The importance of creativity and innovation in the workplace is well documented, but the debate over nature vs. nurture continues with some authorities maintaining that people are born with attributes such as creativity and innovation while others argue that such attributes can be inculcated over time (Furnham & Heaven 1999). To determine the facts in these matters, this case study examines the relevant literature to gain some fresh insights concerning how creativity and innovation can be most effectively stimulated, support and sustained within a given organization. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the case study's conclusion.
Companies of all types and sizes are currently attempting to gain a competitive edge through creativity and innovation. Creativity in the workplace is defined by Garrison, Harvey and Napier (2008) as being "the production of ideas, products, or procedures that are (a) novel or original; (b) appropriate for the time and place; and (c) potentially useful to the employing organization" (p. 21). The concept of creativity in the workplace includes (a) generating new ways to perform work, (b) identifying novel procedures or innovative ideas, or (c) reconfiguring known approaches into new alternatives (Garrison et al. 2008). The two defining characteristics of creativity in the workplace then relate to its context (which is becoming increasingly global in nature today) and potential applications (which all involve some type of added value). These defining characteristics are described by Garrison and his associates thusly: "Creativity, then, focuses on process of coming up with original ideas that fit the global context and have value and on outcomes, which can be new products, services, processes, or structures" (Garrison et al. 2008, p. 22).
Notwithstanding these positive connotations, it is also important to recognize the potentially negative connotations that words such as "creativity" can have in the workplace. In this regard, Devine (2006) emphasizes that, "In the workplace, creativity often has a pejorative meaning stemming from the popular notion that it equates to 'arty,' which for many corporate managers or lead foremen conjures up images of berets and feathers and dissolute, impulsive, and irresponsible behavior" (p. 8). Citing the examples of "creative accounting" with respect to Enron, Devine explains that creativity and innovation go sufficiently hand in hand that the terms can be used virtually interchangeably, particularly if the change in terminology will help convince managers of the need for creativity in the workplace. According to Devine, "Change the word from creativity to innovation, however, and managerial shoulders might begin to relax considerably around the workplace. No matter what the term, creativity in the workplace is here to stay and in globally competitive organizations, creativity occurs in every department at every level" (2006, p. 9).
In many cases, job design can have an enormous effect on creativity and innovation. In some cases, rank-and-file employees are relegated to mind-numbingly boring jobs that are characterized by assembly-line repetition, jobs that leave little or no room for creativity or innovative thought. According to Roth (1999), though, as more and more employees are freed from these types of repetitious jobs, they will enjoy more time for those activities that contribute to creativity and innovative thought in the workplace. In this regard, Roth (1999) emphasizes that, "When machines take over increasing numbers of the repetitious functions in primary production and service industries, more people will become involved in R&D efforts, a type of developmental work that will benefit the bottom line while, at the same time, unleashing individual creativity by providing stimulation and challenge" (p. 161).
Other authorities, though, suggest that not only job design, but the environment in which employees work can affect the creative process. For instance, Clements-Croome (2000) notes that most business settings have not been designed with the needs of employees in mind, but have rather been focused on portraying an image of power and authority. According to Clements-Croome, "It occurs to me that the desire to create an environment which is conducive to creative and productive work indicates quite a radical shift in the whole philosophy of work and the workplace. Work and the workplace, for the great majority of people, have not been instigated, designed, begun and built with the workers themselves in mind" (2000, p. 18). Fortunately, it is possible to design buildings that facilitate the creative process in ways that can lead to innovation and increased profitability (Clements-Croome, 2000). Beyond the physical space that is involved, Cangemi, Davis, Sand and Lott (2011) also report that organizational leaders are in a good position to create a workplace environment that facilitates creative thinking and processes. According to these authorities, "The creativity-oriented leader must develop an environment conducive to out-of-the-box thinking to find more creative solutions to organization problems and competition" (Cangemi et al. 2011, p. 27).
This all sounds well and good, of course, but many leaders are uncomfortable introducing potentially destabilizing elements into their managerial comfort zones. In this regard, Cangemi and his associates maintain that a new type of leadership is needed to help organization become "unstuck" from their existing inflexible bureaucracies to more nimble frameworks that are more responsive to changes in the environment. For instance, Cangemi et al. note that, "Indeed, creating an organizational environment where there is freedom to think is stimulating, rewarding and fulfilling requires a different type of leader, one with a different mentality - certainly quite different from the savior-oriented leader and different from the stability-oriented leader" (2011, p. 28).
In an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace, Cangemi and his colleagues conclude the nothing short of achieving this level of informed leadership will provide companies with the competitive advantage they will need to survive in the years to come. As Cangemi et al. emphasize, "In today's global economy, a third stage, creative-competitive oriented leadership is required to ensure an organization will compete and move to its optimum, most competitive level in the market-place. Today, organizations must reach the third level of leadership to really compete in this global economy" (2011, p. 28). To achieve this level of competitive requires a corporate culture that places a high value on creative thought and which helps direct such thought toward value-added activities that can improve the organization's performance and profitability (Cangemi et al. 2011).
Achieving this level of competitiveness may also require some fundamental changes to the manner in which employees are rewarded for the time they spend in creative pursuits in the workplace. Performance appraisals that are rigidly tied to productivity and goal achievement ignore the potential contributions that creative processes can provide. In this regard, Bujak (2003) recommends that to truly fostering creativity in the workplace demands a reevaluation of existing business processes and job designs. According to Bujak (2003), "A blindly accepted practice, using productivity indexing to judge work performance, is a hindrance to adaptability. Productivity indexing is often a major impediment to creativity in the workplace because it forces individuals to emulate already existing approaches and prevents creating new ways of organizing and redesigning work processes" (p. 4).
Finally, a growing body of research indicates that there is an inextricable association between curiosity and creativity. In this regard, Garrison and his associates report that, "Curiosity is the engine that drives creativity; and when nurtured, curiosity promotes creativity and innovativeness" (2008, p. 22). Therefore, enhanced organizational creativity can provide the framework that is needed to encourage risk-taking, creative thought and to allow for experimentation in ways that help enterprises gain a competitive advantage compared to their less creative and innovative counterparts (Garrison et al. 2008).
The research showed that creativity and the innovation it can produce in the workplace has become the focus of an increasing amount of attention from organizational researchers in recent years. The research also showed that there was good reason for this additional attention because creativity can provide companies of all types and sizes with the competitive advantage they need in an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace. Creativity in the workplace was shown to include the development of processes that were novel or original that are contextually appropriate and possessed the potential to add value to an organization. In addition, creativity in the workplace also included outcomes such as generating new ways to perform work, identifying novel procedures or innovative ideas, or reconfiguring known approaches into new alternatives. In sum, the two defining characteristics of creativity in the workplace related to context and the potential for contributing to an organization's bottom line.
Bujak, J.S. (2003). 'How to Improve Hospital-physician Relationships.' Frontiers of Health
Services Management, Vol. 20, No. 2, pp. 3-5.
Cangemi, J., Davis, R., Sand, T. & Lott, J. (2011). 'Three Levels of Organizational Challenges
and Change: Needed-three Different Styles of Leadership.' Organization Development
Journal, Vol. 29, No. 1, pp. 27-29.
Clements-Croome, D. (2000). Creating the Productive Workplace. London: E & FN Spon.
Devine, M. (2006). Creativity in the World of Work. Peer Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 8-10.
Furnham, A. & Heaven, P. (1999). Personality and Social Behaviour. London: Arnold.