Businesses and organisations crave creativity from their employees and see it as the main engine of competitive advantage in a knowledge economy, according to six leading thinkers.
As a consequence, ideas are prized more highly than ever, the thinkers argue in a series of essays published by the East of England space for ideas campaign.
"There are two main uses for creativity," insists Dr Edward De Bono, originator of the concept of lateral thinking
"The first use is to do what you are doing in a 'better' way. This may mean doing it faster, at less cost, with less waste, with higher quality or in a simpler way."
All these directions of improvement may rely on new ideas - or may benefit from new ideas, Dr de Bono argues.
Then there is a second use of creativity, which is to do better things, he says.
"This means new products and services, or adding new values to existing products and services.
Suspicious and eccentric
But can we all be creative? And if it is not a scarce resource, why is it prized so highly? After all, we all know what someone is talking about when they refer to another person as a "creative type".
"From what I remember, the account handling department actually spent most of their time trying to handle the creative department," Reverend Owen Jones recalls.
"But as a copywriter you were expected to be 'creative' which came with the suspicion of unreliability and shades of eccentricity."
In fact, creativity can be useful in all areas of business, and everyone has got the ability to be creative, the thinkers believe.
"As with any skill (cooking or skiing for instance) some people will become more skilful than others. But everyone can learn to be creative. it is not a mystical gift," insists Dr de Bono.
"Maybe what's been realised is that the creative realm isn't the preserve of artists, musicians and writers," says Reverend Owen Jones.
"The age of individualism has perhaps encouraged more of us to explore the edges and to exercise our creative potential."
Wise to relax
What is essential, though, is the motivation for creativity, and a confidence in how it is expressed. Given that, how can people go about developing their creativity?
Dr de Bono certainly believes our brain could do with some help in coming up with ideas.
"The brain is specifically designed to be non-creative, and we should be grateful for this," he says.
"With 11 pieces of clothing there are 39,916,800 ways of getting dressed. Trying out one method every minute would take 76 years of life."
Psychology professor Richard Wiseman writes about the concept priming as a source of creativity and has some practical advice.
"For me, it is key to spend some time thinking about the problem that I am trying to solve," he says.
"Often this involves working on it for a while, and talking to friends and colleagues about the issues in hand. It really doesn't bother me if I cannot think of a solution. I am confident that something will occur to me at some point in time, it is just a question of when not if."
"However, I try not to completely forget about the issue, but rather continue to be mindful of the problem. In short, I try to achieve more by striving less.
"I also try to feed my mind with new experiences, such as going to a museum, or flicking through magazines or newspapers. But I don't push it.
"Instead, I simply immerse myself in novel ideas and experiences, and leave it up to my brain to find a solution among the huge amount of information, meetings, comments and emails that I encounter on a daily basis."
In other words; it is possible to train your brain to be creative and have ideas, but you need actively to set it going on a problem by asking it the right questions and feeding it the right information.
Then you can leave it to do its wonderful work.
Do companies value ideas? Can creativity among staff help a company get ahead? Our readers write:
39,916,800 ways of getting dressed with 11 pieces of clothing? If Edward De Bono can put his socks on after his shoes (definitely some creativity needed there) then maybe he does deserve his doctorate!
I work for an insurance company developing mathematical models of risk. I must keep abreast of the latest theory, and use it to develop solutions taking account of the limits of the data we have and the computing power available whilst always keeping an eye on the business sense of what's done. If I'm tired and get stuck on a problem I find that the best thing to do is go home, have a relaxing evening and in the morning the solution usually just pops into my head. If I try to work too hard for too long, I become much less effective at my job; a relaxed open mind is invaluable.
Robert, Zurich, Switzerland
You are spot on. Brilliant article. That is where success will come from. People with such abilities should be treasured and rewarded accordingly!
Boyan Tomic, Johannesburg, South Africa
This is one of those articles where reality doesn't quite meet theory. Most employers I have dealt with don't like originality or anything creative in their employees. Good story though.
John George, London, England
Complete and utter tosh. Companies do not value ideas, they are prone to sticking with archaic practices and principles. People with ideas are usually labelled as "know-it-alls", especially if they come from the lower ranks. A worker that comes from a wealthy background and has an idea is praised for their ingenuity, the same idea from a person from a working class background would ignored if not scorned.
Creativity amongst staff would definitely help companies, its a shame that the people who have a voice tend to be University leavers brought in as managers with no hands on experience. This usually only adds to problem.
AR, Notts, UK
One of the most interesting things about the way we think, is that most people assume that everyone thinks in the same way that they do. In my experience this is not the case. Unfortunately, someone who is creative is not well positioned to understand that some people have immense capacity to observe and recall every detail and to follow 'rules' or 'methodologies' to the letter (for example believing shares increase every year by 12%, and base an 'investment strategy' on this belief). Unfortunately, they are utterly unable to adapt to changes in their environment, hence our current investment industry predicament. It is also unfortunate that creative people are easily stripped of their ideas by individuals who have their own methodologies for what amounts to theft, that is stealing ideas and purporting them to be their own. Much of the mess within today's society can be apportioned to creative ideas being implemented by what amounts to little more than a 'monkey see, money do' mentality which appears to (horrifically) predominate in those who 'wish' to 'lead'.
