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.
Next time, we'll examine some properties of approaches that tend to suppress creativity. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Should I Keep Bailing or Start Plugging the Leaks?
- When we're flooded with problems, and the rowboat is taking on water, we tend to bail with buckets,
rather than take time out to plug the leaks. Here are some tips for dealing with floods of problems.
- Exploiting Failed Ideas
- When the approach you've been using fails, how do you go about devising Plan B? Or Plan C? Here are
some ways to find new approaches by examining failures.
- Tackling Hard Problems: II
- In this Part II of our look at solving hard problems, we continue developing properties of the solution,
and look at how we get from the beginning to the end.
- The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error —
we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off
by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus.
- Disproof of Concept
- Proof-of-concept studies of system designs usually try to devise solution options and discover the system's
operating constraints. But limitations can become clear too late. A different approach — disproof
of concept — can be a useful alternative.
See also Problem Solving and Creativity and Effective Meetings for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
- Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
- And on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
- When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.
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