Talk to any organizational leader and sooner or later the words creativity' and 'innovation' will come up. But for many, these terms are simply buzz words. Few truly know how to foster creativity and innovation in their workplace. And even fewer actually do it.
Defining creativity in organisations as the process by which new ideas that make innovation possible are developed, I surveyed a range of New Zealand organisations as part of a masters degree research project. These organisations collectively identified the following top 10 critical organisational creativity success factors. They are in ascending order of priority. The quotes are taken directly from the survey responses.
10 Appropriate reward
Rewards do matter but they must be appropriate and that requires an understanding of what pushes each individual's buttons.
"It's money that brings me to work but it's not money that gets the best work out of me."
9 Clear organisational goals
There is a growing message that the ability to act rapidly, seize new opportunities as they emerge and create new knowledge from previously unanticipated needs is becoming more important than staying focused and marching in the same direction.
The majority of respondents concurred on the importance of organisational goals. There were, however, some interesting exceptions: "My department has done all the visioning stuff--and we have goals for everything--but the reality is that if I get excited about something I will do the work I have to do as fast as I can so I can get on to the exciting stuff. I still try to meet my goals but if I wasn't able to do some of this other stuff it would probably drive me nuts. Isn't most work boring?"
8 Positive staff motivation
Motivated staff are essential to a creative organisation. Most took this as a given: no motivation--no creativity. Some described it as a cyclical process: "If I am motivated I will be more creative but the reverse is also true. I have seen people get into upward and downward spirals and it can be catching."
Positive staff motivation enhances organisational creativity.
7 Committed leadership
Leadership that can remove barriers will enhance organisational creativity.
"While the truly inspired and creative may break through the barriers to success, an environment that enhances organisational creativity may reap benefits from many surprising sources--the quiet, the reluctant, the plodders--not just the Einsteins. The leader's role is to remove the barriers."
6 Individual empowerment
Respondents talked about how much freedom and authority they had to initiate change. Some gave it to themselves while others waited for it to be given. Many spoke of the anxiety that at times accompanies empowerment. Ideally, empowerment of people results in increased initiative, involvement, enthusiasm, innovation and speed but it also carries the cost of increased anxiety and stress levels.
5 Supportive organisational structure
Described by one respondent as "an environment where problems are addressed without blaming or scapegoating", a supportive organisational structure was seen by others as having decentralised authority, flexibility and adaptability. Some respondents spoke about "organic versus mechanistic" approaches, with an organic structure being the preferred way to enhance organisational creativity.
4 Open communication and information sharing
Open communication of organisational changes, decisions and policies; opportunities to voice concerns, understanding and ideas; and a sense of 'being heard' all enhance organisational creativity.
"For me, one of the barriers is an environment where people undermine each other, information is not shared and there is no credit given for creativity." And from another respondent: "It is essential to have access to information as creativity is often spurred on by hitchhiking on new ideas that flow past the alert mind--often converting them to a new situation or application. …