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  • Writer's pictureWanda Wallace

Creativity: A New Perspective

By Dr. Wanda Wallace

Jennifer Mueller

I have worked with many leaders and teams on how to create a climate of creativity. It’s creativity that generates the breakthrough ideas and breakthrough results. But for all the benefits creativity brings to the team, creativity creates issues we need to manage. In particular, the creative process is messy, mistakes happen and creative personalities are not always the easiest people to manage.

Creativity thought leader Jennifer Mueller gave me fresh insight into creativity on teams (See my interview with Jennifer on “Out of the Comfort Zone”.)

A few years back, Jennifer’s paper, “The Bias Against Creativity,” went viral and was downloaded more than 65,000 times—receiving more than 100 media mentions and being described as a “famous study” in The Atlantic. She decided to delve even more deeply and wrote a book entitled: Creative Change: Why We Resist It and How We Can Embrace It. Jennifer’s work has been featured in many major media outlets including WSJ, NPR, CNN, HBR, The Atlantic, Fortune, Forbes, and Fast Company.

Here are the main points from the interview:

  1. When people become managers, they change their mental model of what is creative. The mental model of what is creative becomes what has already been successful. Thus, managers are not just looking for new ideas. Instead, they are looking for proven ideas – ones that have been tried and tested and that already show success.

  2. As a result, if a team member has a creative idea, then the person needs to present the idea in ways that make it look like it has already succeeded. For example, provide early data from a test, compare the idea to something that is already known and successful.

  3. Metrics help illustrate success but metrics alone are inadequate. Metrics are rarely believed.

If you are a team member with creative ideas, here’s what you can do to better “sell” your ideas as successes:

  1. Have a reputation of an innovator (vs creative type) = one who is savvy, organized, efficient and who can get things done. That way, you are seen as someone who turns ideas into successes.

  2. Get people to talk about the idea and allow the discussion to continue over time. That way, people begin to see how the idea will be successful. Don’t pitch a creative idea as the best and don’t have people choose the best idea among a group. Those frameworks work against creativity. Instead, pitch creative ideas for feedback. Ask for feedback on a creative idea, take the feedback on board and make small changes. That way, the team leader feels some ownership of idea and the idea begins to feel like a success.

  3. Make analogies – comparisons – recategorize – so people understand what the idea is about. Often an idea isn’t understood at first. Making a comparison of the idea to something that is already successful helps managers value the idea.

  4. Show that people are already using the idea so leaders can imagine further successes.

If you are a manager who wants more creative ideas, here’s what you can do to foster more creative solutions:

  1. Place bets on people not the ideas. Choose people who are curious, who don’t quit if it doesn’t work, who will keep trying again and again and who will ask questions to solve problems.

  2. Jettison the belief that a good manager is one who knows things and a bad manager is one who doesn’t know things. Abandon the need to have things under control, not messy, clear.

  3. Try inventing something yourself. Study entrepreneurs and the process they really go through. Take a design course.

Creativity is a messy process with unknown outcomes. However, the smarter we become in pitching creative solutions and in managing the creative process, the better the ultimate result.


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