Organizational Creativity: Building skills and processes

organizational creativity

As indicated in my prior posts, individual creativity comes in many shapes and sizes. The same is true for organizational creativity. There are numerous approaches and structural designs. However, I found one model quite practical: Teresa Amabile’s Componential Model of Creativity. According to this model, creativity depends on a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. Intrinsic refers to drivers inside each of us. Extrinsic refers to external motivators such as company policies, recognition, and the environment. Organizational creativity needs to consider both.

Intrinsic Drivers of Creativity

Amabile identified three intrinsic motivators. Imagine a Venn diagram with three circles in the shape of a triangle. (See figure.) The top circle contains domain-relevant skills. Simply put, these are skills related to your area of expertise.The left circle contains task motivation. These are the duties you actually enjoy doing. And the right circle contains the right ambiance and setting to inspire you. Creativity is strongest at the intersection of the three.

Become an expert

The domain-relevant skills (top circle) include expertise or knowledge in a specific field. The expertise may be in engineering, medical technology, computer coding, industry awareness, art, music, or a host of other disciplines. These areas of expertise provide the raw materials an individual can draw on in the creative process.

  • Do you have the right knowledge to understand how the pieces fit together?

Jump into tasks you enjoy

Task motivation (left circle) encompasses the willingness to undertake a task because it is involving, interesting, or personally challenging or satisfying. This is similar to the intrinsic motivators I described in the post: What motivates the creative YOU?

  • Do you have the desire to work toward a creative solution?

Define your own sources of creativity

Creativity-relevant processes (final circle) include a host of tangible and intangible factors conducive to imagination, inspiration and inventiveness. The bulk of the items I describe in my Nine-Part Creativity Series would fit here.

  • Do you know what music, ambiance, time-frame or mental attitude helps you be creative?

Organizational Creativity Processes

Even though I described the three above circles as intrinsic items, companies play a role in either fostering or sabotaging them. In other words, you can use them to enhance organizational creativity. Here are a few tips for managers.

Build skills in areas of expertise

Provide training, role clarity and resources to cultivate domain-relevant skills. Sponsor internal training or offer  reimbursement for education outside the company. The training should help employees attain mastery in specific areas of expertise or knowledge. Devise concrete job definitions that establish role clarity and reduce ambiguity. The resulting focus increases the likelihood of employees applying their expertise to generate new ideas. Supply adequate resources such as money and tools to support creative efforts. Of course, defining what “adequate” means is subjective and will vary by the type of innovation. But it must be done.

Boost the motivation to do the tasks

Enhance task motivation by ensuring individuals feel a job or creative endeavor “fits” them. Hire the right people for the job. Recognize them for their efforts. The recognition doesn’t (and shouldn’t) be limited to monetary incentives. Dan Pink, in his TED talk, The Puzzle of Motivation, provides good information on using different incentives for creativity.

Reinforce processes linked to creativity

Finally, encourage creativity-relevant processes. Grant as much autonomy for creative efforts as possible. Enable tinkering to stimulate creativity and whole-brain thinking. Sanction breaks, time flexibility and/or tools to help employees manage their energy better. Companies such as Google and 3M allow employees an allotted percentage of on-the-job time and freedom to explore pet projects.These pet projects – especially when shared with other employees through, for example, brown bag lunches – often yield new product and service ideas benefiting the company. Assess your company’s risk tolerance. How well does your culture encourage employees to develop novel concepts that may lead to new product development and innovation? Creativity and innovation are subtly different, and companies are advised to nurture both.