The present report is devoted to the analysis of individual creativity concept, its links to organisational innovativeness, and factors that inhibit/foster them. It is suggested that personal characteristics and corporate environment factors define the level of realising employees’ creativity potentials at the workplace. With a focus on the case of Oman Oil Refineries and Petrochemical Industries Company (ORPIC), associated with hierarchical and highly formal work structures, the review of the evidence was conducted to identify main barriers to creativity and innovativeness it faces.
It was revealed that employee education about creative thinking processes and the creation of corporate culture welcoming new ideas and changes while ensuring psychological safety for subordinates are required. Staff training and cultural renewal practices are core to removing major blocks to individual creativity in ORPIC.
The contemporary market situation requires businesses to be innovative in various processes from product development to internal administration activities. The ability to become and stay innovative largely defines a company’s competitive position and profitability, and employee creativity is regarded as an essential prerequisite for greater firm innovativeness. Nevertheless, it is observed that most of the people do not apply creative idea generation principles on a regular basis (Loewenberger 2009).
One of the reasons for that is a counterproductive self-perception: many individuals do not consider themselves creative and associate creativity with particular, artistic occupations and personality traits. Additionally, an overall organisational environment can play a major role in fostering or inhibiting individual creativity. Working in a highly formalised, hierarchical, task-oriented, and insufficiently democratised corporation, employees have fewer opportunities to be creative. The analysis of evidence given in this report will help to provide practical recommendations on how to increase innovativeness by modifying the level of employee creativity for ORPIC, an enterprise with a similar adverse environmental situation.
Nowadays, a plethora of definitions of creativity exist, but the two major ones diverge in the perspectives on the level of creative accomplishment and the nature of creativity. For example, Maslow saw creativity as an inherent attribute of every human and believed that it is universal for everyone, whereas Parkhurst suggested regarding this phenomenon in relation to terms “new” and “useful” (Proctor 2014).
While the former definition considers creativity as intrinsically valuable and not requiring the demonstration of any social value, the latter sees creativity as an achievement and ability. It is possible to say that the definition by Parkhurst is more suitable to describe individual creativity at the workplace since it is expected to result in the development of innovative products, services, and so forth. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to deny that each person has the potential to be creative. Thus, there is a need to understand which factors can help individuals to produce social value through creativity.
The Componential Model of Individual Creativity (CMIC) developed by Amabile identifies the main factors fostering creativity. They include domain-relevant experience (technical skills and expertise), motivation (attitudes to problems/tasks), and creativity-relevant skills (cognitive styles, problem-solving experiences, and so forth) (Leigh, Huber & Tremblay 2013). This model makes it clear that creativity largely depends on personal characteristics and abilities.
Notably, Walter (2012) also includes the component of intellectual independence in the category of creative skills. Walter (2012) also distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, stating that internal drivers of creativity usually lead to better outcomes because a self-motivated person is enthusiastic about the work/task itself. This position is in line with Herzberg’s two-factor theory which suggests that intrinsic factors/motivators (sense of achievement, recognition, and others) motivate employees better than the extrinsic/hygienic factors (rewards, job security, and others) (Damij et al. 2015).
Overall, it means that even though external factors may play a significant role in increasing job satisfaction and improving team members’ moods if an employee’s interests are not aligned with the tasks he/she performs, his/her creativity level may be low.
Based on the review of the CMIC, one may understand which factors can inhibit individual creativity in the workplace. They include a lack of expertise or certain skills and an improper balance between external and internal motivators. To deepen the understanding of barriers to creativity, it is possible to draw on the theory by Arnold (2016), who distinguished three major types of creative blocks: perceptual, cultural, and emotional.
Perceptual blocks are related to the lack of specific cognitive skills, such as the inability to isolate problems and their attributes or to find causal relationships between variables (Arnold 2016). Overall, it means that individuals’ critical approaches may define the degree of their creativity. For example, convergent thinking that implies a search for just one solution to a problem can be regarded as a form of a perceptual block, whereas divergent thinking described as a broad search for multiple decision options is associated with higher levels of creativity (Proctor 2014). Thus, to increase creativity, there is a need to instruct individuals on the implementation of various critical thinking methods.
