A basic business improvement question relates to employee creativity. Can a good manager help an employee to think differently?
It might seem obvious that a key source of creativity is other people. We find ourselves inspired by the actions or thinking of others. This notion is nicely presented in a quotation from George Bernard Shaw:
If you have an apple and I have an apple, and we exchange apples, we both still only have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea, and we exchange ideas, we each now have two ideas.
The larger issue of creativity at work is the subject of an op-ed that appeared in The New York Times.
Idris Mootee writes:
Management practices evolved for a very different set of business needs: ensuring that repetitive tasks were completed, improving economic efficiency, maximizing labor and machine productivity. Not a lot of creativity is needed; in fact, it might even be inefficient. As a consequence, our workplaces are full of managers who have been trained or encouraged to be un-creative.
But managers today need creativity, as they deal with disruptive technologies and breakneck competition. The nature of work has changed, and many workplaces need to reflect that. The old way is to divide each part of a business into subparts and have teams organized around their own turf. The main result is thousands of PowerPoint slides circulating around the company. The creative approach, or “design thinking,” is different. Its goal is to help managers think about wider systems, interdependencies and interconnectedness – throughout the company and the marketplace and beyond. Creativity is not just about “aha” moments or interesting ways to look at things. Creativity is about putting empathy to work. Creativity is not about perfection. Creativity is a means to solve complicated problems.
This writer makes a powerful point about creativity: that it is the opposite of traditional efficiency. That’s not to say you can’t make a business process more efficient through a creative approach, but rather that creativity itself is about lateral thinking and emotional awareness.