#128 from R&D
Innovator Volume 3, Number 11
Creativity: Manager's Relationship with the Researcher is Key
Basu is assistant professor of management at Oklahoma State
University in Stillwater, and director of Educon Inc., an
international educational consulting firm. His research and consulting interests are in leadership, team
building, organizational culture, and organizational creativity.
Dr. Green is professor of organizational behavior at the
Krannert School of Management, Purdue University.
He writes, lectures, and consults in technology and
innovation management, leadership, organizational socialization,
is, and always has been, the seed of organizational affluence and
economic growth. Certainly,
the world is more convenient and prosperous because of the
creative genius of people like Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers,
George Eastman, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, and Bill Gates.
Heretics of their time, they were able to alter our world
by the sheer courage of their ideas, and the willingness to
translate them into salable products and services.
intellectual curiosity no doubt prompted Edison and the Wrights to
engineer the electric bulb and the airplane, we believe external
motivators can make the creative process even more fruitful.
Among these motivators are material rewards like pay
raises, promotions, and overseas travel.
But beyond material rewards, there are other catalysts for
conducted in a Fortune 500 company, highlighted several
characteristics of the creative process, particularly the way in
which project teams can be designed to enhance creativity and
serve as a catalyst for innovation.
Relationships with the Manager
One of our key
findings was that R&D personnel are more likely to be creative
when they have favorable relationships with their manager. Why? Because
this relationship confers non-material benefits that enhance
relationships with managers typically yield greater autonomy for
scientists and engineers. In
our study, they reported more freedom to try out new ideas,
undertake non-routine tasks, and even work on personal projects.
They also were permitted to exchange non-proprietary
information with colleagues outside the company which, in turn,
successful researchers reported greater managerial support, in the
form of emotional and administrative assistance, particularly for
unconventional and risky projects.
When they faced technical obstacles, these employees also
saw their managers as more motivating and encouraging, quicker to
act on paperwork and financial requests, and less likely to
penalize failure. Again,
we found a strong correlation between relationship quality,
managerial support, and process and product innovation.
personnel with excellent relationships were more committed to the
organization; they reported more inner drive, higher work
satisfaction, better attitudes towards innovation, and more
willingness to engage in activities that would help the
higher level of motivation and involvement also translated into
greater creative output.
What are the
implications of this research for team building in R&D
since good relationships make it physically, emotionally, and
politically easier for scientists and engineers to be creative,
project leaders and staff must be compatible.
R&D personnel in poorer relationships were less likely
to take risks, engage in unconventional thought, and garner
resources necessary to the creative process.
In fact, project leaders could do little to motivate
scientists and engineers who did not see their managers as allies.
Second, we may
need to sacrifice some technical knowledge for the sake of
harmony—since, in the end, individual brilliance means little if
team members don’t cooperate.
In that respect, a hot-shot R&D group differs little
from a championship basketball team.
Versus Technical Competence
indicates that effective personal relationships between leaders
and members result primarily from three factors, which can be used
to select the ideal team.
charismatic leaders forge more meaningful relationships with team
members, and thus awaken the best in their reportees.
So it makes sense to ask charismatic people, rather than
technical superstars, to lead project teams.
This is not to denigrate the importance of technical
expertise, which R&D personnel insisted was important
among managers--but not as essential
as the ability to inspire, motivate, and energize.
charismatic leaders are excited, inspired visionaries.
Interpersonal attraction is important even in
technologically intensive areas, and these managers create a sense
of urgency among the scientists and engineers who report to them.
In turn, these scientists and engineers adopt more positive
attitudes towards innovation and the need to be more innovative in
the future. These
leaders also foster creativity by generating higher levels of
commitment, among subordinates, towards the company.
Third, these team
leaders are able to establish strong relationships because they
are positive role models: it’s
“hip” to resemble them.
common ground is necessary for the development of relationships.
Our research indicates that team leaders are often more
compatible with employees who have similar education levels and
beliefs about the dignity of work, the need for growth, and the
role of rewards. Apparently,
similarities of work values and education give leaders and
subordinates a “common language” on which to base
above analysis seems to flout the popular notion that diversity is
necessary in R&D teams--a notion which has emerged from
previous research. However,
we believe this contradiction is more apparent than real, if we
understand the multi-stage nature of organizational innovation.
Scientific breakthroughs aren’t valuable to companies
until they’re translated into tangible products and services, a
process which frequently involves building compromise, ignoring
egos, and distributing rewards equitably.
Only when team leaders and members are compatible can we
have a climate of cooperation that allows R&D success.
doesn’t necessarily imply homogeneity, but it does suggest
agreement on fundamental issues, values, and goals.
Otherwise, R&D teams are unlikely to be successful.
It seems, in that respect, R&D is a bit like marriage.