How to Nurture Creativity Without Destroying Your Culture

BY Kathy Crosett
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Creativity. Where would the modern world be without it? Would we have mobile phones, computers, Wi-​FI? Not likely. Individuals who have come up with truly creative and life-​changing ideas mean the difference between success and failure for your organization. How can you ensure that you’re providing the kind of culture that allows creative employees to thrive? The faculty members at Northwestern’s Kellogg School have plenty of advice about how to handle creative employees.

In any organization, there will be team members who will come up with more ideas than others. To speed up the creative process, should you lock all the creatives in a room until they come up with a proposal that you like? No, say the experts. Design a team that reflects ‘redundant heterogeneity.’ In this case, team members will share some characteristics, but they will also be strong enough to maintain individuality in group discussions. During the course of generating ideas, team members with diversity will share experiences and thoughts and that interaction will ultimately lead to success.

Creativity can be a messy and emotionally-​charged process. Your creative types may do headstands in the conference room, disagree loudly with each other, and emerge days later to announce they can’t think of a better way to improve your core product. Their failure may stem from their enthusiasm for jumping from one crazy proposal to another.

You don’t want to constrain thinking too much. But, you do eventually want a few solutions to choose from. To streamline the process, give your team members a few guidelines to go by. A one-​sentence description of the mission can help everyone stay focused on the current topic.  For example, let people know you’d like them to come up with a way to cut packaging costs for your flagship product by 20%. That focus will stop discussions about new products the company should be developing for a 5‑year horizon.

As a manager, it’s up to you to set the tone for how successful creativity is to be celebrated. Any parent knows that constantly praising a child and telling her how wonderful she is will lead to tyrannical behavior. In a modern organization, creative people who are put on a pedestal will eventually act like spoiled brats. The special treatment they receive and their bad behavior will breed discontent among your other team members.

Maryam Kouchaki, an assistant professor of management and organizations says, “You want to encourage a culture of creativity rather than a special treatment of creative people.” Remember that advice and praise all team members for contributing to the success of the organization.