Cultural blocks may be rooted in both organisational and broader cultures. They refer to certain stereotypes and desires to conform to particular behavioural patterns and norms (Arnold 2016). For example, Nazari and Shahddnejad (2011) note that, in conservative cultures, leaders and managers usually tend to maintain the status quo and, thus, do not welcome fresh, creative ideas. At the same time, it is valid to assert that the general stereotype about creativity as an attribute of eccentric and unusual personalities is a type of cultural block as well.
According to Dawson and Andriopoulous (2014), such a misunderstanding of links between social contexts/factors and creativity, as well as an overemphasis on the role of personality in creative processes, prevents one from being creative. It means that culture supportive of creativity must embed appropriate values and promote suitable self-images that would encourage employees to be more creative.
To eliminate cultural blocks, it may be appropriate to inform employees about the nature of the creative process. For instance, the four-step model by Wallas incorporates the following phases: preparation (gathering of information related to a problem), the incubation (unconscious creative process), illumination (a moment of insight), and verification (rationalisation of new ideas) (Ma & Van Oystaeyen 2016). Not only could the explanation of this and similar models help employees get rid of stereotypes about creativity but also allow them to adopt a more practical approach to generating new ideas.
As for emotional blocks, they include fears, resistance to solving particular tasks and achieving goals, and so forth. The lack of intrinsic motivation also falls under this category. Notably, emotional blocks are closely interrelated with the cultural ones. For instance, Nazari and Shahddnejad (2011) state that employees may fear criticism for new ideas when working in overly authoritarian organisations.
Additionally, Arnold (2016) notes that most people prefer psychological security and cannot handle uncertainty well. However, creativity implies the search for new, previously untested solutions and is thus closely related to risk-taking. It means that to foster greater creativity and innovation, the management should specify requirements for creative thinking and also create an environment in which employees would feel safe to express themselves and make mistakes.
Employee creativity means the generation of novel and potentially useful ideas for solving a great variety of problems occurring in different parts of organisations. Therefore, the extent to which the company exploits the creative potentials of its workers largely defines the degree of its innovativeness and, consequently, competitiveness. As the results of the literature review demonstrate, personal perceptions of creativity and own abilities; the actual level of expertise in one’s profession and cognitive abilities; and the overall organisational climate, culture, and environment are linked to opportunities for better individual creative expression.
Although within the workplace setting, it is appropriate to regard creativity as an achievement and ability, it is still important to recognise that creative thinking can be learned. The recognition of this idea may be considered an initial step in the innovation promotion endeavours because it addresses the psychological aspects of individual behaviours interfering with creativity. After that, the company will be able to eliminate perceptual, emotional, and cultural blocks through the realisation of appropriate organisation-wide interventions that will be discussed in the following section.
To promote and sustain individual creativity at the workplace, the ORPIC management should focus on the development of creativity components identified by Amabile and the elimination of factors contributing to various creativity blocks described by Arnold. To address the problem of cultural and emotional barriers, the company must aim to develop a team creative environment that would welcome change and innovation, encourage employees to try new things and solve difficult issues.
According to Litchfield, Ford, and Gentry (2015), openness to change is a major prerequisite of individual creativity and higher-level organisational innovation. However, the emphasis on innovation as a corporate value may not be enough, and the overall changes in management styles, employee communication, company hierarchy and structures may be required as well.
Overall, the corporate environment should foster more democratic manager-subordinate relationships with an opportunity for mutual feedback. Additionally, it should provide sufficient work and decision-making autonomy that would increase employees’ intellectual independence and align individual interests with organisational objectives to strengthen intrinsic motivation. To a large extent, such a restructuring and democratisation could assist in reducing the impacts of emotional blocks and make employees more confident in their creative expressions.
Considering that domain-relevant expertise and creativity-relevant skills are core components of individual creativity, the management must invest in staff training. Not only should employee education curriculum incorporate the profession-related topics but also inform workers about creative thinking processes, such as Wallas’s four-step model, and include practical assignments for the development of cognitive abilities, such as divergent thinking and other. Mainly, throughout employee education and communication, the management should strive to promote the idea of creativity as a universal human attribute and an achievable thing. By doing so, it will be possible to develop a positive self-image in subordinates, leading to a significant decrease in resistance to innovation and change.
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