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Creativity: Leading the Charge in Times of Change

Monday, April 14, 2014
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This post is first in a series which will include the rationale for creativity in the workplace, the trainability of creativity, and the importance of leadership for engaging workers in an innovative workplace.

Change is the new normal. It may sound cliché, but when product life cycles range from five years, for manufactured goods, to less than a year for technological products, this statement is reality. To survive and compete in today’s world, individuals and businesses must continuously change to adapt to evolving demands.

At every level, on a fairly consistent basis, workers must learn, unlearn, and relearn. Being unable to do this in the 21st century is, according to Alvin Toffler, the equivalent of being illiterate.

When we create, we introduce change. We bring into existence a novel concept that adds value to our performance, our teams, and our organizations. Humans have the unique capability to deliberately engage in creative thought, to direct their imaginations to resolve complex challenges, or to seize upon new opportunities.

Organizations that do not facilitate or leverage the creative talents of employees, customers, and suppliers become wedded to the status quo and cannot change quickly enough to remain viable. Think: Kodak, Blockbuster, and Radio Shack.

A valuable skill

Individuals who can direct their creativity deliberately to solve problems possess a valuable workplace skill—one that is in rising demand. In 2008, the Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, known as Tough Choices or Tough Times, cautioned that “Creativity, innovation, and flexibility will not be the special province of an elite group. It will be demanded of virtually everyone who is making a decent living, from graphic artists to assembly line workers, from insurance brokers to home builders.”

This line of thinking might explain why, in a 2012 global study by IBM, that CEO’s identified creativity as one of the key success factors for employees. Creativity now tops most lists of highly desirable workplace skills, and for good reason: creativity drives innovation and results in higher levels of employee engagement.

Models for learning that address desire for creative workers do exist, but they are hardly mainstream. In 2009, an educational framework was designed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) to prepare students for the changing demands of the workplace.

The P21 Framework identifies problem solving, creativity and innovation, flexibility and adaptability, and leadership as some of the top skills necessary for success in the 21st Century workplace. Unfortunately, despite widespread support for more creativity by parents and school teachers, the current trend in schools is toward standardization with an emphasis on single right answers—hardly a mirror of the real world students will face. As a result, most new graduates are entering the workforce, and thus, your corporate training rooms, without the types of problem solving and creative thinking skills employers want. This leaves the challenge of cultivating creativity to organizations.

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The role of the training professional

Training professional are in a unique position along the pathway of change. A Conference Board study, carried out in conjunction with ASTD, highlighted the fact that while creativity was included among the 14 most desired applied skills among new entrants, nearly 70 percent of human resource managers were not confident that their organization knew how to develop this “must have” skill.

Training professionals may not be determining policy, but you are in so many ways leading the charge toward change. Your skill as a trainer, your enthusiasm, and indeed your own ability to embrace change will play a part in inspiring those you lead and helping them adjust to each new demand.

So the big questions you may be thinking now are: Can creativity really be taught? Can anyone learn to be creative? Happily, there is no need for a philosophical discussion. The answer to both questions is a solid yes. Rigorous studies over the years have shown that not only do all people have some degree of creative ability; creativity skills can be developed and even deliberately applied. In other words, it is a trainable ability. And there is still more good news: proven methodologies for developing creativity skills already exist.

Here’s a review of some of the ways you and your organization can benefit from creativity. A longer discussion on the topic can be found in the article, “10 Reasons to Flex Your Creative Muscle.”

Creativity trumps intelligence. No one would deny the importance of intelligence, but it turns out to be a relatively weak predictor of creative achievement. For truly great creative achievements, the best cognitive predictor is a capacity for divergent thinking, which can be trained.

Creativity drives prosperity. Forget the notion that creativity gets in the way of the bottom line. When researchers compared over 300 firms and applied measures for innovation, they found that the most innovative firms enjoyed more than 30 percent greater market share.

Creativity solves “wicked” problems. Some problems are fairly typical and predictable. These are the “algorithmic” problems addressed by things like organizational procedure manuals. But where is the manual for dealing with more imposing, unpredictable, and complex problems, the ones that no one could have imagined because you are in new territory? In this situation, it looks like you will have to write that page in the manual yourself, because the only way to overcome such “heuristic” problems is to apply creative thinking.

Creativity builds community in the workplace. Acknowledging someone’s creativity is to acknowledge their humanity. When workers are given the tools and permission to actively solve problems, and the organizational climate supports creative input, workers feel more invested in their job. Creative problem-solving can bring out a sense of ownership and mission.

Creativity makes you “future-proof.” Eric Hoffer pointed out that “in times of change, learners inherit the earth”. This cannot refer to passive learning, but active, deliberate, self-directed learning. In other words, creative learners succeed where others fail. Problem solvers must be independent learners, identifying knowledge gaps, gathering and selecting relevant data, and applying the new information to the problem. It makes us think that it’s about time we supplemented the term “continuous improvement” with “continuous creativity.”

In the next installment of this series, we will take a closer look at how creativity can be cultivated. If you don’t want to wait, you can begin exploring right away using the resources below.

About the Author

Gerard J. Puccio is Department Chair and Professor at the International Center for Studies in Creativity, Buffalo State; a unique academic department that has offered a Master of Science degree in creativity since 1975. Gerard has written more than 50 articles, chapters and books. His most recent book titled The Innovative Team, co-authored with Chris Grivas, is a fable about a team that was able to apply proven creative-thinking tools to turn around a dysfunctional and unproductive situation. In 2011 he and his colleagues published the second edition of their book Creative Leadership: Skills that Drive Change. In recognition of his outstanding work as a scholar, Dr. Puccio received the State University of New York Chancellor's Recognition Award for Research Excellence, as well as the President's Medal for Scholarship and Creativity. Dr. Puccio is an accomplished speaker and consultant; he has worked with major corporations, universities, and numerous school districts. Some of his recent clients include the BBC, Fisher-Price Brands, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Kraft Foods, Rich Products, BNP Paribas, Rubbermaid, Coca-Cola, and the Fashion Institute of Technology. He has delivered creativity workshops and presentations across the United States and in more than 20 different countries. In 2013 Dr. Puccio was selected by the Teaching Company as one of America’s Great Lecturers and as such was invited to design and deliver a course comprised of twenty-four 30-minute video sessions. This “Great Course,” titled The Creative Thinker’s Toolkit, was released in January 2014. Dr. Puccio was also a featured speaker at a TEDx event held in New York City in December of 2012. Among many other responsibilities, Dr. Puccio also serves on the selection committee for the Toy Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. Gerard holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Manchester, England.

About the Author

Pamela Szalay, M.S. in Creativity and Change Leadership, Advanced Certificate in Education, and B.A. in Music and English, is an educator, creativity coach, entrepreneur and professional musician. She is the founder and President of Imagine &, co-founder of Beyonder, LLC. With her unique combination of skills and experience, Pamela likes to think of herself as someone who understands creativity from two sides: as a practitioner and as a scholar. Pamela is also an active member of ASTD Niagara, a local chapter of the American Society for Training and Development, and serves as the Vice President of Chapter Services. She can be reached at pamela@imagineand.com. 

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