How can you manage creativity?

Managing creativity may seem an oxymoron, similar to an order to “be spontaneous!” Well, it doesn’t have to be. Today’s leaders can use many methods and tools to set the stage or enhance the creativity that staff may bring to bear on daily problems or needs.

How can you stifle creativity?
Intellectual capital is key to creative thinking and superior results. Many good managers may be surprised at how often they may unknowingly inhibit creative problem solving in their staff. Forcrea 4

crea 1 example, a manager may think he knows what a certain employee is going to say and, as a means of attempting to demonstrate how well he is in sync with the staffer, may interrupt and complete the person’s sentence—incorrectly.

The employee may then be inhibited from correcting the boss, and thus not provide what may have been an unanticipated idea with merit, or may have ultimately led to a better solution. The erring manager probably wouldn’t have realized that he had indeed done something wrong as no one said anything to the contrary about the interruption. The net result is not only inhibited communication, but also inhibited creative problem solving, brainstorming, and likely a ding in the morale of all the team members, as no one likes to have his or her thoughts interrupted or sentences completed.

Beware of groupthink
Other creativity killers may include the odd but powerful phenomenon called “groupthink.” This is a common problem that social psychologist Irvin Janis named in the 1970s. It refers to the fact that many members in a group setting (like a business meeting) will look for the non-verbal cues that the understood leader (the boss) may be unconsciously providing as hints to her opinion on the direction the discussion is leading. These members then conform their opinions to comply with that of the leader to avoid risking trouble (such as exclusion from the group, being ostracized or fired, etc.).

For example, if someone is noting her idea to a solution for a problem, the others in the meeting will be aware of their manager’s body language, facial expression (nonverbal cues) and direct feedback (verbally noting acceptance or rejection). The other members then may alter their true thoughts and feelings about what has been said by their fellow staff member in order to comply with what they perceive (or misperceive) as their manager’s impression. Since they are less likely to offer contradictory perspectives to what it is they believe the boss likes, the result is an inhibition of expressing creative ideas—and inventiveness is lost.

Some people are so predictable that their responses become almost stereotypic and accurately predictable. Often this is in the negative. For example, there is the cliché of the Doubting Thomas—to whom all things are questionable, wrong or bad. The result is that this person is expected to note the negative and then is discounted and ignored when he acts as expected. This is similar to another cliché, that of Peter “crying wolf.” But sometimes Thomas is correct in doubting, and sometimes Peter is correct in that there really is a wolf.

The smart leader must weigh the times when such a person is correct or, better yet, create a work/team environment that supports differences in opinion with polite debate, and no discounting of anyone’s opinion.

So, what’s a leader to do?
Here are a few simple tools that can yield very good results. The key with the following methods, as with any good habits, is to be consistent and to be genuine in their application.

Check your assumptions at the door. Assume nothing. Be a blank slate and thus open to any possibility. Do not assume you even know what the problem at hand really is. What appears to be a slump in profits crea 3may not be due to poor sales, but to distribution or production or quality or the weather. Who knows? The first step is to assume nothing and start asking for good questions first, then work to define what the problem really is and its cause.
Suspend judgment. This is a corollary to No. 1. No matter how left-field a person’s perspective may seem, respect it, seek to understand it, ask for evidence, and gently, respectfully, debate it if you differ. This supports not only a healthy diversity of opinion, but also a healthy venue for all to express themselves without worry or fear of embarrassment.
Put on your lab coat and help others on with theirs. Be a scientist. Look for data, clues and information on all sides of the matter, problem or issue—those that support, contradict and appear neutral to your perspective or position on the matter. Scrutinize them with a microscope and have others do the same. Then provide an open, anxiety-free opportunity for all to discuss what they see and think.
Reframe the problem as a great opportunity, or a worse-than-reality threat. Distort reality for a bit in order to look upon the problem with a different perspective or freshness. There is another cliché that even your headache is appreciated by the pharmacist. So do look for hidden opportunity in what at first may seem to hold little value. Pretend you are Thomas Edison and build from the knowledge of failures on your way to breakthroughs.
Conduct true brainstorming. Many people think that brainstorming is the simple offering of possible solutions to a given problem. This is partially correct. However, in true brainstorming, there are no ideas that are too weird, dumb, improbable, etc. Now, people shouldn’t be cavalier in their offerings, but sometimes it is the cockamamie idea, while perhaps not the key solution, that may lead to the key solution. Use the brainpower of your group, staff or team to generate lots of solutions, with judgments suspended (see No. 2 above); sift through them later to separate the wheat from the chaff. You also may want to conclude a session of brainstorming without a resolution and ask people to think about all that has been generated in the session. Let it steep or sink in over the next few hours or days, and then later reconvene and openly discuss subsequent thoughts and ideas.
Rotate the devil’s advocate. While diversity of thought and opinion is good, and while consensus also is good, there too is merit in debate and questioning (like that of assumptions; see No. 1). But this time, do not have the team’s resident naysayer be the person to voice the poo-poos. Instead, have a different person each time do so to avoid the trap of discounting the (expectedly negative) words based on them being said by the resident Doubting Thomas. It’s a good exercise and experience for the members of the team.

Encourage others to read outside of their field or specialty and to consider how what they read could be applied to their work. Or perhaps visit a museum, or listen to a new piece of music, or …? You never know how exposure to something new may provide a unique spark that can catch fire to a brilliant idea.

Source:, 26 October 2015
Author:Chris Stout

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