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:
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- A team member proposes a solution to the latest show-stopping near-disaster. After extended discussion,
the team decides whether or not to pursue the idea. It's a costly approach, because too often it leads
us to reject unnecessarily some perfectly sound proposals, and to accept others we shouldn't have.
- The Questions Not Asked
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it isn't there. Learning to see what we believe isn't there is difficult. Here are some reasons why.
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the
trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have
to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
- New Ideas: Generation
- When groups work together to solve problems, they employ three processes repeatedly: they generate ideas,
they judge those ideas, and they experiment with those ideas. We first examine idea generation.
- When Fixing It Doesn't Fix It: II
- When complex systems misbehave, repairs can require deep thought, inspiration, and careful reasoning.
Here are guidelines for a systematic approach to repairing complex systems.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
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- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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