Leader Volume 8, Number 4
Paradox of Creativity
Ms. Carlisle is a consultant specializing in creativity, innovation and organization development. Phone 512-345-2082, www.ideagate.com, email@example.com
The edict comes
down from on high and permeates the organization, “Go Forth and
be Creative.” Sound
familiar? In today’s fast-paced, techno-driven, competitive
workplace, the need to be creative and innovative is a given.
No level of an organization is immune, and management is
given the charge of setting an example.
mindset that needs to be in place to encourage creativity is a
Imagine a ladder
where each step provides support and a base for the steps farther
up the ladder. Each
step on the ladder is equally important to reaching the
destination, but to get there you must begin with that first step.
journey with the first step of openness--being willing to hear new
ideas, try different approaches and consider various options.
Ideas and connections can come from many sources, and
having an open attitude
is imperative to creating a culture for creativity.
Openness can help establish a receptive and encouraging
environment for new ideas to blossom.
grow and bureaucracies take hold, attitudes can become more
restrictive, causing openness to be more difficult to maintain.
For a wonderful and entertaining look at how to avoid being
sucked into the life-squeezing bureaucracy, read Orbiting
the Giant Hairball (Viking, New York, 1998) by Gordon
inquisitive mindset serves an organization well.
Looking beyond the obvious for other answers and other
questions is a philosophy that nurtures creativity.
Not accepting status quo or an if-
it’s-not-broke-don’t-fix-it approach, can result in a
beneficial need to look further for a better fit, idea or
Most of us had
the gift of an exciting, curious, and wondering nature as
children. As we
become indoctrinated through the educational system and life, it
becomes less comfortable to access what was such an integral part
of us. Surfing the
internet may be a solitary sport, but it does unchain the shackles
that have kept curiosity out of reach.
There is a childlike relish to wandering around in
cyberspace and checking out anything and everything that interests
Moving up the
ladder, we encounter intuition, that oft-touted, but not
well-defined attribute. Honoring
intuition empowers organizational creativity in a way that few
things can. Understanding
that inexplicable innate hunches have value, speaks volume about
commitment to the creative process.
Intuition is a
talent that can be acquired, increased and honed.
Organizations and individuals that recognize the benefit of
intuition have accomplished great things throughout history.
For instance, Einstein intuitively understood the power of
his daydream and made the connection to the theory of relativity.
Electronic industry giants like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Ross
Perot had visions that drove them to pursue their intuition.
to Make Mistakes
mistakes, individually and organizationally, is a philosophy that
seems to fly in the face of quality, productivity and maybe even
good sense. It is by
creating this reward that organizations grant employees permission
to explore and learn. Many
great products, services and ideas were created from an initial
scientists do not expect that every theory or experiment will work
perfectly and sometimes they stumble across an answer they were
not even pursuing. Alexander
Fleming discovered penicillin while he was looking for an
effective antiseptic during World War I.
He found it in a discarded petri dish that he was about to
cultures often support striving for perfection without
understanding that the perfect model, idea, symbol, etc. comes
through a process of trial and error and, yes, lots of mistakes.
The mental model many employees walk around with is “I
cannot try that.” They build their own restrictions, thinking that their
organization wants perfection.
to take risks is truly one step beyond providing the freedom to
make mistakes. Risk-
taking feels uncomfortable before, during and often after it takes
place. It requires
moving out of the comfort zone and is strongly supported by
openness, curiosity, and intuition.
Taking risks requires an inner faith and trust and a
willingness to win or lose.
feeling that risk taking is a go-for-broke--all-or-nothing kind of
thing is not always the case.
Certainly the stakes can be high, but so is the price of
corporate leaders of companies struggling today thought they had
the answer and could just keep on with the same product,
philosophy or culture. They
were unwilling to venture into the new untested waters.
The result is that they have become outpaced, outmaneuvered
The ability to
bend, change and react to new information, situations and ideas is
instrumental in moving creativity through the process.
It can mean everything from making incremental changes to
throwing something out and starting afresh.
It is a commitment to honoring all that preceded it, i.e.,
being open and curious, respecting intuition, allowing mistakes
(even at the end), and being willing to take risks all along the
No matter where
you are in the process, the need to be flexible is essential. Making last-minute modifications, updates, upgrades or
scrapping a project altogether are all characteristic of a
flexible approach. Flexibility
is about listening and being responsive--to your clients,
employees, the marketplace and yourself.
resolve to stay with an idea, product or process through the tough
times is the kind of determination needed to sustain creativity.
The difficulty in moving something forward once created can
be an equally challenging prospect.
Very few great
successes got there in their first try; instead, they stayed with
it and pursued their ideas and dreams.
To really create requires that dogged determination to keep
with it until it is complete in whatever form it may take. The
creator of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), Dr. David Damadian,
struggled through the process making numerous mistakes and running
into what often seemed like insurmountable obstacles along the
way. He stayed with
it through all the challenges until he got what he wanted--a
better tool for diagnosis.
that supports and encourages creativity is paradoxical.
It is flexible on one issue and determined on another…it
is open and curious and still willing to honor unexplained
hunches…it gives permission to make mistakes and does not expect
everyone to always operate in the comfort zone.
It is this paradox that grows and nurtures the creative