The greater shift towards an information-based economy requires a more sophisticated workforce with higher order skills such as creativity, flexibility in thought, the ability to make decisions based upon incomplete information, complex pattern recognition abilities and synthesis skills has made business and industry leaders cry out for flexible and creative employees. Is that what they want? Or need? This is underpinned by the revolution information and communication technologies demanding new skills to, say, manage social media within the business environment. These are challenges for both worker and manager.

Whilst Pasteur’s dictum ‘Chance favours the prepared mind’ suggests that being ready will enable the creative leap, many reports on creativity acknowledge the degree luck plays in this process. However it is worth noting the famous Samuel Goldwyn saying, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

The quotes above and many other snappy bon mots suggest that the term creativity means something to everybody but not the same. So, let’s take five minutes to review of this ambiguous and promiscuous term.

The term ‘creativity’ has become a widely used word in a variety of contexts. It is a catch all word applied to many activities in business and art from creative writing to ‘creative’ car hire, and somewhat disingenuously, to accounting.

There is no one agreed definition; most attempts refer to some aspect of novelty, being unusual, statistically infrequent or unique and it has to be an appropriate solution.

We therefore have to base any assessment of creativity on the output / product rather than the process or the person. Some writers on the matter argue that creativity is not embodied in an individual but in the process of which the initial ‘spark’ is but an initial component. It could be argued that this approach takes the whole process and calls it creative.

Much writing on creativity is after the fact with an assessment by recognised experts (the field) in the area of skill or knowledge (the domain) in an attempt to codify and assess the common attributes of the creative individual.

Creativity is also a social construct especially in the arts, where taste, fashion and social conventions will influence that assessment.  There is also a challenge to differentiate the term creativity from innovation and invention.

The consensus view is that creativity is an ‘internal’ word; it is about ideas and novelty. Innovation an ‘external’ word, provides something that can be measured (or have been) that takes the creative ideas + action = novelty + value

How might we recognise creativity?

It has been suggested that there are five criterion to make a product a creative product.

They are:

  • Novelty. The product must be original.
  • The second is adaptive to reality. The product must solve a problem.
  • The third criterion is it must be evaluated, elaborated, developed, and communicated to other.
  • The product must be produced.
  • The fourth criterion is the product must be aesthetically pleasing. The product must look good.
  • The fifth and final criterion is the product must transform human existence.

Why do we need to rethink and re-frame our thoughts on creativity and therefore it’s management?

There has been three ‘waves’ in studying creativity. The first looked at the ‘personalities of exceptional creators’ the second ‘focused on mental processes’. The third wave has moved out of the domain of the psychologist and into a more fluid cross discipline domain that looks at social systems.

If you accept the view that ‘creativity’ is not the province of the tortured genius but a team process then managing creativity has much to do with the skills to manage diverse teams (that tend to be more creative) and the factors that encourage creative outcomes.

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed – they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce…?

— The cuckoo clock

The Third Man (1949) Spoken by Orson Welles added to the Graham Greene Screenplay