Think Again - Trashing creativity

Most companies pretend to care about creativity - but do they really?

by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic
Last Updated: 30 Sep 2013

Most companies pretend to care about creativity - it's written on their websites, next to 'diversity' and 'CSR'. The reality, however, is rather different. Managers prefer to hire dutiful and boring people rather than creatives, who are often moody, unpredictable and problematic.

It is a risk-averse strategy that ends up destroying organisations: hiring nice people who are easy to manage and easily engaged is the most effective way of suppressing innovation.

All innovation is based on change and, unless you are in a crisis - when you are forced to do things differently - change demands the disruption of rules and processes. It is now fashionable to praise change-agents and game-changers, but most managers are too scared to promote an entrepreneurial mindset in their organisation.

They see innovators as crazy risk-takers but only because they are too cowardly themselves. And it is easy to understand why: innovation leads to growth, but growth inhibits innovation - the last thing you want to do when things are going well is change; this is why in big organisations it is impossible to get anything done ...

Fortunately, it is hard to completely kill off creativity. Whenever someone suppresses it, it emerges somewhere else or in another, indomitable way. For example, when European employment laws discourage entrepreneurial individuals from starting a business in France or Germany, they do it in Silicon Valley.

When US immigration laws restrict work opportunities for migrants, they go to Singapore or Hong Kong. And when creative employees are rewarded for doing repetitive tasks and punished for thinking outside the box, they quit and start their own business.

Unsurprisingly, 70% of successful entrepreneurs worked for someone else before they launched their businesses and 40% of UK adults will be self-employed or launch their own business at some point.

So, what can managers do to promote rather than trash innovation? First, they need to identify who their creatives are and understand that they may not be the 'high-performing' individuals who do what they are asked instead of the unexpected.

Second, they should give them sufficient freedom to work on tasks that are meaningful (to them) and let them focus on the big picture. Last but not least, they need to create a culture that encourages disruptive and rebellious behaviours - in other words, a culture where employees are rewarded for remaining disrespectful and insubordinate to their managers.

The only problem with such a culture is that it may make managers more popular ...

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of metaprofiling.com

Follow Professor Chamorro-Premuzic on Twitter: @drtcp.

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