Philip Keable, Hampstead
Edward de Bono's dressing permutations include many thousands where the undies are on your head, trousers are backward, and shoes are on the wrong feet. There are 57,231,980 ways in which Edward is stupid, and this is only one of them.
Matthew, London, UK
When ideas seem thin on the ground,
There are plenty so easily found,
Just drink to get drunk,
And the thoughts you have thunk,
Will seem very deep and profound!
Nigel Macarthur, London, England
Companies only value profit for their leaders. It is a one way treadmill of creative traffic. If you are good at licking Donkey you might get to innovate your way up as the managers pet. The key is to break free of the suit and make a simple living away from the old overpaid, over the hill stuffy pin stripped codger and his personal empire. Be creative out of the loop. See the system for what it really is and break free, the planet is still large enough!
James , Leeds
Yes, creativity among staff can help a company get a head. In the process company should also recognize the person, but in most of the cases employees are cheated they are exploited by the organization. If we can maintain balance, then both company and the person can do wonders .
Srinivas, Jakarta , Indonesia
Creativity is evolution. If a company doesn't evolve with the times it will be unfit to perform its service and be left behind by not continuously improving itself in a continuously changing world.
Buster J. Patiro, Hilo, Hawaii, USA
No. Companies value their staff for just shutting up and doing things the way they've always been done. "Stop wasting time and get on with your work." Creativity is the furthest thing from their minds.
An uncreative company stagnates, 'survives' and probably suffers a slow decline. Creativity is needed for growth, but creativity is a two-edged sword. Microsoft is a creative company - so was Enron. Anyway, it is not companies that value ideas but people in them. Senior people can find them a threat, not to the company but to themselves. They can also mean change. So ideas are rejected. What is required is open-minded management with good judgement. They will value ideas and the company should get ahead.
Nick S., Swinton, Greater Manchester
Yes companies value creativity. You think up a scheme to save them millions and they give you some book vouchers. My advice would be: If you have a great idea, keep it to yourself and start a business. You'll never receive a justified reward for it.
Scott Baldry, Bristol, England
Creativity amongst staff is practically the only way in which the super-giant pharmaceutical companies get ahead. The difference here is that such ideas, when brought to the market place, remain the property of the company and not the individual. The profit margins based on these ideas remain enormous, but the benefits are reaped by the company directors in their bloated salaries, and by the stockholders - not by the research staff. Naturally, these companies value the creativity of their staff, they're just not willing to pay for them. I strongly suspect that many, if not most, other companies operate in a similar environment; paying staff for great ideas would dilute their profit margin!
David Pim, Trieste, Italy
Great ideas, products and companies are all the results of creative thinking, not from vacuum. Reading, conferences, seminars, work-place experience and even everyday political and social discussions all contribute to or serve as meta ingredients of creative thinking. Absolutely, no one can create in the real world anything that he/she could not creatively think about. Creative thinking is like aerobic to the brain -it leads to innovation, efficiency, better logical reasoning, and overall intellectual development that can eventually be exhibited in the real world.
Johnicala DaEtim Edem Johnson, UYO, Nigeria
This has to be the biggest joke on the internet. Most British companies are run by anti-creative bean counting oafs. These people surround themselves with yes-men and -women. This is why British industry is disappearing. The list of industries where we were once world leaders includes railway equipment, computers, cars and cameras. When the management find themselves surrounded by the servile oafs that they appointed, a lack of creativity becomes apparent. This leads to the second best joke; that creativity can be taught. This is true in the sense that anyone can be taught to play the violin - just some people will not be very good!
Bill Edwards, Braintree, UK
My attempts to introduce de Bono's Six Hats techniques to my company were met with bemusement and scepticism. The response to intrapeneurship (new ideas within a company) is all too often "If it ain't broke..." or "When you've been here as long as I have, then you can make a suggestion". Improvements might put pressure on those whom the existing situation suits. This is why British developers go abroad to raise capital and Britain lags behind the rest of Europe in productivity and output.
Oscar, London UK
Great! I am known to be extremely creative. Who do I contact for a job?
Andrew, Cape Town, South Africa
Getting ideas is the easy part. The real skill is getting them implemented. This means that a creative person needs to influence others to turn ideas into a reality. That combination of skills is rare, I think, because creative people are often less interested in implementation than in generating ideas.
Mark Stevens, Copenhagen, Denmark
There is a paradox: although there is a lot of creativity among staff in any sector, the experience is that companies do not value staff ideas because it undermines the position of the concerned managers who are afraid to disrupt (managerial or technical) traditions. However, much more creativity exists with people who have no relation whatsoever with a company or even the concerned industry. The chance that these people are heard by the concerned sector is minimal. But when they succeed, the chance that their ideas are copied without further recognition is extremely high. Possibly because these ideas can then be proposed as management ideas...
