Filling the creativity gap

Filling the creativity gap

Discover Creativity in the Most Surprising Places.

“Figuring out how to harness the power of individual insights as a driver of innovation and growth could represent the ultimate competitive advantage in today’s knowledge society. Why wait?” – Alessandro di Fiore

What is the first thing you think of at the mention of creativity? The playful and expressive creativity of children? An individual creative genius – a Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, or even a Steve Jobs? Do you associate creativity with abandon or even mental instability, tragic figures such as Vincent van Gogh or Michael Jackson?

Few traits are surrounded by as much mystique, cliché, and misinformation as that spark that gives rise to innovation.

Contrary to popular belief, creativity isn’t necessarily something one is born with and it doesn’t get completely erased after childhood. There may also be more to individual creative genius than the individual. And, while there are certain aspects of psychopathology that have the potential to enhance creativity in some people with high IQs and excellent memories, most creative people exhibit no signs of severe mental problems.

A Role for Creativity on the Job

Alessandro Di Fiore, founder and CEO of the European Centre for Strategic Innovation (ECSI), believes that while there may be such a thing as an individual creative genius, which he calls “big C,” it may be everyday creativity, or “little c,” that has the biggest impact in business.

“When you dig into the back-story of Apple,” Di Fiore explains in an essay on creativity for The Harvard Business Review, “you soon start to recognize that it wasn’t all about Steve. Actually, Jobs was wrong a lot of the time. If it had been entirely up to him, Apple would never have opened the App Store. What made Apple great was the combination of Jobs’ genius with the little-c mindsets of the people he worked with and who weren’t afraid to express their own ideas.”

Rewarding employee questioning – from why things are done the way they are, to why a supervisor or leader holds a particular view – empowers team members to be curious and creative.

Can Employees Learn to Be Creative?

In a word, yes. A 2004 overview written by U.S. researchers analyzed the results of 70 creativity training studies from around the world, confirming that adult creativity training that included a basic understanding of the underlying concepts of creativity combined with real-life application, was shown to improve divergent thinking, problem solving, performance, and attitudes and behavior. And a 2013 international study led by researchers in Denmark found that “the divergent thinking aspect of creative thought” was improved even further when those taking creativity training understood  “the neurological underpinnings of creative thought.” 

In a recent article for The European Business Review, Di Fiore emphasizes that, for creative training to be of value, the workplace environment must support creativity and innovation in its very structure. Pointing to the Toyota Production System, he breaks it down to two principles:

Democratized problem-solving. The search for new ideas to improve performance should be spread across departments and include participation extending all the way down the organizational chart. 

Standardized training. The tools and methods to improve operational performance are identified and standardized; all employees should be systematically trained on them.

De Fiore explains that “in the Toyota Production world everybody is responsible for the search and implementation of ideas to improve operational performance. To facilitate the effectiveness of responsible people, Toyota trains them on standard lean and six sigma tools, quality assurance tools that help get to the root of a problem. They want people to be responsible and take initiative, but at the same time they want those same people to be effective and perform when they take initiative.

Ideally, De Fiore stresses, creativity training isn’t a one-time thing. “In fact, the best companies deliver massive insight skills training programs to their staff to develop a fully democratic and popular skill throughout their organizations.

Read the full article in the European Business Review.