Teaching Creativity…

Oxymoron, right?  Well, let’s see.

Today, creativity, innovation and the ilk are corporate buzzwords.  Every manager is looking to increase these to improve product appeal and to reduce costs.  The debate is over how.

Can we increase these competencies in our teams today or do we need structural changes to happen.  The answer may depend upon what the organization’s views on these skills are.

One point which elicits agreement is that there are already instances of creativity and innovation in most teams.  The incentive structures and organization around these efforts, in most cases, is not sufficient to tap into these instances and derive the desired benefit or sustainability.  Further, some of the organizational frameworks actively discourage out-of-the-box thinking which is a severe limitation towards these competencies.  Tapping into the existing instances is necessary, but probably not sufficient for the needs of the organization.

Solution?  A culture change is necessary.  The people need to believe that the creative and innovative competency is something that is not only rewarded, but is expected.  However, the larger question is can they deliver?  Is this competency static or is something that can be built up in the individual and the team?  That is where I see disagreement.

One argument is that you cannot teach people to be creative.  That is an inherent part of ones nature and cannot be infused.  To really be able to create these competencies in an organization, you need to acquire it externally.  Evidence the increase in evaluation of creativity and innovation ability during the interview process!

My view is different.  I believe that these competencies can be encouraged, nurtured and taught.  These competencies revolve around a state of mind where people think outside of the standard script.  This can be encouraged if there is sufficient latitude for bringing up new ideas and sufficient allowances for failure.  The expectations also have to be realistic.  We probably will not get a Mona Lisa, but we can definitely do better than draw stick figures.

There are also some reasons that internal growth of these competencies is preferred over external infusion.  The subject matter experts of the organization, especially a knowledge organization, are the key drivers.  Without this expertise, creativity and innovation will mean little.  You cannot create a masterpiece painting without knowing how to paint.  Similarly, you cannot create a concept car without understanding cars.  If you know the current product range inside out, the concept product will be much closer to your organizations ability to deliver – faster time to market and better quality!

Fact of the matter is that these competencies cannot be “taught” in the sense that there is no roadmap or textbook which can be followed blindly.  The acquiring of these competencies is riddled with experimentation and hitting brick walls.  But, if teaching is limited to imparting skills which can be learnt only with a roadmap, our whole education system is in trouble!

Wait a minute!  Isn’t that what is already happening???  Aaagghh…

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2 thoughts on “Teaching Creativity…

  1. If I may call it, there are 2 kinds of creativity. One where people want to do things differently because normal is boring. Art probably falls in this category. The other category is when you think out-of-the-box to tackle a particular situation, typically when the standard/laid-down processes are limiting you to achieve you end goal.

    I believe the former kind creativity comes from within and probably something you are born with. An instinct they drives your personality. You can nurture that instinct further by formal trainings, but you have to be inclined in that direction to begin with.

    The latter however, is mostly driven by neccessity and the drive/passion you have to achieve a particular goal you have. I guess you can train people to think differently, however people need to have the drive and the passion to apply the creativity. Passion and drive comes from strong belief, which I think is driven by culture you are brought up in.

  2. Piyush – Normal probably appears boring to people because it is the laid down standard. Good art also depends on out-of-the-box thinking.

    Where I do agree is that there is a factor of talent. That drives the quality of the output you can achieve from out-of-the-box thinking, not the motivation and ability to do so.

    However, please be aware that the concept of “talent” is also actively being discussed today… 🙂

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