…individual managers in most organizations believe that they cannot fail: If they champion a project that fails…it will constitute a blotch on their work record, blocking their rise through the organization.

Clayton Christensen

Creative Organizations

Creativity needs to be nurtured and not stifled. The latter is easy to do.  Work and educational structures routinely deter creative thinking.

Creativity can be risky at work

In his book The Innovator’s Dilemma, writer Clayton Christensen evokes a multi-tiered, complex organisation in which a hierarchy of managers report to their superiors. A lower-level manager building her career needs a track record of success and profit in order to be considered for promotion through the ranks of the organization. Such a person will likely be a careful and prudent manager and will avoid at all costs any risk that may compromise the bottom line. The safest approach is always the tried and true ways of doing things.

Creativity is by definition the association of different things into new forms or ideas. Creative, new ideas are untried and untested. There is a strong chance that they will not lead to innovation and immediate new avenues to profit. For this reason, lower level managers will understandably discourage this creative thinking, as they simply cannot afford the risk. Paradoxically, it is often these people, the workers on the ground, reporting to the lower levels of management, who bring diversity and new ways of thinking into an organization. Their potential for generating new ideas and engaging in creative thinking is very great, but the structures in which they work too often inhibit such contributions.

Creativity can be risky in education

The same thing happens in education. It has become clear in recent years that inquiry-based teaching produces the best results in a world where educators cannot possibly predict the demands of the future world for which they are preparing children.   Inquiry-based learning is however variable and somewhat unpredictable and runs counter to the standardized testing movement imposed by governments around the world.   Such tests generally measure acquisition of facts and processes and not the ability to engage in critical, creative thinking. In some jurisdictions, teachers are hired, retained or dismissed based solely on the performance of their students on these tests. It’s all too often a one-size-fits-all system in which creativity is far too risky, for it may not produce the grades required.

These two examples are symptomatic of a society that relies on two main types of organizations that abhor and devalue creative thinking.