Creativity at Work reviewed

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Title: Creativity at Work - Developing the right practices to make innovation happen
Authors: Jeff DeGraff, Katherine A Lawrence
Publisher: University of Michigan Business School Management Services
Jossey-Bass, 989 Market Street, San Francisco, CA94103-1741
ISBN: 0-7879-5725-9
Price: £18.50

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Creativity is often seen as the province only of those who are seen to be ‘creative’ and often as something to which most ‘ordinary’ managers and individuals can only vainly aspire. This book takes a very different premise and explores thoroughly and convincingly.

The authors, both from the University of Michigan Business School, present creativity as a competence which can be mapped, planned and accessed by anyone who takes the trouble to master and use the techniques and practices described. The writers believe that the use of creativity in business is somewhat unique in that its purpose is to produce superior performance for customers and investors. The background of the authors differs, one an academic who views creativity as an output of holistic thinking, the other with practical experience of creativity not only in education, but also in the arts.

Their target audience is managers who want to develop their people and practices to be more creative at work. The book is about how any of us can use creative practices to help ourselves and our colleagues produce more valuable results, in other words to add value. The authors suggest, convincingly, that creativity takes many forms and produces many different forms of value of which innovation is only one. They go on to suggest that the practical results of creativity vary considerably in business and that creativity is most successful when organisational practices are directed to a specific situation. An interesting concept, which seems obvious when stated, but which is not always in my experience. Part of the search for creativity is that creativity occurs at many stages in the process of “generating, developing, making and selling new products, services and processes, not just in the creating of new ideas”. A great idea on its own won’t add value, it has to be turned into something tangible in order to do so. Because creativity is what makes something better or new the authors believe it is the best route to creating value. It is defined by the authors as “a purposeful activity (or set of activities) that produce valuable products, services, processes, or ideas that are better or new”. Such activity can be performed by a group, an individual or an organisation.

The book offers a framework or map of creativity in the workplace in order to help the reader recognise each creative situation in order to take the correct action. Many examples are given from a variety of firms and involving different practices. A range of tools is provided as a basis for developing the kind of creativity specific situations need.

Managing creativity, we are told is fundamentally about achieving the right mix of purposes (the outcome or goal you want to achieve) practices (what you do) and people.

Achieving the right mix is the core of the book and the key idea on which the rest of the book hangs is the four profiles which can be used to map creativity. These profiles are:

  • Incubate
  • Imagine
  • Invest
  • Improve
  • Each profile is a description of the biases and preferred creative activities of particular individuals, groups and organisations, coupled with the desired creative outcomes of their activities.

    Incubate is described as “growing a community through shared values and learning” and the example given is Alcoholics Anonymous.

    Imagine equates to “breakthrough ideas”, with the example of the Walt Disney Company which invented radical products, services and markets.

    Invest is the profile of “short-term goals” where competition takes place through focused initiatives, hard work and partnership. IBM is the example quoted.

    The fourth profile Improve is concerned with implementing systems, structures and standards incremental adjustments rather than major ‘leaps’ figure strongly here. The example quoted is MacDonalds.

    The four profiles and appropriate techniques and practices to assist with each are explained in detail. The point is made repeatedly that the use of the appropriate practices will aid successful results. The “wrong” practices for the profile and required outcomes would work against successful achievement.

    The importance of the four profiles and the map which together they create, is that they provide direction. They can help to get people and practices working towards the same purposes or outputs. Table 1 on page 18 summarizes the four creativity profiles and to my mind presents an unarguable reason for reading further. The map of the profiles is returned to many times in terms of people, characteristics, work sellings and risk.

    Having begun the book with a degree of scepticism I completed it feeling that there is much in it which will be of value to me and to many of the managers I know in a range of organisations. If you want to revitalise your creativity or that of your group, read this book – there’s a lot of sense in its contents.

    Reviewed by Diane Bailey.

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