A lot of managers tend to see creative people as more liabilities than benefits. But creativity is, at long last, being given the attention it merits as a business asset. Easier access to constantly changing information now increasingly means that it is the way that knowledge is used that can determine a company's direction. Companies must continue to find and nurture innovative solutions for market problems to even hope to remain competitive.
Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour Thomas Mannarelli considers the often nerve-wracking complexities for managers of trying to make decisions about creative product ideas. A typical mistake is for them to use the same evaluation systems they would about more conventional issues, such as financing or resource allocation. Such an approach is fundamentally flawed; by definition, a creative concept does not have the historical data supporting decisions about other business areas.
Mannarelli proposes that creative products demand an "agnostic approach" compared to more typical product evaluations. This is not to say that managers should not use their knowledge and expertise to analyse creative proposals. Rather, they must be willing to tolerate the ambiguity that inevitably accompanies such uncertainty, and appreciate that there is a first time for any good, workable idea.
The author points out that creativity is inherently linked to motivation. When creative people engage in a task, if the extrinsic motivating forces are seen as more important than the intrinsic ones, they will tend to perform less creatively. For managers, this means that traditional motivational tools need to be rethought when guiding creative employees. Mannarelli offers several suggestions for adopting more unorthodox approaches, such as establishing a culture of creativity (easier said than done, admittedly), fostering less formal work environments, and adopting various techniques such as brainstorming, lateral thinking and mind-mapping. Even the "scientific management" techniques first advocated by Frederick Taylor a century ago, often condemned for their supposedly robotic assessments of how workers should be utilised, have often been applied successfully in creative industries.
The article ends with considerations of which techniques may work best in which environments. But the integral question remains: can managers affect an "authentic transformation" by both appreciating and fostering creativity from their employees? If there is no fundamental belief in the value of creativity from senior managers, transformational efforts will be doomed.
Financial Times, January 2003