Friday, August 12, 2011

Bureaucratic Creativity

"When I ask, 'Where do you not want creativity?' someone will inevitably answer, 'accounting.'" Teresa Amabile

Having established in last weeks posting that we can measure creativity, we now ask do we WANT creativity?  We want it, don't want it, wish we could turn it on and desperately seek to turn it off.

Let's look at some attributes commonly associated with creativity: Connection, Perspective, Curiosity, Boldness, Paradox, Complexity, Persistence, Abstraction and consider carefully just how badly we want our team to have these attributes.

Connection is the ability to see relationships that aren't obvious.  For example, if your customer calls complaining that the shipment did not arrive, a variety of obvious connections spring to mind.  It never left your warehouse, the customer didn't actually place the order and it is still with the shipping company, for example.  Someone with the ability to generate connections might also consider that the customer failed to look in the right place, the product fell off the back of the truck, the product is there but labeled incorrectly, that a dog ran off with it and that aliens vaporized it.

Perspective is seeing things from the view of other people, times and places.  Surely it is a good thing to consider how customers might view your product, the thoughts of government regulators, the perspective of a litigation attorney, how the product might be used in forty years, what might happen to demand if there was a global flood and the elephant's eye view of it all.

Curiosity or a desire to know more must also be a good thing.  After all, I want the person in accounting to understand the challenges faced by customer service, the number of children that the mail clerk has, and the temperature of the account execs' new pool.  Right?

Boldness must be a great thing.  We always want our people to push beyond their fears.  So what if their fears that acting boldly will have others in the organization hate them are because if they act boldly then others in the organization will hate them.  Personally, I look forward to asking one of my employees for help and having them tell me they instead are going to work on a different project.

Paradox is the ability to simultaneously hold contradictory facts as true. The world is big and small.  The customer is right and wrong.  The product works and doesn't work. We can have low cost operations and creativity.  The lights are on and the lights are off.

Complexity is carrying large amounts of information and finding the many relationships between that data.  It's putting hundreds of points on a graph, seeing the thousands of lines that could connect those points but not focusing in on the one important trend line that passes near them all.

Persistence surely is something we want.  After all, not giving up on a problem is a virtue.  Even if the problem isn't really that important.  Or if solving other problems might give larger results.  Also, not to worry that there might be a better way to accomplish the goal.  Once you've started down a path, don't give up no matter what happens.  Surely, this is great?

Abstraction is better than holding onto pesky facts.  It's always easier to take a data point or two and throw them into a theory then to remember the data.  After all, we don't need to gather all the facts to know that the ball, when dropped, will hit the ground.  Customer service messed up the last order so they must be incompetent.  The CEO couldn't remember my name, so she must hate me.

Of course, a person who scores highly on all of these attributes would be a nightmare for business operations.  Similarly, a person who scored low on all of these attributes would be little better than a machine.  Finding the right balance is the real challenge.

Rather than asking, do I want creativity in my organization, the right question is how much creativity do I want?  it could BE different after all.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Measure of Creativity

Measure what is measurable, and make measurable what is not so. Galileo Galilei

Is your organization creative?  Should your organization be creative?  How do you change your organization's level of creativity?  Does creativity equal more new products and processes?  August is dedicated to answering these questions.

Here's some non-peer reviewed research to help.  It was inspired by the much better research of Teresa Amabile and with the same conclusions.

Over the years I've taught a graduate course in creativity six times.  The three day course always started with the dozen or so students working together for a few hours to define creativity and then to come up with ways that I could remember each of their names.

I would then ask the group the following questions, giving them however long it took to come to consensus without interrupting them (which they always did in less than 15 minutes):

Are some people more creative than others?  consensus was always yes, but always a few people who went along with the consensus just to keep the program moving.

How do you measure creativity?  answer was always you can't, anyone who argued otherwise would quickly concede that they had no idea how to do so.

Well, how do you know some people are more creative than others if you can't measure it? always confusion followed by arguments followed by me demonstrating the answer to them in the following manner.

I asked them to write on a piece of paper, without further discussion with the rest of the group, a forced ranking of each student from highest to lowest creativity (force rank meaning no ties). The results of this forced ranking were consistent in every class.  There was 80+% correlation on the order of the list and those at the top and bottom never received any 'votes' to be elsewhere on the list.

I then sent them each to an online Creativity Assessment.  Their scores on the creativity assessment always correlated highly with their forced ranking.

The lesson of this story is that some people are more creative than others, we're all good judges of who is more creative and if you want to be analytical about it, you can measure creativity.

So is your organization creative? it could BE different.