Creativity is one of the great mysteries of humanity and the business world. Historically it was believed that creative people used more of one side of the brain. However, it has been discovered that it is a process that involves different areas and different systems of the brain. Therefore, all people have the potential for creativity and its development depends on several factors, including resilience. To think non-creatively is to have less resistance, it is to take the safe and known and perhaps even obvious path, but, by the same token, perhaps the most accurate and efficient. In contrast, a creative brain ventures down the resistant path that leads to the unknown, the vague or the unexpected.
Creativity is tied to learning, to finding new ways of thinking. So, the process involves understanding the different building blocks that impact creativity, some false images of creativity and the creativity cycle.
There are multiple blocks that affect creativity, the first of which is perception. Here we find preconceived thoughts and stereotypes. Perception can lead to seeing things in only one way and is affected by habits and poor problem definition. The second block is related to culture and environment, comprising taboos, traditions, rules, and personalized thinking. In multicultural teams this barrier could be a clearer challenge in developing creative ideas. Also, when negotiating with other cultures this block is present in order to have more or less creativity and to achieve a successful negotiation.
Emotional block is the third element and is linked to criticizing instead of producing ideas, not allowing play, avoiding frustrating situations, fear of failure and fear of expressing ideas. Therefore, psychological safety is one of the main elements that produce creativity. The fourth block is linked to the intellect, i.e., to people’s experiences, inability to fantasies and lack of humor.
Understanding the building blocks of creativity allows us to recognize key misconceptions such as:
- The smarter you are, the more creative you are
- Young people are more creative than old people
- Creativity is reserved for a select few: the extravagant high rollers
- The creative act is essentially solitary
- You can’t manage creativity
Recognizing these mistakes when building a startup allows entrepreneurs to make better decisions in building a team with diverse, multi-cultural and probably multi-generational experiences and backgrounds.
So, what is creativity and how does it differ from innovation?
Creativity is a process of developing and expressing novel ideas that are likely to be useful. Innovation, on the other hand, is the incorporation, combination and/or synthesis of knowledge into new, original, relevant, and valued products, processes or services.
Within each company, creativity can be harnessed and fostered, creating a cycle that starts with people’s expertise, i.e., everything a person knows and can do in the broad scope of their work. Then comes creative thinking, which is how people approach problems and solutions, their ability to put existing ideas together in new combinations.
This must be linked to extrinsic motivation, typically economic, and intrinsic motivation, linked to passion and desire for the job.
There are management practices that affect creativity:
- Challenge: Create desire and passion in every employee. Managers must match people with jobs that match their experience and skills in creative thinking. But care must be taken not to push too hard: this is where information about the employee becomes critical. Know your thresholds and limits.
- Freedom: Define the tasks you assign to each employee. Allow them to decide how to approach and solve that problem. But do not change the objectives frequently. Define them (very) clearly. Ensure that workers have autonomy.
- Resources: Allocate time, money, and a physical space.
- Work group characteristics: Group members should share excitement for the team’s goal; show willingness to help their teammates; recognize the unique knowledge and perspective that other members bring to the table.
- Supervisory encouragement: Praise. Create long-term goals. Prepare action plan. Communicate. Transform from command and control to imagination, empowerment, and energy.
- Organizational support. The culture of creativity should not only come from the team, or the supervisor, but be part of the organization through information sharing and collaboration, avoiding political problems.
Organizations can promote creativity through group dynamics, different styles of thinking (convergence and divergence) and by improving the physical environment, e.g., casual, informal, and flexible spaces. Group norms should allow for attentive listening, non-judgement, and non-criticism.
A creative company is characterized not by the most unusual or crazy ideas. Rather, it is an organization that solves problems through diverse styles of thinking, overcoming its cultural and preconceived barriers and going beyond its context. It will be one that provides safe spaces for its members to feel free to make decisions. But above all it is one that, no matter how small or large, seeks to get to know its members in a personal context, beyond the professional one, in order to find those triggers that will always keep them creative.
ACV is an international Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) fund investing globally in Startups & VC funds.
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