How Creativity Can Directly or Indirectly Influence Organizational Effectiveness

Creativity is an important individual difference variable that exists in everyone. Because creativity plays such a central role in both decision making and problem solving situations, we designate this entry to address it.

By definition CREATIVITY is a person’s ability to generate new ideas or to conceive of new perspectives on existing ideas.

Creativity can play a role in how a problem or decision situation is defined, what alternatives are identified, and how each is evaluated. Creativity can also enable a manager to identify a new way of looking at things.

Before we continue, let’s consider two salient questions.

  • What makes a person creative?
  • How does the creative process work?

Although psychologists have not yet discovered complete answers to these questions, examining a few general patterns can help us understand the source of individual creativity within organizations and the processes through which creativity emerges.

The creative individual

Numerous researchers have focused their efforts on attempting to describe the common attributes of creative individuals. These attributes generally fall into three categories:

  • background experiences,
  • personal traits, and
  • cognitive abilities.
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We'll spend the next few paragraphs addressing each of these parameters.

1.   Background Experiences and Creativity

Researchers have observed that many creative individuals were raised in an environment in which creativity was nurtured. Mozart was raised in a family of musicians and began composing and performing music at age 6.

Pierre and Marie Curie, great scientists in their own right, also raised a daughter, Irene, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Thomas Edison’s creativity was nurtured by his mother. However, people with background experiences very different from theirs have also been creative.

The African American abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglas was born into slavery in Tuckahoe, Maryland, and had very limited opportunities for education. Nonetheless, his powerful oratory and creative thinking helped lead to the Emancipation Proclamation, which outlawed slavery in the United States.

2.   Personal Traits and Creativity

Certain personal traits have also been linked to creativity in individuals. The traits shared by most creative people are openness, an attraction to complexity, high levels of energy, independence and autonomy Opens in new window, strong self-confidence, and a strong belief that one is, in fact, creative. Individuals who possess these traits are more likely to be creative than are those who do not have them.

3.   Cognitive Abilities and Creativity

Cognitive abilities are an individual’s power to think intelligently and to analyze situations and data effectively. Intelligence may be a precondition for individual creativity—but, although most creative people are highly intelligent, not all intelligent people necessarily are creative. Creativity is also linked with the ability to think divergently and convergently.

  • Divergent thinking is a skill that allows people to see differences between situations, phenomena, or events.
  • Convergent thinking is a skill that allows people to see similarities between situations, phenomena, or events.

Creative people are generally very skilled at both divergent and convergent thinking.

The Creative Process

Summary of the major stages of the creative process
Diagram showing the creative process.
Source: Ricky W. Griffin, Gregory Moorhead, Organizational Behavior: Managing People and Organizations

Although creative people often report that ideas seem to come to them “in a flash,” individual creative activity actually tends to progress through a series of stages. The figure at the left summarizes the major stages of the creative process.

The creative process generally follows the four steps illustrated in the figure. Of course, not all creative activity has to follow these four stages, and the process is occasionally different. In most cases, however, these steps capture the essence of the creative process.

1.   Preparation

The creative process normally begins with a period of preparation. Formal education and training are usually the most efficient ways of becoming familiar with a vast amount of research and knowledge.

To make a creative contribution to business management or business services, individuals must usually receive formal training and education in business. This is one reason for the strong demand for undergraduate and master’s level business education.

Formal business education can be an effective way for an individual to get “up to speed” and begin making creative contributions quickly.

Experiences that managers have on the job after their formal training has finished can also contribute to the creative process.

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In an important sense, the education and training of creative people never really ends. It continues as long as they remain interested in the world and curious about the way things work. One such individual is Bruce Roth, who earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and then spent years working in the pharmaceutical industry learning more and more about chemical compounds and how they work in human beings.

Important Hint!  

Preparation is usually the first stage in the creative process. It includes education and formal training.

2.   Incubation

The second phase of the creative process is incubation—a period of less intense conscious concentration during which the knowledge and ideas acquired during preparation mature and develop.

A curious aspect of incubation is that it is often helped along by pauses in concentrated rational thought.

Some creative people rely on physical activity such as jogging or swimming to provide a “break” from thinking.

Others may read or listen to music. Sometimes sleep may even supply the needed pause.

Bruce Roth eventually joined Warner-Lambert, an up-and-coming drug company, to help develop medication to lower cholesterol. In his spare time, Roth read mystery novels and hiked in the mountains. He later acknowledged that this was when he did his best thinking.

Important Hint!  

Incubation is the stage of less intense conscious concentration during which a creative person lets the knowledge and ideas acquired during preparation mature and develop.

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3.   Insight

Insight represents a coming together of all the scattered thoughts and ideas that were maturing during incubation.

Usually occurring after preparation and incubation, insight is a spontaneous breakthrough in which the creative person achieves a new understanding of some problem or situation. It may occur suddenly or develop slowly over time.

Insight can be triggered by some external event—such as a new experience or an encounter with new data that forces the individual to think about old issues and problems in new ways—or it can be a completely internal event in which patterns of thought finally coalesce in ways that generate new understanding.

One day Bruce Roth was reviewing some data from some earlier studies that had found the new drug under development to be no more effective than other drugs already available. But this time he saw some statistical relationships that had not been identified previously. He knew than that he had a major breakthrough on his hands.

Important Hint!  

Insight is the stage in the creative process in which all the scattered thoughts and ideas that were maturing during incubation come together to produce a breakthrough.

4.   Verification

Once an insight has occurred, verification determines the validity or truthfulness of the insight. For many creative ideas, verification includes scientific experiments to determine whether or not the insight actually leads to the results expected.

Verification may also include the development of a product or service prototype. A prototype is one (or a very small number) of products built just to see whether the ideas behind this new product actually work.

Product prototypes are rarely sold to the public but are very valuable in verifying the insights developed in the creative process. Once the new product or service is developed, verification in the marketplace is the ultimate test of the creative idea behind it.

Bruce Roth and his colleagues set to work testing the new drug compound and eventually won FDA approval. The drug, named Lipitor, has become the largest-selling pharmaceutical in history. And Pfizer, the firm that bought Warner-Lambert in a hostile takeover, earns more than $10 billion a year on the drug.

Important Hint!  

In verification, the final stage of the creative, the validity or truthfulness of the insight is determined.

Enhancing Creativity in Organizations

Managers who wish to enhance and promote creativity in their organizations can do so in a variety of ways. One important method for enhancing creativity is to make it a part of the organization’s culture, often through explicit goals.

Firms that truly want to stress creativity, such as 3M and Rubbermaid, for example, state goals that some percent of future revenues are to be gained from new products. This clearly communicates that creativity and innovation are valued.

Another important part of enhancing creativity is to reward creative successes, while being careful to not punish creative failures. Many ideas that seem worthwhile on paper fail to pan out in reality.

If the first person to come up with an idea that fails is fired or otherwise punished, others in the organization will become more cautious in their own work. And a result, fewer creative ideas will emerge.

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