In everyday conversation, as in psychology, to rationalize is to deal with emotional conflict about an act or behavior by creating sometimes-elaborate explanations that make it seem plausible, justified, or even admirable, thus resolving the conflict. In this way we can relieve feelings such as guilt, regret, or embarrassment. Or we might use rationalization to assert innocence or to elude punishment. But in the context of economics, the term has other meanings. In economics, to rationalize is to alter a process or procedure, based on careful design, to achieve specific goals, usually related to cost savings, efficiency enhancement, or compliance with accepted rules. That is the sense of the term we'll use here, as we explore what happens when we rationalize creativity at work.
Brainstorming is one effective form of rationalizing creativity. In brainstorming, we create a "container" that encourages creativity and accelerates problem solving.
Rationalizing creativity at work doesn't always get us what we want. Sometimes we miss by a lot. Sometimes rationalization snuffs out creativity altogether. What distinguishes effective and ineffective approaches to rationalizing creativity? Let's begin with properties of effective approaches.
- They encourage novel collaborations
- In most modern workplaces, collaboration is essential to creativity. Interaction formats and cultural norms are especially helpful if they stimulate collaborations between people who might not otherwise collaborate.
- Collaborations Encouraging creativity doesn't always
get us what we want. Sometimes
we miss by a lot. Sometimes
we snuff out creativity altogether.between people who have dramatically different degrees of organizational power can be very productive. But they are difficult to manage and difficult to encourage. If you can find a framework within which to create such collaborations, truly valuable insights can result.
- They relax social constraints
- Relaxing social constraints frees people to think in novel ways and to contribute those novel thoughts. Removing restrictions on the acceptability of ideas, or restrictions on the acceptability of proposing certain ideas, is usually helpful.
- Frameworks that effectively stimulate creativity must deal with social constraints relating to organizational power. The powerful are sometimes reluctant to be open to collaboration with the less powerful, and the less powerful are sometimes intimidated by the powerful. Power is like a wall between the more powerful and the less powerful.
- They stimulate fresh perspectives
- Because looking at a problem from a fresh perspective stimulates new insights, environments or frameworks that encourage fresh perspectives accelerate problem solving and innovation.
- This is one reason why "retreat" formats are so productive so often. They take people out of their customary environments, away from the routine of the everyday. But take care not to surround people with distractions. Resort environments are nice, but the risk of a resort is that people will enjoy the resort, and pay little attention to the issues motivating the retreat.
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- When All Your Options Are Bad
- When you have several options, and all seem politically risky, what can you do? Here are two guidelines
to finding your way to a good outcome.
- What Haven't I Told You?
- When a project team hits a speed bump, it often learns that it had all the information it needed to
avoid the problem, sometimes months in advance of uncovering it. Here's a technique for discovering
this kind of knowledge more systematically.
- Assumptions and the Johari Window: I
- The roots of both creative and destructive conflict can often be traced to differing assumptions of
the parties to the conflict. Working out these differences is a lot easier when we know what everyone's
- Wishful Significance: II
- When we're beset by seemingly unresolvable problems, we sometimes conclude that "wishful thinking"
was the cause. Wishful thinking can result from errors in assessing the significance of our observations.
Here's a second group of causes of erroneous assessment of significance.
- Call in the Right Expert
- When solving a problem is beyond us, we turn to experts, but sometimes we turn to the wrong experts.
That can make the problem even worse. Why? How does this happen? What can we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.