Unleash Your Creativity and Make More Public Value: Government Needs to Be Able to Respond Flexibly to the Many Changes It Faces within a New Culture That Supports Creativity

By Stein, Beverly; Sasnow, Shane | Government Finance Review, February 2011 | Go to article overview

Unleash Your Creativity and Make More Public Value: Government Needs to Be Able to Respond Flexibly to the Many Changes It Faces within a New Culture That Supports Creativity


Stein, Beverly, Sasnow, Shane, Government Finance Review


What we usually do is get ideas, judge ideas, and kill ideas--all in three seconds. But what if we nurtured and supported government employees who wanted to explore how to do things differently? What would that look like?

Governments rarely provide the conditions for encouraging creativity that leads to innovation. There are many reasons: inertia; fear of change; fear of bad publicity; lack of know-how; lack of investment of time, energy, and money; and the impact of those who benefit from the status quo. Yet, now more than ever, government needs to overcome these obstacles and fundamentally redesign service systems, making room for new and innovative ideas to flourish. The current budget crisis highlights this need, but the imperative to respond creatively to our challenges doesn't start or stop there. The world is changing, and the pace of change continues to accelerate with new technologies, environmental challenges, and demographic shifts. Government needs to be able to respond flexibly to these changes within a new culture that supports creativity. The imperative is to transform government service systems to achieve more public value, not to tinker around the edges of bureaucracy.

GETTING AT INNOVATION

Many government leaders and managers believe that we need to redesign systems and be open to entirely new ways of doing business, but they feel stalled, in part because they don't have the information about creativity that would allow them to create the conditions for innovation. Creativity is not a mysterious process that only a few geniuses can access. Creative thinking can be developed--there are techniques that have proven successful.

"How to Generate Innovation in the Public Sector," a recent research report from the Young Foundation and the Center for American Progress, lists a set of conditions that support public-sector innovation. They are:

* Identifying priority fields for innovation

* Opening up the space for ideas

* Financing innovation

* Fixing incentives

* Changing the culture

* Growing what works The techniques they recommend are:

* Unleashing the creative talents of agency staff

* Setting up dedicated teams responsible for promoting innovation

* Diverting a small portion of agency budgets to harnessing innovation

* Collaborating with outsiders to help solve problems

* Looking at issues from different perspectives to notice things you wouldn't otherwise

Creativity is a universal human characteristic, and there are systematic approaches to encouraging it in individuals and groups. Everyone has the capacity to use his or her experience, knowledge, and imagination to generate unique ideas, but from childhood on, most of us have been trained to restrict the use of our imaginations and the expression of unique ideas in order to fit social and organizational norms. This limits creative expression. It is habit-forming, and it is perpetuated in most organizations. However, we can recognize what discourages creativity and change it to develop creative habits and to use tools and guidelines that stimulate creativity.

Creativity that leads to innovative public service system changes can be a very structured process, such as a design lab, (1) or can be incorporated in every staff meeting or brainstorm session. In a design lab, stakeholder input (and interests) are separated from the design process. Six to eight people-chosen because they are open to new ideas, not because they are representative of stakeholders--spend 2 to 3 days in a structured agenda that leads to breakthrough ideas for the chosen system.

ENCOURAGING CREATIVITY

Following are some tips that are used in design labs for encouraging creativity. You can put them to work in your organization--the key is to just start using them.

Crush Creativity Killers. If you've ever expressed yourself in some way, only to be discouraged by the words or actions of another, you have experienced a creativity killer. …

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