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Creativity the Organization, Part 2

The best organization to promote a culture of innovation and creativity is a flat and de-centralized organization where authority is continually pushed down to the people who are doing the work.

This is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

The Prospector Organization

The best organization to promote a culture of innovation and creativity is a flat and de-centralized organization where authority is continually pushed down to the people who are doing the work. I call this a “prospector” organization, and I find it to be a type of manufacturing organization that works well in a changing environment where the company must quickly respond to customer demands, find new opportunities, and foster creativity A prospector’s prime capability is in finding and exploiting new product and market opportunities in a changing marketplace.

Centralized command and control — “Control is decentralized because the information needed to assess current performance and to take the appropriate corrective action is located in the operating units themselves., not in the upper echelons of management ”

Decentralized decision making and communication — “Prospectors prefer short, horizontal feedback loops. Therefore when a deviation in unit performance is detected, this information is not channeled to higher management for action but rather its fed directly back to the unit for immediate correction.” This is truly an example of pushing responsibility and authority down to the people who do the work.

Leadership — The real key to developing culture of innovation is the leader of the company.  Innovation means change, experimentation and new ideas which are inherently risky. If the leader is risk averse then the company and employees will be risk averse. The best leaders that I have met who promote innovation are people who have been entrepreneurs and have worked in the marketplace. They are comfortable with risk and are willing to take the chances necessary to grow. The leader is the key to establishing an “innovation culture”. If the leader is not fully supportive of a creative environment and doesn’t inspire the employees to take chances- it just will not happen.

Tolerance of experimentation — Pushing authority down to the people who do the work means empowering them to experiment with new processes and procedures. This entails a culture that promotes risk-taking and pushing employees out of their comfort zones. It means convincing them that they do not have to fear criticism and reprisals for their mistakes and rewarding them for their successes.

Formalization and administration — “Prospectors develop only a low degree of structural organization, since it would not be economically feasible to codify job descriptions and operating procedures in an organization whose tasks change frequently”.

Deviancy tolerant — Indeed, formalization is a means of reducing the probability that deviant behavior will occur which may be a contradiction to creativity. Deviant behavior and creativity often go hand in hand. A study by Professor Jennifer Mueller from Cornell University found that “in most cases being creative seems to put people at a disadvantage for climbing the corporate ladder.” The study shows that those employees that think outside the box may be penalized for it rather than promoted in large corporations. The study found a “significant correlation between being creative and being seen as poor management material.” Despite the fact that the IBM study shows that CEOs think that creativity is vital to their organizations, it doesn’t mean they foster creativity in their cultures. The people who get promoted are people who conform to the culture and play by the rules.

Just about all parents recognize when children are very young that they express a lot of creativity. They are naturally open to new ideas, love to experiment and accept new things and new ideas as the norm. But by the end of the first grade, most children have lost their childhood predisposition to creativity. Why? Because of learned socialization.

Education teaches kids to stay focused and on task, to quit daydreaming, and to memorize all of the rules and regulations that dictate their behavior in school. This socialization and conformity goes on for the next 20 years “with grades, tests, college admission, and degrees that reward logical thinking, factual competence, and language and math skills.” Once you are out of the education system and go to work there is a good chance a young person will work for a corporation or government agency where rules, regulations, and control are still the prime drivers.

Human Resource departments tend to reward people who fit the job description and exhibit logical thinking, factual competence and left brain thinking. They have a bias towards conformity and are good at screening out oddball employees who don’t fit their pre-conceived mold. And the larger a corporation or agency, the more management feels they have to use efficient methods and tools to control and anticipate employee problems.

So in both education, government, and corporations, left brain thinkers are rewarded and the right brain is often ignored.  So I think that increasing creativity in a manufacturing organization is less about hiring the lone genius and more about getting creativity out of existing employees. I believe that creativity can’t happen without changing from a rigid organization that depends on control, rules, and a formal structure to a flexible and less formalized organization where employees are encouraged to take risks, experiment, and question the status quo without reprisal.

To create an innovation culture, some companies have developed teams of creative people, formed separate organizations to develop new ideas, or purchased a start-up company. Every manufacturing company (large and small) is facing the control vs. creativity question because they all know that we must be innovative to survive.