Monday, July 23, 2007

Creativity for Business - Understanding Various Stages of Creativity

Today's hyper competitive environment has pushed all organizations to institutionalize a culture of innovation. Innovation within an organization is however dependent on individual employees creativity. This implies that the company must create a culture that promotes individual creativity - and that is a huge challenge for most organizations.

Creativity among employees and as an organizational culture is often a daunting task for managers. Creativity often involves challenging the old existing norms/rules/mores - and these were comfortable & perfectly working ways of doing business. Managers are trained not to take unnecessary risks - "Don't touch it if it aint broke" attitude. For organizations committed to build a culture of innovation & creativity - the managers & leaders must understand the creative process and commit to policies that support the creative process.

The Four Stages of the Creative Process:

Dr. Teresa Amabile at Harvard Business School describes creativity as a four key stages - In order to make it easier to understand. But inside a human brain, these four stages happen simultaneously or randomly.

The Four stages are:


At first the creative person or team is exposed to the problem. Creative individuals in the team then become immersed in the problem - and start with a data gathering exercise. If the team is newly formed, then the team goes through the "forming", "norming", and "storming" process. The entire process can sometimes come to a dead halt - especially when large amounts of information has to be gathered or when there are lots of possibilities or options yield no immediate, transformative insights.

During this stage, the leader must intervene only when requested or when he feels that the entire process has come to a grinding halt. The leaders role is to present the problem to the creative team or individuals - without narrowly defining the problem statement. The leader must then move quickly out of the way and watch the process from the sides intervening as rarely as possible and only when intervention is absolutely required.


Once the problem is understood, individuals tend to mull over the issue silently. For an outsider it may appear that the problem is neglected or forgotten or be on the back burner, even forgotten or neglected, but the creative mind is still at work. In case of teams, the group may not meet regularly - but all members of the team will still be thinking or generating ideas. During this stage, the left brain - that part of the brain that is responsible for dreams, synthesizes, and makes new, weird, original connections will be at work. Team members will rarely like to meet and Individuals appear to either skulk or ignore the problem.

During the incubation stage, the leader must convey regular meetings and create knowledge sharing sessions - this forced meetings may spark creativity through cross pollination of ideas and may lead to the "Eureka" stage. The leader must encourage individuals to document and share their ideas with others - this will help generate more ideas and create a platform for collaboration.


Eureka moments can occur without warning. Ideas & innovations can come at any time during the "incubation" stage. Most often, these "aha" moments occur with ideas that don't have the killer instinct - i.e., the idea at first does not appear to solve the problem, but the creative individual has a gut feeling that the final solution lies somewhere within this 'eureka" idea - and along with it comes an immediate urge to work - and work endlessly looking for that final solution.

In a team setting, members may suddenly call for a meeting and "WOW" - the spontaneous exchange of ideas can bring forth an idea that no one member could articulate alone.

During this stage, the role of the leader is to congratulate the individuals for the ideas, encourage individuals and teams in their search for the solution after the "eureka" moment. The leader must be careful not to criticize or shoot down any ideas, instead he must welcome all ideas - irrespective of how wacky or irrational it sounds. The leader must encourage documenting the idea as & when it appears and then play a pivotal role in sharing/distributing the ideas.


This is the final stage that separates creativity from successful innovation. New ideas generated during the eureka stage needs action, stubborn determination to be converted into reality. This involves building coalitions for those who believe in the idea and marketing the idea to critical skeptics. This stage is the toughest stage in the creative process - as it needs lots of courage & persistence. Moreover execution of an idea requires more complex social skills - rather than technical skills. Creative individuals often face this stage as a great challenge - as they usually lack the social skills or the political skills needed to execute the idea.

The leader plays a very important role in this state - more than in any other stage. The leader must encourage the individual to continue, fight the marketing battles, win over the skeptics and arrange for adequate resources needed for the implementation of the idea. The leader must take the organizational responsibility and manage the implementation process.

Closing Thoughts

Leaders must understand the creative process and perform the required roles during each of the stages. Sometimes the leader himself can be a creative individual or may be part of the creative team. In such cases, the leader must play a dual role. Leaders who are not familiar with the creative process must take time & efforts to know how creative individuals work and also understand that creativity takes its own sweet time. Trying to hurry up the process does not work - and in most cases it will derail the entire creativity process.

Leaders must consciously play a supportive role and provide guidance only when needed. Care must be taken to document all ideas and share ideas among the team. Leaders must be careful not to criticize any idea and must always strive to encourage, motivate, cheer the members - by constituting adequate rewards, kudos and encouraging words and actions.

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