Creative Righting

Many of us could be more creative if only we were more confident.

This is the belief of David Kelley, head of the design firm IDEO and founder of the “” at Stanford. MIT Sloan Management Review writes this month that Kelley delivered a TED talk called “How to Build Your Creative Confidence,” in which he gave his audience advice on how to lose the fear of being harshly judged and break through to inner creativity. “It would be really great if you didn’t let people divide the world into the creatives and the non-creatives, like it’s some God-given thing, and to have people realize that they’re naturally creative,” Kelley said. “And those natural people should let their ideas fly.”

Peter Drucker certainly considered creativity to be a real phenomenon—indeed, a quality essential to any business endeavor. But he felt the term was regularly abused, and he distinguished between creativity and “creativity.” Of the latter, he was a harsh critic.

‘Creativity’ is largely an excuse for doing nothing,” Drucker wrote in Toward the Next Economics. “The organization, whether business, university or government agency, which systematically sloughs off yesterday, need not worry about ‘creativity.’ It will have such a healthy appetite for the new that the main task of management will be to select from among the large number of good ideas.”

Indeed, in Drucker’s view, creativity isn’t nearly as scarce a resource as the management know-how and systems required to harness it.  A quintessential example of this could be found in the approach to sand shoveling taken by the famous efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor.

If making work productive depended on the creativity of people, they would undoubtedly have found the best way of doing the job before the dawn of history,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “Yet when Taylor first looked at the job in 1885, he found that everything was wrong. The size and shape of the shovel were unsuited to the job. The length of the handle was wrong. . . . Human intuition and creativity had produced an operation that was both backbreaking and inefficient.”

What saved the day was when the process was “analyzed and synthesized into a single productive operation.”

How does your organization harness creativity?