Creativity In Organizations: An Essential But Overlooked Element Of Innovation

When looking at managerial literature and internet publications, I have a feeling there is an obsession with innovation in the business world, and companies are desperately looking for different recipes that can render them more innovative. At some point during my MBA course I decided to follow this trend and carry out a research into innovation management, but soon I was perplexed trying to identify sources of innovation.  It was at that point that I realized (with the help of my supervisor Catherine Morel, who leads a new master program at Audencia – Management in the Creative Economy) that I might had taken a wrong turn…  and decided  to switch the focus of my research from innovation to creativity in organizations.

I’m not only speaking about organizations whose activities are directly linked to creativity such as design and advertising agencies, companies involved in arts or movie production etc, but also about organizations whose activities are not seen as traditionally creative : in fact, any production or service company. The reason I changed the field of research was not loss of interest in innovation, but my deep belief that innovation is not possible without creativity, and in that belief I consciously go against the dominant perception of innovation both in the business world and among management scholars.

In management practices creativity is perceived, on the one hand, as something sexy, that everybody wants to have, but at the same time as something that is hardly of any real practical value. From a practical point of view only innovation, not creativity, is considered useful for businesses.

As compared to management practices, among researchers in management and organizational behavior creativity got more attention: there is a whole host of articles on organizational creativity. But despite relatively high attention being paid to the topic, the dominant view in creativity and innovation theories is that creativity plays some nurturing role for innovation, but is not crucial. Creativity management and innovation management are mainly regarded as being in different and basically independent realms.

Among comprehensive theories that link innovation and creativity, the one that is shared and widely recognized by scholars is a componential model of organizational creativity by Teresa Amabile. Her model has been cited more than 4000 times (Amabile and Pratt, 2016), and it appears to be a current mainstream theory in organizational creativity. Amabile makes clear links between innovation and creativity in organizations, but in fact those links are not strong enough to conclude that innovation is inseparable from creativity. Other scholars (Anderson, Potocnik and Zhou, 2014) contend that creativity can be outsourced to outside the organization, and thus should not be necessarily developed in the company.

But there is also another important theoretical perspective. Stacey (1996), who studied creativity from the perspective of the science of complexity, describes creativity as a process of complex organizational learning in response to the changes in external environment, and which results in innovation that improve company’s competitiveness. What is really curious is that the last revision of the componential model published at the end of last year was rich with elements similar to Stacey’s approach. Thus Stacey claims that individuals and their organizations are capable of novelty in a certain state only, that is between stability and chaos. Analogously, in the last revision of the componential model we see appearance of similar “in-between” states that favor creativity, e.g. the time to solve a task should be neither too short nor too long, and the management should neither ignore nor overreact to problems. Those small similarities between the two prominent theories only confirm my belief that organizational creativity cannot be neither outsourced nor simply excluded from the innovation process. Based on mentioned theoretical frameworks there are at least three reasons to think so:

1. Creativity is not just about generating novel ideas, but about generating the right novel ideas that are needed for a particular company.

Over a long term ideas generated outside an organization and then implemented in that organization as innovations are unlikely to increase the company’s competitiveness. Companies and their socio-economic environments are so complex and diverse systems that it is extremely difficult to get the right match between the ideas of others and the strategic needs of your organization.

2. Innovation implemented in an organization, but generated outside of it, creates temporary comfort for the company, but in the long term it hinders organizational ability to learn.

If we understand creativity also as a process of organizational learning, then, in a way, exogenous ideas may have the same effect on an organization as exogenous hormones on human health: in the short term it helps, but then ability to produce indigenous hormone is atrophied.

3. It is difficult or impossible to outsource creativity, especially in high-tech domains requiring rare and specific skills.

For example, if a pharmaceutical company wants to be more innovative, then it is has to get ideas in-house because generation of those ideas requires deep and rare domain-relevant skills in biology, chemistry etc.

To wrap up, I dare say that creativity is a required and essential precondition for innovation, and also conclude that today’s business world, though being obsessed with innovation, pays by far insufficient attention to organizational creativity, which is the very base for innovation. The era of Creative Economy has begun…  

Written by,

Alexander Kozub

Bibliography:

Amabile, T. M. and Pratt, M. G. (2016) ‘The dynamic componential model of creativity and innovation in organizations: Making progress, making meaning’, Research in Organizational Behavior, 36, pp. 157–183. doi: 10.1016/j.riob.2016.10.001.

Anderson, N., Potocnik, K. and Zhou, J. (2014) ‘Innovation and Creativity in Organizations: A State-of-the-Science Review, Prospective Commentary, and Guiding Framework’, JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT, 40(5), pp. 1297–1333.

STACEY, R. D. (1996) Complexity and creativity in organizations. San Francisco: BERRETT-KOEHLER PUBLISHERS. Available at: http://cadic.audencia.com:8000/exl-php/vue-consult/audencia___recherche_experte/DOC13410.

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