Creativity and Empowerment: A Complementary Relationship

By Velthouse, Betty A. | Review of Business, Fall 1990 | Go to article overview

Creativity and Empowerment: A Complementary Relationship


Velthouse, Betty A., Review of Business


Creativity and Empowerment: A Complementary Relationship

Introduction

Contemporary organizational behaviorists are calling for an Organizational Renaissance [10]. Citing increased international competition and diminished national productivity, a variety of authors have described the needs of American industry in order to continue as an industrial leader. Interestingly, this recent catalog of organizational needs does not focus on technology, strategy, culture, or even leadership, but on individual contributions.

Although neither term has a unified definition, creativity and empowerment are similar and each describes the above contributions. Behaviorists are demanding that employees be empowered, that they be free to exercise choice. It is believed that this freedom of choice will facilitate expressions of commitment [22], courage [8], involvement [6], risk taking [10], and imagination [15]. On a more personal, individual level, these qualities are remarkably similar to the description of creative people. Creative persons are curious, self-confident, optimistic, flexible, visionary, and have a sense of humor [20]:

Creativity and Empowerment

Similarities

Both creativity and empowerment have multiple definitions. Creativity is defined by both its manifestation and the impetus which energizes originality. Consequently, it is often defined in terms of its essence. Empowerment has such variation in its definitions that it is simply referred to as a heuristic. For this article, creativity will be defined as the act of bringing into existence something which did not exist before, and empowerment will be defined as an individual's belief in his/her ability to exercise choice.

Both creativity and empowerment have fanciful definitions; to some degree, they are the property of the philosopher and the idealist. Creativity, for example, is defined as the spark of the soul, joie de vivre, and one's claim to immortality. Empowerment, too, has idealistic advocates; it describes the maturation of the followers of Martin Luther King [12], the evolution of grassroots political action groups [14], and a philosophy of marginality in the women's movement [13]. For the individual, creativity is an expression of the soul; for the group, empowerment suggests dream fulfillment and the betterment of mankind.

However, they are also described very practically and have realistic applications. Creativity, for example, is a habit of work, persistence to achieve, and the mastery of a particular discipline. Practical empowerment has been associated with organizational structure [10], and systems [4], as well as managerial techniques [18].

The behavioral outcomes of these two phenomena are also similar. Creativity is manifested through innovation, entrepreneurship, inventive decision making, and original thinking [3,20]. Characteristics of empowerment are described as independence, awareness, risk taking, confidence, responsibility, and investment [12,18].

Creativity and empowerment are believed to result from comparable organizational factors. For example, creativity is enhanced by freedom of information and relaxation of conditioned thinking [17]; empowerment results from open communication and network building [10]. Access to decision making and control of resources are empowering [16]; providing resources and support and encouraging the solution of unstructured problems enhance creativity [20]. Low levels of supervision, participation in goal setting, and the establishment of challenging work goals foster creativity, while participation, expanded awareness, and being attuned to organizational goals empower individuals [20,7].

Finally, neither creativity nor empowerment is universally achievable. For example, personality factors are believed to exist which limit the individual's ability to accept self-control [1,5]. In a corollary fashion, many people believe that creative people innately march to the beat of a different drummer; therefore, creativity cannot be taught - you are either born creative or you are not [21]. …

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