Creativity and the role of the leader

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Your organization could use a bigger dose of creativity. Here’s what to do about it.

Creativity and the Role of the Leader
by Teresa M. Amabile and Mukti Khaire

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1 Article Summary The Idea in Brief—the core idea The Idea in Practice—putting theidea to work

2 Creativity and the Role of the Leader

11 Further Reading A list of related materials, with annotations to guide further exploration of the article’s ideas and applications

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Included with this full-text Harvard Business Review article:

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Creativity and the Role of the Leader

The Idea in Brief
In today’s innovation-driven economy, understandinghow to generate great ideas is an urgent managerial priority. And that calls for major doses of creativity. But many leaders assume creativity is too elusive and intangible to be managed. It’s true that you can’t manage creativity. But you can manage for creativity, say innovation leaders and experts who participated in a 2008 Harvard Business School colloquium. Among their recommendations forfostering the conditions in which creativity flourishes: • Stop thinking of yourself as the wellspring of ideas that employees execute. Instead, elicit and champion others’ ideas. • Open your organization to diverse perspectives—by getting people of different disciplines, backgrounds, and areas of expertise to share their thinking. • Know when to impose controls on the creative process (such asduring the commercialization phase) and when not to (during early-idea generation).

The Idea in Practice
TAP IDEAS FROM ALL RANKS

To enhance organizational creativity, consider these practices:

Further engage people by being an appreciative audience. Asking questions about a project and providing even a word of sincere recognition can be more motivating than money. OPEN YOUR COMPANY TODIVERSE PERSPECTIVES Innovation is more likely when diverse people come together to solve a problem. Even within the mind of an individual, diversity enhances creativity. Individuals who have multiple social identities—for instance, Asian and American, female and engineer—display higher levels of creativity when problems require them to draw on their different realms of knowledge. The lesson? Avoidsuppressing parts of people’s identity. For example, craft a culture where female engineers can feel comfortable wearing feminine clothing.

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Motivate people to contribute ideas by making it safe to fail. Stress that the goal is to experiment constantly, fail early and often— and learn as much as possible in the process. Convince people that they won’t be punished or humiliated if they speak upor make mistakes.

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COPYRIGHT © 2008 HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL PUBLISHING CORPORATION. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Elicit ideas from people throughout your organization. Google’s founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page tracked the progress of ideas that came from them versusideas that bubbled up from the ranks—and discovered a higher success rate in the latter category.

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PROTECT CREATIVES FROM BUREAUCRACY As a fresh idea travels through an organization toward commercialization, powerful constituencies often beat it into a shape that conforms to the existing model. Protect those doing creative work from this hostile environment by clearing paths for them aroundobstacles. KNOW W HEN TO IMPOSE CONTROLS—AND W HEN NOT TO The early discovery phase of the creative process is inherently confusing and inefficient. So don’t impose efficiency-minded controls during that phase. Instead, apply them when the game has moved from discovery to reliability and commercialization. Know which phase you’re in, and ensure that people with the right skills (such as ability...
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