Three cornerstones of creativity

Dr. Teresa Amabile, Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School describes the “Three Components of Creativity”.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, she considers how, expertise, creative thinking skills and motivation are all required if creativity is to take place within structured organisations.

The three cornerstones of creativity

1. Expertise

Expertise, in her model, is not just that connected to a person’s current post or job. It also refers to all of the knowledge and experience that that person has gained in life. So a Chief Executive may also bring skills garnered from being a mother, a youth leader, and a netball player.

2. Creative Thinking

Amabile includes in her description of creative thinking many of the elements listed elsewhere in my book ‘Create’. For example she cites a “capacity to put existing ideas in new combinations”, “perseverance”, “the capacity for incubation” and the combination of “knowledge from seemingly disparate fields‟.

3. Motivation

Motivation is the fuel that drives the vehicle provided by the two elements listed above. All the expertise and ability to think creatively in the world will be useless, if the person is not motivated to put them to good use.

In most organisations, there is a wealth of talent, both visible and hidden among the staff and volunteers. The ability to think creatively can be learned or encouraged by reading the right books, or attending training courses. But nurturing a positive motivation to be creative among its people is the one element that most organisations leave out. And a car without fuel is going nowhere.

There are three things a manager can do to build individual motivation to solve problems.

1. Match people with the right task.

If you play to people’s strengths you may find that they begin to enjoy the challenge. It seems obvious, but when we want to deliver a presentation, how many times do we see the person with the strongest dread of presenting being chosen? If a piece has to be written for the community newsletter, do we choose the best communicator, or simply the person who is closest to the task, to prepare the copy? ‘What’s that you say?

Your Uncle Bob has been on a ‘How To Use Word Press’ course. Well put him in charge of our marketing strategy then!” If we do not put conscious effort into the matching process, then mismatches are inevitable. And then of course, we will have people who are not enthusiastic and engaged, far less passionate, about their task.

2. Give people freedom to act.

A manager may give team members a clear brief, or target. But if the manager then constrains their freedom to act in order to retain control over how something is to be achieved, then they will limit the team‟s ability to provide creative solutions. So delegate responsibility for the results, as well as the task in hand. Ask people to solve the problem or to come back to you with alternative solutions, but not with problems. Hand over ownership of the problem. Light the blue touch paper of your peoples‟ creativity and then stand back.

3. Give people time: People need time to be creative. They need strategic time.

In other words a long period of time in which to consider, gestate, ponder and wait for their subconscious brain or intuition to kick in. You don’t necessarily get creativity by demanding results yesterday. They also need tactical time. This is time knitted into the fabric of a day to brainstorm or dream. So create a long enough timeline, but also encourage people to schedule in quite time into their daily schedules. Encourage them to clear their decks of urgent but not necessarily important tasks and “have a meeting with their creativity‟.

Promoting creativity: A brainstormed list

The following list of ideas to foster a ‘creativity friendly environment’ was produced in a seminar by delegates from Voluntary Action Westminster:

  • Communal lunches
  • Blue sky time
  • An ideas book
  • Yoga sessions
  • Mad idea of the month
  • Wednesday afternoon “fun hour‟
  • Team hugs
  • A “doodle wall‟
  • Fancy dress Friday

Although each of the above ideas has its own merits, I particularly liked the idea of a “Doodle Wall‟. Basically the idea suggests that one wall in your office is painted white. Preferably, the wall should be clear and flat, free of windows, radiators or other obstructions. Effectively it is a canvas. People can doodle on it as they search for inspiration. When it is finally full of charts, drawings, arrows, shapes, lists, etc, you simply paint over it and start again.

So, in summary, to create a ‘culture of creativity’ within your team, try to value and utilize the ‘whole life’ experience of team members; ask people to play to their strengths; give people to freedom to be try new things (along with all of the attendant risks); resist the temptation to offer blame if things don’t go as planned – focus on the valuable learning instead; don’t be scared to have a laugh (take the task seriously – take yourself lightly); and read as widely as you can about how to generate ideas and support your team’s creative impulses.

For obvious reasons, I’d recommend that you begin with  ‘Create!: A Toolkit for Creative Problem-solving in the Not-for-Profit Sector’ published by Directory of Social Change.