Feeling Threatened By Creative Ideas?

Whenever I propose that people, of all ranks, take some time to reflect, to chill, to converse with children, to play, or for heaven’s sake, to eat a lunch without reading  memos or emails, I know how difficult it is to actually do any of these activities.  The people at the lower rank can’t do so comfortably without the ‘permission’ of management or the safety-in-numbers provided by colleagues.  If the proposal comes from the people in the positions of authority, some of these managers may feel as if they are imposing yet another “activity” (even if it’s just for fun and relaxation) onto their direct reports who have already exhausted their discretionary time.  Such is organizational life these days.  But the paradox of life is that the more you think you can’t do something outside of the regular domain, that’s precisely when you really need to engage in something not directly or wholly related to work.

Aberration, playfulness, or exploration into the unexpected terrain…these are the bedrocks for creativity and innovation.  But…

The success/failure of creative and innovative measures in organizations are all related to implementation, or the lack of it.  It’s a form of the Knowing-Doing Gap to which I referred in my earlier post.  To begin with, creative and innovative ideas signal potential changes which are generally viewed with skepticism at best and downright hostility at worst.  However, those who are directly responsible for generating the new ideas and/or pushing for the implementation do not themselves experience skepticism or hostility (toward the validity of such an idea).  This provides one glaring clue:  Involve as many people in the changing process as early as possible.

Ideas machine

Ideas machine (Photo credit: yesyesnono)

Second, creative and innovative ideas are anathema to organizations which are, at their core, about orders, procedures, rules, predictability, etc.  Just putting the words “creativity/innovation” in the organization’s mission statement means zilch; it’s just paying lip services.

But more importantly, we need to ask some basic questions:  Do we really know how to recognize a creative/innovative idea when someone presents it to us?  Is there a framework to assess such potential idea(s)?  If it’s in the scientific or technical arena, there may be more guidelines and signposts by which to judge the idea and the consequences of its implementation.  But if it’s in the managerial domain of personnel, relationships, emotional assessments, etc., that is much harder to assess.

Markus Baer in a recently published study, “Putting Creativity to Work:  The Implementation of creative ideas in organizations” (Academy of Management Journal, 2012, vol. 55, No.5, 1102-1119) provides some insightful analysis of why creative ideas are rarely implemented and suggests some pathways to achieve more frequent implementation.

Putting Baer’s points plainly, managers are generally reluctant to implement potentially creative ideas because that would upset the routines of production.   And managers are responsible for production output, or so we believe.  What’s more, if the idea-bearers themselves do not push the ideas further for implementation, their ideas will remain just intriguing thoughts on paper.

Therefore, for creative and innovative ideas to blossom into fruition, the idea-bearer needs to be motivated and to mobilize her/his social network toward implementation.  Further, the idea-bearer needs to especially cultivate network ties who not only will buy in the value of the idea but have the authority and power to advance such an idea for implementation.  Once an innovative/a creative idea is conceived –by no means a small matter – the pathway to implementation is fraught with typical political maneuvering.  Those who are good at creating ideas are not necessarily equipped with political acumen or social skills for such maneuvering.  However, a highly motivated individual with an innovative idea still can find a champion or two to push for implementation.  Of course, even finding a champion requires powerful convincing and persuasion, not a small task either.

A social network diagram

A social network diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In scientific organizations, many idea-bearers are introverts, who while motivated may not be comfortable with networking.  This does not mean it’s hopeless for them; they can rely on writing as a persuasive tool and focus on only a handful of people who are in positions of power to help implement their ideas.

In other words, implementation process is boring and messy and yet terribly and utterly necessary and essential to realize a creative idea.

And all this doesn’t address the forces that oppose potentially creative and innovative ideas.   What would some people of authority and power do when faced  with “perceived threats” posed by innovation/creativity.  After all, to some, changes mean upsetting the status (quo).

In sum, when a creative/innovative idea occurs, it cannot be just about the idea-bearer’s motivation and networking ability in implementing the idea.  For every action, there is a reaction, or counter-action.  The idea-bearer and her network ties have to be keenly aware of not just the usual obstacles but also the opposition of “no.”

But finally, I still go back to those basic questions:  Do we know how to recognize a creative/an innovative idea? Enough to make sustained pushes?  Do you know how?  Please share.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct contact:  taso100@gmail.com

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