As the automation of tasks continues to expand, creativity in the work place will take on increasing importance. Already, advances in technology have shortened product development cycles, which in turn places a premium on the ability to respond to a fast-paced marketplace. Seeing emerging trends and then developing products and services which take advantage of those trends requires an agile, creative mind. Increasingly, success in business will require a degree of creativity.

Creativity is a fascinating topic, but it can be complex and difficult to examine. Basic questions persist – What is creativity? How does one become creative? Can creativity be fostered in the work place? How can we identify creativity capacity in others?

We’ll be devoting a few upcoming posts to exploring the topic. We’ll show how to identify and unlock creative potential in individuals, teams and organizations. We’ll describe the keys to fostering a work environment which brings out the creative best in people. And, because avoiding “fixedness” and developing a “prepared mind” are keys to having a steady stream of creative ideas, we’ll show how to address both challenges. Subscribe to Vantage Point so you don’t miss a post.

Before we dive into our series, we would like to use this first post to remove some of the clutter which surrounds the concept of creativity, and offer a few clarifications.


How do you define “creativity”?

This may depend on who you ask, but we’ll give you this: A relatively agreed upon definition in research is “the production of something both novel and useful”. The MacArthur foundation notes that creativity “comprises the drive and ability to make something new or connect the seemingly unconnected”.

Both definitions involve idea generation and utility. Creativity can take many forms including asking questions yet unexplored, developing innovative solutions to problems, fusing ideas from different disciplines,  or inventing novel methods, tools, or art forms.

Is “creativity” the same as “innovation”?

Strictly speaking: No, but…The terms are used interchangeably. It is helpful to make a distinction, though. Creativity is the ability to see the possibility of something both new and valuable. But, creativity without follow-up yields only an idea. Innovation requires both a creative idea and the follow-up needed to convert the idea into something valuable. For both, it is best to think of a “creative process” or “innovation process” which encompass both a new idea and its conversion into something useful.

When we say “creativity” are we referring only to blockbuster ideas that occur rarely?

No. Too often we equate creativity with huge, monumental ideas which alter history. We tend to think of creativity as being synonymous with genius. We believe that is limiting. Those rare discoveries and those rare people are gathered under what is called “Big C” creativity.  There are other categories of creativity – mini C, little C, and Pro C –which we will talk about in a future post. In short, these other types of creativity reflect genuine creative insight but because they lack the impact of Big C creativity, they are often overlooked.

What about child prodigies – are they proof that real creativity is an accident of birth, special brains, divine spark?

Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that some children have special abilities, most often in the fields of music, math, art or chess. However, no, these children also require nurture to go with their special nature. And we should warn: focusing on child prodigies tends to reinforce the notion of Big C creativity at the expense of other kinds of creativity.

In order to be a leader must a person be the source of creative ideas?

No. A leader may or may not contribute creative ideas. What is essential is a leader sees to it that the enterprise has a steady stream of business-enhancing (creative) ideas and that the really good ones get recognized and acted upon. Ultimately, the leader drives the process which generates creative ideas. (See the graphic on how leadership and creativity intersect.)

Leadership & Creativity

Does that mean the source of creative ideas may be people other than those in positions of headship?

Yes. It is often the case that creative ideas arise from people who are not in positions of headship. Consequently, the idea generation process should be open to ideas no matter where they come from in the organization.

Can individuals and organizations do things to increase the probability of creativity?

Yes. There are three conditions needed for creativity. The first is freedom from “fixedness” (the tendency to see things as having a single fixed meaning or purpose). The second condition is a stimulating environment. The third condition is a prepared mind. There are ways to reduce fixedness and there are ways to make a work place more stimulating. Companies in the tech sector are quite good at this. It takes time and effort to develop a prepared mind. This includes a strong educational foundation, stimulating experiences (like travel or being around creative people), voracious reading, and interests outside one’s chosen field. Highly creative people can point to experiences like these as the precursors to their creative capability.

Creativity, then, is not something that can be switched on without preparation. In a future post, we’ll discuss some ways of preparing.

Can creativity and the potential for creativity be identified?

Yes, but it is not easy. It is known that experts in a given field can indeed identify colleagues who exhibit creativity in their work. The MacArthur Foundation in Chicago has a rigorous process for identifying creative people who are making important contributions in a wide range of fields. Their process relies on experts to serve as nominators. Then they conduct a large number of interviews, attend lectures/recitals/performances, and do whatever they can to help them discern the person’s creative capacity. This can take years.

There are some tests which try to get at creativity but  results are mixed. Interviewing to identify creativity is harder still. Overall, a comprehensive, mixed approach carried out over time seems most effective. As a creative workforce becomes increasingly important for organizations, cultivating a process to aid in identifying and fostering creativity will be essential.


Throughout this series, we’ll dive deeper into creativity to help you and your organization foster this crucial capacity. If you’re looking for an even more in depth look at the topic, check out R. Keith Sawyer and his book Explaining Creativity which has been a key resource to us.

Leave us your questions about creativity in the comments.

This post was co-authored by Richard McGourty