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:
- Coping with Problems
- How we cope with problems is a choice. When we choose our coping style, we help determine our ability
to address the problems we face. Of eight styles we can identify, only one is universally constructive,
and we rarely use it.
- Emergency Problem Solving
- In emergencies, group problem solving is unusually challenging, especially if lives, careers, or companies
depend on finding a solution immediately. Here are some tips for members of teams that are solving problems
- Project Improvisation Fundamentals
- Project plans are useful — to a point. Every plan I've ever seen eventually has problems when
it contacts reality. At that point, we replan or improvise. But improvisation is an art form. Here's
Part I of a set of tips for mastering project improvisation.
- Hill Climbing and Its Limitations
- Finding a better solution by making small adjustments to your current solution is usually a good idea.
The key word is "usually."
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: II
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming November 21: Make Suggestions Privately
- Suggesting a better way of doing things can sometimes backfire surprisingly and intensely. Making suggestions privately reduces that risk, but introduces a different risk. Available here and by RSS on November 21.
- And on November 28: Wacky Words of Wisdom: VI
- Adages, aphorisms, and "words of wisdom" seem valid often enough that we accept them as universal and permanent. Most aren't. Here's Part VI of a collection of widely held beliefs that can be misleading at work. Available here and by RSS on November 28.
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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.