Creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation

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Creativity and innovation

1.3.2 Organisational culture

Work culture is important for creativity in several ways. An open culture is likely to afford more opportunities for people to work on tasks and in ways that they find motivating. People are also more likely to explore new areas and try different approaches in a culture where they feel safe (West, 2002) and know they will not be punished for exploring new avenues (Handy, 1997). So motivation and, through this, performance, are affected by the work environment.

It is a psychological truism that people rarely take risks in thinking unless they feel safe and valued. If people feel threatened they tend to react defensively. This is perhaps one reason why initiatives like total quality management (TQM) that attempt to document and control the process of creative improvement can face an uphill battle. You cannot readily legislate for creativity, it tends to emerge naturally where people are motivated and within a culture that encourages exploration rather than rewarding inhibition.

Studies of creativity at work (e.g. Jelinek and Schoonhoven, 1991; Ekvall, 1991) have emphasised that, by and large, certain organisational cultures are more conducive to creativity than others. The more favourable cultures are more open, they give employees freedom and responsibility for their work, tolerate rather than punish mistakes and make a point of nurturing new ideas.

In the West many organisations have accepted the importance of developing conditions that favour creativity, notably more open organisational cultures. Towards the end of the twentieth century, numerous companies endeavoured to change their culture and structure to support more open climates that have a better chance of nurturing creative endeavour.

Not everything is easy in open and creative climates: typically people find they need to allow more time to communicate with each other and working in multidisciplinary teams with people who do not agree with you and have other concerns and priorities is bound to be uncomfortable from time to time. However, it seems there are few other ways to run innovative, creative companies in a number of sectors, including information and communication technologies (ICT).

Activity 5 Creative and successful activity

Think of an occasion when you felt you performed particularly well and another when you were creative. What factors do you think accounted for this?


Often you will find that you were interested in the areas you were working on, had experience in the field, and that the culture afforded you some flexibility in how you worked on the project. Other factors including management support, the opportunity to network, sufficient time and resources may also be important.

One organisation that is consistently creative is Pixar, the company that makes animated films such as Toy Story and WALL-E. You might like to read ‘How Pixar fosters collective creativity’ (Catmull, 2008), which describes the processes the author believes help them maintain their creative output.


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