Barriers to creativity

You will have heard of the idea of the learning organization, but what about the creative organization? It has many of the characteristics of creative people listed on page 149. It is an organization where the culture is one of constantly celebrating the value of ideas. For, as Charles Browder said:

A new idea is delicate. It can be killed by a sneer or a yawn, it can be stabbed to death by a quip and worried to death by a frown on the right man's brow.

Creative organizations understand the barriers to creativity and know how to overcome them. I think of these barriers as the seven deadly sins because they all, rather conveniently, begin with the letter S:

School

Sneering

Social pressure

Status quo

Standardization

Silos

Suits

When I refer to school, I am really referring to the idea that there is one right answer and that IQ dominates.

Sneering is still prevalent in organizations. It is the absolute enemy of creativity. This is partly why brainstorming is as successful as it is: it forces participants to delay their critical judgment or, at worst, sneers.

Social pressure can take many forms. Often, it is a prevailing orthodoxy, such as the belief that the only way to solve problems is by spending very long hours on them. It could be a view that it can never be right to use consultants for some jobs or, conversely, that it is always right to use them. In some organizations the social pressure is quite simple: to do what you are told to do by those superior to you. I can think of organizations where it is considered quite acceptable to pull individuals out of longstanding commitments, at short notice, for no good business reason, simply because it suits a very senior manager to gather a particular group of people together at that time.

Adhering to the status quo is not consistent with the essence of creative thinking and leads to many organizations going out of business. When you hear phrases like "But we've always done it like this," you know that there are going to be limiting boundaries to what is being thought through. This tendency is often linked to a view that is sometimes referred to as "not invented here."

By standardization, I mean that the brain's tendency to organize into the patterns it feels comfortable with makes it unlikely to want to go back to basics and rethink structures completely. In many cases, this may be exactly what is required!

Silos are airtight containers or deep pits for storing things. As such, they suggest organizations made up of isolated, unconnected departments or sections. The culture of these places is jealously to guard knowledge and compete more aggressively in a mythical internal market than in the real world of the organization's customers. Such cultures are enjoyed by "command-and-control" thinkers. They are the places in which people who are not open to new ideas like to feel comfortable.

And finally suits. I have got nothing against suits personally; in fact I rather like them. During my own career I have quite consciously worn particular suits and ties to ensure that those I am trying to persuade are at least not going to be put off by the superficialities of what I am wearing. Sometimes it is easier to speak radical thoughts if you are dressed in the clothes of the "tribe" with which you are working—we are less threatened and our minds are therefore more receptive to new ideas.

In fact, an environment of relentless jeans and t-shirts can be just as oppressively uniform as rows of suits. However, I use suits here to suggest the tyranny of a place in which everything is subordinated to an imagined view of what it is appropriate for people to wear, without any consideration for the preferences of individuals or the nature of the work being undertaken. In the current business environment, clothes themselves have become an interestingly unreliable way of judging creativity. Dress-down Fridays provide freedom for some and embarrassment for others.

Interestingly, many of the world's largest consultancies are now issuing guidance on appropriate dress-down codes for dealing with clients. The results of dressing down can be quite dreadful as confused consultants, without the certainty of their suits, opt for their equally offputting "executive leisure wear." The shape of your shoe, the type of shoulder bag you carry, and the style of shirt you choose all, of course, give out powerful messages in today's brand-conscious environment.

A Do you agree with these ideas? Have you encountered these or similar barriers in your workplace? Can you think of examples from your own experience of any of these "serious sins"? If so, what could you do to prevent it happening? Can you think of other ways in which people's creativity can be undermined? How do you dress at work? To what extent do you think it is appropriate for employees to wear what they want for business? Do you welcome the current move away from the suit?

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

How To Accomplish More In A Fraction Of The Time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave several of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness too much to do and not enough time; the pressure to produce and check off items on our to-do list by each day’s end seems to decide the direction and quality of our existence for us.

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