Creativity: Better in Idea Form than in Practice?

By Marc Solomon posted 02-23-2011 20:12

  

 

Last week the online business Journal Knowledge at Wharton alerted its readers to a fascinating new management study that creativity is delivered better as a lip service than on listening mode. Actually, that's my own leap. The piece says that corporate America is much better at promoting the need for creativity than at promoting the creative managers who provide it. That distinction between aspiration and reality is at the heart of the authors' conclusions that, "[U]nderstanding the need for creativity within a large company is not the same as actually fostering it."
 
In their study "A Bias against 'Quirky'? Why Creative People Can Lose Out on Leadership Positions," Wharton management professor Jennifer Mueller, Jack A. Goncalo of Cornell, and Dishan Kamdar of ISB found that although creativity carries a perceived value, individual contributors were seen as having "less leadership potential than their peers."
 
This contradiction assumes that the creatively-inclined share the same reward system as their more conventional colleagues. Is that the perception from "inside-the-box" as well? Those who question may not distinguish who they're questioning. After all, idea-driven people may lack the social graces needed to play the advancement card. Creatives live in their own heads, observes management. It's their richer dream life that leads them on -- not the promise of actual achievements that are propped up by career reputations and ECM-related salary bands. Even more basic than decorum is the simple premise that even in flat organizations creatives are vested in their non-conformity. If you're questioning authority, how does one rise above one's authoritative station?
 
Creativity is not want for ambition. Otherwise Why would it parade the chip on its shoulder. Before we wade too deeply into the muck of cathartic isolation we should probably ask these creatives to step up to the mic tell us where they're from?
"Hi, I'm Chris Rivinius -- SharePoint 2010 is my battering ram. It kicks down the retaining walls and inspired me to dust-off my degree in cultural anthropology. When the silos are laid bare the unflattering result is that some difficult conversations are forced into the open. Hey, I'm not an ivy-coated academic with a dissertation to prove. I've got a system to run and it's there to serve users -- not to test theories."
Last year when Chris was still at Parsons Brinkerhoff he contributed to the pilot episode of the SharePoint Reality Series in KMWorld. The series profiled the practitioners rather than parroting the Gold Partners. It wasn't a forum to vent on the Microsoft Aftermarket sector so much as redefine information management as a core set of disciplines through the maturing palette of SharePoint.
 
I mention Chris because he's not some ivy-speckled stoner from Creative Education. He's an engaged problem-solver who honors deadlines ahead of his own unscheduled brainstorms.
 
I think the key is to focus on creative outputs -- not personas. In that spirit I flagged the piece for my own Intranet team and festooned the following caveat clear across the top of this mailforward curation:
"I’m forwarding this piece for what it says about promoting ideas and discussions – not for what it says about promoting managers or perceptions about the leadership potential of creative problem-solvers. This piece is especially useful given the communication channel that the new intranet represents to encourage divergent, break-through thinking." 
From a SharePoint 2010 perspective those opportunities include:
 
Two-way feedback
Internal discussions worth elevating beyond email
Ideation from crowdsourcing
Better transparency of how far-flung corners of firm come together
 
Benefits could mean…
 
1. Tighter community
2. Mapping participation to performance reviews
3. Better innovations
4. Magnet for more  uniquely qualified candidates 
 
In conclusion creatives are more comfortable with open-endedness where possibilities take root. That preference manifests in ballooning roles and responsibilities where openness begets an open-ended commitment. On the ECM front this is a relentless tenacity to clear blockages from systems and embargoes from colleagues not inclined or incentivized to pool their know-how. 
 
In our vigilence information managers have known all along what the study's authors have started to define in the work culture: creativity comes with a cost. It's called change.
 
Welcoming a creative boss to your ECM team is no more plausible or intuitive than seeking out uncertainty, layering on complexity, or coming to terms with resolution-defiant quandaries as part of the regular work-flow. As this important work attests, creative thinker-leaders are a threat to the natural order -- even when convincing your boss that your best ideas are his.
 


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