the properties of a fostering structure so that they may incorporate those elements into their existing one.

This field yields much interesting data. For example, many respondents argued that all structures, even those so-called flat structures, are in reality hierarchical.

Some very simple changes can be implemented. These include:

i) Direct communication links to decision makers.

i) Cross-divisional information flow.

iii) Tangible progress of ideas.

h) Group Structure. There is much confusion as which group structure (or combination of structures) maximizes creative output. Workshop leaders randomly seem to make people work alone, in pairs, or in small or large groups. Each combination has strong arguments for and against:

i) The individual working alone can be very creative; after all, many people who are acknowledged to have made great contributions to society have worked alone.

ii) Pairs reduce the path dependency and enhance the intellectual cross-pollination that limits the individual.

 iii) Many successful enterprises grow rapidly in the early stages, when there are only a small team of people working together.

iv) Large groups benefit from massive intellectual cross-pollination but introduce politicking, core and peripheral groups, a dilution of ideas and more negatives.

i) The degree of knowledge input has a significant effect on output. There are three types of knowledge input:

i) Tacit knowledge. That experience which results from a natural life-long interest and curiosity in many subjects and experiences.

ii) Depth versus Breadth. Can someone with limited knowledge of a field make a significant contribution to it? Does excess knowledge cause blinkered vision?

iii) Networks and Collaboration. Importing competencies from networks and collaboration overcomes path dependency and parochialism and allows greater frame breaking.

j) Radical versus Incremental productivity. Radical / transformational / disruptive creativity is very much glamorized. But is this what is required most often? Is radical really radical or the result of incremental improvement? How is radical defined? If we want a radical idea as opposed to an incremental change, what are the implications? Incremental and radical creativity require vastly different structures, processes, skills and resources.

k) Structure and goals. Many creative people object to structure and goals - they argue they interfere with thought processes and originality; there is a very fine line between structure and conformity. But structure and goals help set the boundaries of a problem and produce more output that when an individual is simply allowed to "do their best." How many people have a half finished novel or screenplay in their office?

l) Process. It seems somehow incongruous that creativity can be a process. Ask many practitioners what process they engage in and they may well deny there is one. But if you examine the activities of many creative people, common patterns of behavior emerge. This common process makes insight / eureka / the aha! experience more likely. The process includes identifying and intensely investigating the problem, forcing production of ideas using creative versus critical thinking and other techniques; seeking stimuli and allowing the unconscious mind to take over by engaging in rest and unrelated activities.

m) Valuation. How do we value an idea, so as to decide how to invest resources? Even a painter who creates for pure pleasure has to decide which one of his ideas is best; there is always a value system and (some argue) always some sort of promotional instinct.

There are decisions as to whether you are looking for applied creativity and who the consumer is; how do they benefit? There is no sure fire way to evaluate perfectly because there is no sure fire route to commercial success.

But we can benchmark against those types of ideas that have succeeded in the past; firms must make a decision as to their strategic, competence and technical fit; there are comparisons against rivals and practical impediments; how do we make the go or kill decision and what are the trade-offs?

Suggestions for Further Reading

Author: Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. Kal Bishop, MBA may be contacted at

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