Killing Creativity

“An idea every minute and every idea a great idea!” Although this sentiment may not be articulated, many businesses hold to it. CEOs and executive managers understand that today’s rapidly-changing global marketplace puts pressure on businesses to become increasingly innovative in order to compete. New products and new ideas are constantly needed to gain that competitive edge.

Organizations need ideas. But who produces those really great ones? Dean Keith Simonton investigated over 2,000 scientists and discovered that the most respected scientists were more productive than those scientists who did not have as high reputations (is that any surprise to any of us?). However, the most respected scientists, while having more good ideas and successful projects, also had more POOR ideas and failures. Michael Michalko, an expert on genius and creativity, refers to this in his book, Cracking Creativity, “Geniuses produce. Period.” They produce – both good and bad.

An example of an idea generator is Thomas Edison. He was an incredible genius – but he also had a remarkable number of inventive failures.

Another person with a lot of successes is William Shakespeare. But while many of his plays and sonnets are masterpieces, many others are studied in school and university as examples of what not to do.

Unfortunately, most businesses reinforce the message that each idea has to be a winner. All ideas have to be fully formed and complete – or you better watch your job.

But business isn’t the only creativity killer. We all kill great ideas before they are formed by sending out the message that we are happy only when presented with finished, successful products. We don’t mean to but we all, at one time or another, unconsciously send out the message, “If you don’t produce, you’re fired (or stupid, or inadequate, or uncreative, or a poor performer)!” And that suppresses and ultimately kills creativity as surely as if we had bound the eyes, mouth and hands of every creative person in our workforce.

In order to encourage creativity, we need to systematically create workplaces that make it safe for individuals to come up with “not so great” or “half-baked” ideas. And we need to help other individuals build on those half-formed ideas. Organizations need to generate a plethora of ideas, then select those that seem most promising, and move forward with them.

They also need to revisit those ideas that were rejected in the past in order to see if new insight is sparked by a forgotten idea. After all, sometimes those rejected ideas are the ones that are most successful – when they are picked up by the competition.

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