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The value of creativity in the workplace increases manyfold with collaboration

A recent survey by Forrester Consulting focused on an attempt to quantify the value of creativity in business. As an intangible, creativity is notoriously hard to measure in economic terms. However, the results of the survey showed that the six out of ten companies that foster creativity achieved ‘exceptional growth’.

The shift from a knowledge economy to a new form of economy which depends more on creativity is in full swing. While this shift has not come as a surprise, and what’s more has been forecasted in a great deal of detail over the past decade, there is, in my view, a surprising lack of investment in preparation for ongoing changes. My point is that collaboration can be at the very least a means to an end whereby staff invest in their own capabilities through collaboration.

The Forrester survey is commendable because of its necessity. As the old management adage goes, what can’t be measured can’t be managed. Management tools used in the industrial, information and knowledge economies have been reasonably well tuned to measure resources and their complex systematic use in the business process. But the intangibles, such as creativity or ideas, were often left to a few daring entrepreneurs who ‘knew’ the value of creativity. I think the problem with understanding the economic value of creativity lies in attitude, not mathematics. In my experience it is easier to teach people difficult skills, such as, say, mathematics, than change their attitudes. Despite the difficulties, the inevitable march of the way economic productions work has now created a whole new degree of opportunity for business innovation, growth and competition thanks to the fact that with the right attitude we can start to get a precise idea of how much creativity costs.

It would be in the interest of every business enterprise to remember that creativity is one of the factors that employees regularly underline as being important for job satisfaction. Business leaders and senior managers also regularly place a high value on it. But a word of caution here; some business thinkers have warned that when it comes to creativity, we are disappointingly different in what we do as opposed to what we say about creativity. As Barry M Staw argues, in reality very few people are prepared to do what is necessary in order to be creative. Professor Staw says that the creative people are risk takers, nonconformists, persistent, flexible and put in long, hard hours; very impressive and daunting at the same time. But considering these features individually can help in understanding where we need to look and what needs to be measured. This list does not have to include all characteristics, but it can be very good start.

I would say that collaboration or a capacity to work collaboratively is also a useful insight into a creative workforce. As a characteristic, collaboration is a mindset that is developed through strategic thinking about the end result. Businesses which foster creativity are more likely to arrive to a realisation that collaboration is a very powerful agent in making creativity pay off both immediately and in the long run. Creative work is demanding. Creativity takes a toll on individuals and teams alike. This is where collaboration as a strategy adds priceless value. Collaborative teams are better supported for one. Collaborative strategy within a business unit acts as a platform where creativity is not only enacted but also preserved. For instance, creative employees or teams can come up with ideas that are nonconformist. Without a collaborative mode of production, some ideas can be easily be screened out or, as often can be the case, treated as a threat to an established way of thinking.

Adapting successfully to new competition rules in business can start with acceptance of creativity as a critical factor in value creation. Beyond that, smart business strategy should aim to incorporate collaboration as one of the foundations of the post knowledge economy.

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