Creativity as a means to sustainable competitive advantage

By Maretha Prinsloo on November 25, 2015


Business leaders and HR practitioners are recognizing the importance of creating organizations with a competitive advantage. Since the key strategic differentiator in the growing global economy is creativity, a constant stream of creative ideas are required to drive this agenda.

According to Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize winner for his work in thinking and decision making, with over a thousand highly cited publications, “creativity is thinking; it just happens to be thinking that leads to results that we think are great”. Creativity, is also regarded as a tendency and skill to reason, conceptualise and act in an unusual, unique or ingenious way to make sense of, express and apply one’s understanding purposefully to come up with something new that is of value. The challenge for the organization is therefore to attract and retain employees with this skill, as well as to inspire productivity, engagement and collaboration within the organization. This would enable complex problem solving, in order to develop unique and creative solutions and ensure profit maximization in the long run.

Creativity is a trait that many desire and few actually attain. By getting a tattoo and dying your hair blue does not make you creative. There are tools available that measure an aspect of creativity referred to as ideational fluency. These tests however do not touch on the depth, energy, commitment and intuition required for coming up with fundamentally transformational ideas. Current assessment methodologies, thus largely fail to capture the essence of creativity. As such, to be able to accurately identify the inherent capability, potential and inclination to be creative, one should analyse an individual’s cognitive capability, personality traits and values orientation. Assessing to determine creativity will also indicate the extent to which this skill need to be develop.

Like any other skill, honing creativity takes time and practice. Opportunity, resources, circumstances, motivation, cognition, personality, group dynamics, training and many other factors may all play a role in developing and harnessing creativity. In stimulating creativity to ignite the creative spark, keep the following in mind:

  • The biggest innovative breakthroughs have nothing to do with committee decisions and consensus. They are the result of pre-occupation and intuition.
  • Environmental pressures and challenges also tend to trigger the necessary creativity to come up with practical solutions
  • The key drivers of creativity and innovation, are probably interest and passion. Those that are energised by ideas and activities closely related to their sense of personal purpose, are most likely to fully apply themselves in a psychologically integrated, consistent, rigorous, long term, unusual and purposeful manner
  • Many creative breakthroughs are triggered within a group context characterised by an exchange by ideas
  • By incentivizing and reinforcing creative contributions, employees may be more likely to try something new
  • Exposing employees to focused values and leadership training courses aimed at nurturing cultural integration, collaboration and cultural integration

To guide the creative process and keep creative projects on track, you can ask the following questions:

  • Is this an elegant solution or can you simplify its complexity (will it make things easier for the end user?)
  • What is the point (purpose)?
  • Is this a feasible idea/project and if not what will make it so?
  • Why does this matter?
  • What makes this desirable?
  • What is unique about the idea?
  • What is the higher purpose and who will benefit from it?
  • How can I ensure others understand this idea or project (how must it be communicated to ensure clarity)?
  • What resources must be leveraged (time, money, people, technology)?
  • What are the assumptions about this idea or project and are they accurate or not?
  • How can the process be simplified?
  • What are the rules of engagement in the team to ensure teamwork and collaboration?
  • Are individual values in alignment with the project?
  • What is necessary to maintain creative resilience?
  • What is necessary to ensure that people have fun whilst delivering on this project?
  • How can successful achievement of the goals be celebrated?

It is important to illuminate what matters and to spark strategic discussions in your organization. When creativity is aligned with individual meaning, values, purpose and individual needs, energy is generated to transform ideas into reality and ensure the overall success of, and profit maximization within the organisation. In the event that your organization needs a creative boost, you can contact Cognadev to provide you with appropriate assessment techniques and development programmes to transform your organisation.

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