Amat Bitran, Antwerp - Belgium
Not all companies value ideas and creativity. There are the traditional family owned companies who tread the regular and routine path and does not put a premium on new ideas and creativity. They feel threatened when bright young managers suggest some brilliant and workable ideas. On the contrary I have come across progressive companies who have grown in an unprecedented way mainly because they have shown that only new ideas and creativity can take them forward and give the cutting edge in the age of fierce competition.
S. Jayan, Darmstadt, Germany
Executives and managers may say they want creative and imaginative staff because it seems like the right thing to say, but in practice they just want people to shut up and do as they are told, and view anyone using a bit of initiative as upstarts and a threat to their positions.
Chris Webb, London, UK
I think good ideas in companies are everywhere. People come up with great solutions to everyday problems. But the problem is not a lack of ideas, it's middle management and established methods that destroy most ideas. Those in charge often feel they know everything and won't listen. Those companies who do take on new ideas are the really successful ones. Business' inherent nature to compete means most ideas are stopped at the source.
Some companies use interactive questionnaires and feedback forms to bring ideas and content. Now that's clever!
Di Drinkwater, Manchester, UK
Ideas are essential to differentiate the company as globalization and outsourcing erode the value of knowledge based work. However, few companies know how to value ideas or reward employees appropriately. The best companies, directly reward employees with a bonus/percentage from patents or intellectual property. They are instrumental in creating and support their commercialization. IBM and Philips filed about 3000 patents each last year. UK plc filed about 30,000. Most UK patents fail due to lack of corporate committment and unwillingness of UK companies to adopt new ideas, losing value to the US on the many ideas that originate in the UK (probably because we're an island and eat more fish proportional to the population than the US or EU, which means our brains have evolved to be more associative).
No. Nobody likes a smart arse and nothing alienates a person at work faster than showing ambition or a willingness to rock the boat. Nobody wants to stick their neck out, nobody will take responsibility for experimenting with new ways of working. British Industry is in terminal decline because of people afraid to change the status quo. Creative people are so rare in this country that they become famous.
Nick, London, UK
To the truly successful companies, they are. But most companies only care about the bottom line and enrichment of the executives. Workers are only troublesome office equipment.
Ralph M, USA
Empowering your staff to come up with creative ideas not only benefits with new ideas but helps to create a sense of belonging. It is a much cheaper way of gaining competitive advantage and it is a continuing process.
William McKissock, Ayr, Scotland
Doing things differently from a proven model is inherently risky. One creative idea could revolutionise a business, but it could also wreck it. In my experience, as businesses and managers are highly risk averse, creativity is in practice actively discouraged.
Edward McLean, Bristol, UK
Whoa! Think about what you are saying. You are going to hire the creative people and come up with the Next Big Thing. It can't be done. The search for solutions is not that easy and if it were, the competition would be deafening. History shows that you never know where or when or what. It is called serendipity. Nice try; no prize.
Colin Butts, Milton, Florida, USA
There is a constant battle between good and evil. "Good" being people with imitative, dreams, ideas and creativity. "Evil" being accountants and finance people whose idea of being creative is justifying their own existence.
A. Parry, Newbury, Berkshire
The key to promoting innovation and productivity is in Morgan's seminal essay on "Productivity Galore" where he says that "production compensation must be based solely on the market value of error-free production". Which of course includes a royalty based on a percentage of the market value of the innovation. Payable as long as the innovation is sold in the market.
Robert Topaz, Hanoi, Vietnam
In my experience, companies not only value ideas but also value employees who can provide these ideas. In the current situation, employees are also evaluated, based on the contribution to the company by way of ideas and improvements done while on the job.
It is definitely true that companies do capitalise on ideas provided in order to get ahead. In my company, for instance, employees are encouraged to provide ideas and, as the saying goes, to think out of the box. Out of all the resources available within a company, only the human resource can come up with something called ideas and innovations. Companies have everything to gain and nothing to lose by getting employees to be more creative. Creativity also brings an excitement and freshness to the work place.
Stephen Falleiro, Satara, India
It's a competitive advantage for those companies which do value creativity and ideas. Who wants to work for a company which doesn't?
I work as a technical writer. My background in art gives me a good sense of design, and therefore a capacity for contributing well to the design of user interfaces. However, I have rarely encountered managers who were willing to even contemplate making use of my skill. The engineers, bless them, are usually given the task of translating their material to the viewing public and more often than not, in my experience, they do a miserable job of it, not having any sense of how to move from code to visual cues.
Thanks for asking,
Joanna Sheldon, Ceret, France (expat USAer)
It is interesting the response to the word 'creative'. I once suggested to a solicitor that we needed to be creative in overcoming a problem with my divorce. She wrote back to me in shock, saying how could she possibly show the judge my correspondence, what on earth would he think? I sacked her - for not being creative.
Peter, Puerto la Cruz Venezuela