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Creativity part 1

Can it be managed?

Exactly what is creativity and can it be managed to try to increase its use?

A dictionary definition is:

‘Characterised by originality of thought or inventiveness; having or showing imagination’.

People have often been characterised into specific groups.
In simple terms logical thinkers have been labelled as ‘monochronic’ and creative thinkers as ‘polychronic’.
There is often a suggestion that the ‘creative’ thinkers will be more at ease with generating ideas.
So can anyone be creative?

The answer is yes, on the basis that creativity is not a function of the brain but a function of behaviour.
It is not easy to influence peoples’ thoughts but it is possible to develop techniques that encourage the behaviours that lead to creativity.

For the most part many managers want specific behaviour that conform to specific criteria.
They don’t want variation, they want consistency in approach and results.
However, behaviour is not the same every time.
There is always variation no matter how small.

In many situations variation is not desired but in other occasions that very variation may be highly desirable.
When variation in behaviour is encouraged unexpected behaviours may then lead to creative ideas and results which improve motivation.

Many of us will be familiar with ‘mistakes’.
We may label these as unwanted behaviour that leads to a result we didn’t want, but at the same time behaviours should be reviewed to ‘learn lessons’ so the same mistakes don’t occur again. As part of this process we may find that there are some positives that come from the situation. Whilst this is not strictly speaking encouraging creative thinking it demonstrates that sometimes good things can come from adverse behaviour if you take the trouble to think about it.


Before we can look at consequences (see Consequences – part 1) we need to encourage the behaviour of creativity.
Only then can be try to influence the repetition and rate of such behaviours with particular consequences.
Behaviours can be initiated by antecedents (see Model Behaviour).

In terms of creativity and behavioural variance a good antecedent would be to place the individual in an unfamiliar place or situation.
This is often seen in the use of cross functional teams and holding meetings offsite for example.
The introduction of people with different experiences and skills tends to spark differing trains of thought.

People like to dream and create ideas and the environment can improve motivation to do so.

Another antecedent may be the provision of specific pieces of equipment.
For example, the use of computers or just plain pencil and paper can inspire differing behaviours.
Once variation in behaviour has been encouraged various consequences may help to maintain them.

These are discussed below.

Positive reinforcement

Normally, this is used to prevent variation in behaviour.
However, by reinforcing different, novel or lateral thinking etc you will get more of this behaviour.
We have all been in a position where an idea is suggested and another person will immediately say it is completely unworkable.
This approach does very little for the expression of any other ideas.

This type of behaviour is classically seen in brain storming (see The Complete Project Management package).
Although all variation in behaviour may not lead to fruitful results the process is designed to generate many ideas some of which will be good.

In the same way a golfer lining up a putt may have a variety of rituals that he or she will go through before making the shot.
These variations in behaviour may not improve the odds of putting the ball but may lead to increased confidence for the shot.

It is important to reinforce the behaviour that you want. In brain storming you want ideas and no discussion until they are reviewed.
So if someone says “the problem with that is technology may move on within 6 months” you don’t want to encourage comments by saying “that’s a good point”, it will only lead to further interruptions.

However, if you say, “keep that thought in mind for the later discussion but right now we are just accumulating ideas for discussion” it is much more likely to encourage less comments and will promote additional ideas knowing they will not be open to immediate criticism.
Notice when you ask for the delay until later of comments you must be polite. If not, you will create an environment that doesn’t accept comments when the time is right for receiving them. Another act of lowering motivation.

Sometimes variability in behaviour may be desirable in ultimately finding a solution to a problem or devising the best process.
If you have little idea how to proceed then a variety of options may be employed which may be gradually refined leading to a better process.

Negative reinforcement

This is not an ideal technique to support creative behaviour.
Here you will be promising something to the individual they do not want if they don’t perform.
It is often used in a pressure situation in terms of “do it or else”.
It’s amazing how many ideas and solutions may be generated in this scenario but doesn’t make for good management practice. It may have its place on rare occasions.

Punishment and penalty

These will not fuel the creative process.
It is important to realise that by being aware of some actions and not doing them you may be helping the creative cause. Punishment and penalty may appear unintentionally.
An example has been mentioned above in brain storming.
If you jump in and denigrate an idea that has been raised others are less likely to put forward their ideas.

Make sure you have the time to generate ideas. It is much better to put a fixed period of 15 or 30 minutes.
If you start the process and then suddenly say, “We must hurry it along; we can give it another 5 minutes” ideas will dry up quickly to meet the need to rush.


If we are not getting creative behaviour that is variation it must be because we are encouraging the wrong behaviour by positive reinforcement. This is by definition.

If we wish to prevent these behaviours we have only to remove the positive reinforcement.
Removing the consequence will slow down the rate of unwanted behaviours and eventually kill them off.
This is know as extinction, which we have seen before (see Consequence – part 1).

The natural response to a lack or positive reinforcement is to try something else until it is once again positively reinforced.

When positive reinforcement is removed the individual will often go through stages of behaviour.

  • Stage 1 extinction burst

Behaviour is often repeated for no practical reason as though doing this will reinstate the positive reinforcement.

  • Stage 2 emotional behaviour

Failure at stage 1 may then afford a burst of anger.
This may be seen, perhaps, in hitting a piece of electrical equipment to try to get some response.

  • Stage 3 resurgence

Once new behaviours have been established the individual may revert to old habits and behaviours.
This is due to a drop in positive reinforcement for the new behaviours.

  • Stage 4 habit break-up

Once a person has tried a number of behaviours and nothing works their approach may become quite random and illogical. When all hope appears to have left and random behaviours take over there may well be a period of insight that leads to a solution. This might apparently ‘come out of the blue’.