How To Connect Creativity To Meaningful Work?

innovation creativity

I already mentioned how much I enjoyed Shawn Achor's TED talk, The Happy Secret To Better WorkMy second favorite TED talk is Do Schools Kill Creativity? presented by Sir Ken Robinson, where he makes an astute observation that we do not grow into creativity. Just the opposite – we grow out of it. Robinson postulates that all children are born creative. However, by the time they finish their secondary education, they lose that creativity. Why?

In order to be creative, you have to feel safe to be wrong and to make mistakes, but that is not how our school systems are designed. You get penalized for making mistakes. Failing in school is one of the worst things that can happen to a young person, which is why by the time we reach high school or college, most of us are afraid to be wrong.

The fear of failure carries over into a workplace, and justifiably so. Making a mistake at work can get you fired. This means that most of us are not creative at work, hindering the organizational and personal progress.

A growing amount of research has shown that organizations depend on creativity and innovation to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace. Creativity and innovation play a critical role in the company's profitability and influence its planning process, teamwork, collaboration, and employees' job satisfaction.

What is even more pertinent today is that creativity and innovation affect the organization's ability to respond to a crisis. Now, more than ever, having a creative workforce should be a key business strategy.

At the core of the challenge is leadership and having leaders who are open to other people's ideas, who are effective communicators, who are not afraid to think outside of the box, who are not averse to taking calculated risks, and who are generally understanding towards their subordinate's mistakes, treating them as learning opportunities. These are the signs of a transformational leader who understands that individual creativity is closely tied to organizational innovation.

Researchers have identified seven qualities of creative individuals:

  1. Personality traits: curiosity, persistence, energy, and intellectual honesty
  2. Self-motivation: enthusiastic, self-driven, excited by the work itself, enjoying a challenge and working on something important
  3. Cognitive abilities: problem-solve and think creatively
  4. Risk-orientation: unconventional, attracted to challenge, and doing things differently
  5. Relevant expertise: acquired knowledge in a particular field, talent, and experience
  6. Diverse experience: broad general knowledge and a wide range of experiences
  7. Social skills: good rapport with others, a good listener and team player

Researchers also identified seven organizational qualities that promote creativity:

  1. Freedom: a sense of control over one's work and ideas, operational autonomy
  2. Effective managers: match tasks to employees' skills and interests, and set a clear direction without micro-managing
  3. Sufficient resources: access to equipment, funds, people, and information
  4. Encouragement: enthusiasm for new ideas without unnecessary judgment
  5. Recognition: feedback and reward for creative work
  6. Sufficient time: time to think creatively about the problem and possible solutions
  7. Challenge and pressure: a sense of urgency to accomplish something important

Leaders strongly influence employees' work behavior and their ability to innovate. Transformational leaders inspire and articulate an appealing vision. They motivate employees to look past the tasks that may seem boring, repetitive, and menial and attach more meaning, purpose, and significance to their jobs. This leads employees to achieve superior business performance by generating ideas and translating the ideas into successful products and services.

The most effective organizational leaders design jobs in a way that satisfies both the extrinsic needs of their employees (ex., compensation, promotion, incentives) and the intrinsic needs (ex., meaningful work and deeper job satisfaction).

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