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 goalare 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 Top Next Issue
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More articles on Problem Solving and Creativity:
- Abraham, Mark, and Henny
- Our plans, products, and processes are often awkward, bulky, and complex. They lack a certain spiritual
quality that some might call elegance. Yet we all recognize elegance when we see it. Why do we make
things so complicated?
- What, Why, and How
- When solving problems, groups frequently get stuck in circular debate. Positions harden even before
the issue is clear. Here's a framework for exploration that can sharpen thinking and focus the group.
- Forward Backtracking
- The nastiest part about solving complex problems isn't their complexity. It's the feeling of being overwhelmed
when we realize we haven't a clue about how to get from where we are to where we need to be. Here's
one way to get a clue.
- Guidelines for Curmudgeon Teams
- The curmudgeon team is a subgroup of a larger team. Their job is to strengthen the team's conclusions
and results by raising thorny issues that cause the team to reconsider the path it's about to take.
In this way they help the team avoid dead ends and disasters.
- Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and
text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize,
to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
- And on October 11: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: II
- Self-importance is one of four major themes of conversational narcissism. Knowing how to recognize the patterns of conversational narcissism is a fundamental skill needed for controlling it. Here are eight examples that emphasize self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 11.
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