Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 14, Issue 45;   November 5, 2014: Rationalizing Creativity at Work: II

Rationalizing Creativity at Work: II

by

Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the ground

XP-80 prototype Lulu-Belle on the ground, in a photo probably taken in 1944. Although this aircraft wasn't the first US jet-powered aircraft, its operational version, the P-80 later designated the F-80, was the first operational jet aircraft to have its engine integrated into the fuselage. It arrived too late for combat in World War II but it did see service in Korea.

The XP-80 was developed as the first project of the Lockheed Skunk Works, which was a facility established by Lockheed to enable development of advanced aircraft. The concept of a skunk works, now widely used in business, is that by giving innovators autonomy, and protection from bureaucracy, we can accelerate development and facilitate innovation. A skunk works is the organizational analog of what idea generators need when groups solve problems. Photo courtesy United States Air Force.

As discussed last time, economists use the term rationalization to denote altering a process or procedure, based on careful design, to achieve goals usually related to cost savings, efficiency enhancement, or compliance with accepted rules. We then described some effective approaches to rationalizing creativity.

Let's now examine approaches to rationalizing creativity that are less effective — and sometimes even counter-effective. Here are four leadership patterns that tend to suppress creativity.

Emphasize the consequences of failure
Those who believe that fear is an effective motivator exploit this principle by making clear to subordinates that the consequences of failure are severe and personal. Organizational leaders sometimes predict layoffs or organizational collapse if "we don't get this right."
This approach is risky. Some people might elect to address the personal threat by searching for alternative employment instead of creatively solving the organizational problems.
Set people against each other
Some managers believe that competition among subordinates elicits their best performance, and that setting people against each other fosters such competition.
This theory might work at the scale of enterprises, though there is some doubt even in that case. But a competitive atmosphere at the personal level is destructive in organizations in which collaboration is essential to creative progress. Moreover, although limited levels of stress do stimulate creativity, intentional efforts to set people against each other can easily exceed those benign levels of stress.
Emphasize how more than what
When setting team or organizational goals, it's counterproductive to impose ancillary requirements on the methods of achieving those goals. For example, if the goal is reducing time to market, emphasizing the use of a particular methodology can reduce creativity.
Constraining how a goal is to be achieved tends to reduce opportunities for creativity in achieving that goal. Be certain that constraints on how are minimal and that they have sound business purposes. Then communicate these purposes clearly and make them part of the goal.
Confer power and authority according to past achievements
Managers who Constraining how a goal is to be
achieved tends to reduce opportunities
for creativity in achieving that goal
are especially risk averse tend to confer power and authority on those who have demonstrated past success.
When authors of past achievements accumulate power and authority, organizations tend to approach current problems along the lines that succeeded in the past. That's fine if current problems and current context are analogous to past problems and past context. But when problems and context are novel, creativity is required, and power and authority must be distributed differently. This is one reason why "skunk works" are so effective: their structure insulates from conventional power and authority those people who need to be creative.

As counterintuitive as it might seem, demanding creativity stifles it, as does removing all stress. Creativity needs space, time, resources, courage, and just a dash of stress. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Face-Off Negotiations  Next Issue

52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your projects always (or almost always) late and over budget? Are your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around. Read 52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented Organizations, filled with tips and techniques for organizational leaders. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNIKAMrhDhnBeDfLxner@ChacnVUhIHCoPvfyoPCmoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:

A rowboatFiguring Out What to Do First
Whether we belong to a small project team or to an executive team, we have limited resources and seemingly unlimited problems to deal with. How do we decide which problems are important? How do we decide where to focus our attention first?
White water raftingWe Are All People
When a team works to solve a problem, it is the people of that team who do the work. Remembering that we're all people — and all different people — is an important key to success.
Then-Capt. Elwood R. Quesada who became commanding general of the 9th Fighter Command in operation OverlordGroup Problem-Solving Tangles
When teams solve problems together, discussions of proposed solutions usually focus on combinations of what the solution will do, how much it will cost, how long it will take, and much more. Disentangling these threads can make discussions much more effective.
Signers of the 1938 Munich AgreementHow to Reject Expert Opinion: I
When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, they sometimes choose not to consult experts or to reject their advice. How do groups come to make these choices?
A keyboardOffice Automation
Desktop computers, laptop computers, and tablets have automation capabilities that can transform our lives, but few of us use them. Why not? What can we do about that?

See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
A human marionetteAnd on November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenOFubFHojSXYmlAsCner@ChacxgsKspdxKokYHOUWoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.