Nature or Nurture for Creativity?

The relationship between creativity, alignment, innovation and business sustainability has long been of interest to academics and business practitioners. There have been several works to describe the innovators process, DNA, dilemma and personality. It has been established and widely accepted that creativity and the resultant innovation that it produces is critical for sustainability and continued growth, to this end (Christensen, Gregersen, Dyer, 2011) state that “ In fact, a recent poll of fifteen hundred CEO’s identified creativity as the number one leadership competency of the future. The power of innovative ideas to revolutionize industries and generate wealth is evident from history.”


According to Christensen most people think that creativity is entirely a cognitive process and skill, that it ‘all happens in the brain'. Critical insight from Christensen’s work shows that in fact creativity and the resultant solutions it produces are not solely a result of outputs of the mind but are also a function of behaviours. This insight has impact on the questions asked in relation to the behaviours and the HOW of creating the meta-culture necessary to unleash the latent creativity that resides in minds and adopted behaviours.


In testing the idea whether creativity is inherited or created, (Reznikoff, et al. 1973) carried out the RAT (Remote Associations Test) and the AUT (Alternative Uses Test) on fraternal twins aged 15-22 years old to establish creativity as inbred or a learned behaviour? Their results broadly showed that only 30% of the performance of identical twins on a battery of ten creativity tests could be attributed to genetics. In contrast roughly 80-85 percent of the twins’ performance on general intelligence (IQ) tests could be attributed to genetics (McCartney, Harris, 1990).


Other studies such as (Barron, 1972. Vandenberg, 1968. Nichols, 1978. Waller, Bouchard, Lykken, Tellegen, Blacker, 1993. Waller, Bouchard, Lykken, Tellegen, Blacker, 1992) have found that creativity is more a form of nurture than nature. This means roughly more than two thirds of our creative ability is a result of learning – first understanding, then practice and finally gaining confidence to create.


The confidence to create is an interesting idea and relates to the culture and environment that the creative organism either finds or doesn't find itself in. From a practical standpoint different business cultures and the leaders that perpetuate them are either enabling to creative processes or in the converse - inhibiting. Can you remember a time you had a great idea and let it pass because you just weren't sure how it would fly? Enough of those experiences and overtime you believe you cannot make a difference. Enough time and it gets you into the 87% of workers in the world who say they are not engaged at work! Don't know about you, I would rather hear a dumb suggestion than no suggestion.


Many innovators and creatives acquired their skills from “role models who made it safe as well as exciting to discover new ways of doing things.” This ‘safe place’ referred to in the literature is a primary representation of the meta-culture of an organisation. The meta-culture is translated into the potential for alignment of a group of people in relation to an agenda or organisational goal. The safety referred to by Christensen can also be termed a generative space or ‘generative paradigm’. The next time you are sitting in an exco meeting tally up for yourself how much time is spent on governance discussion and how much is spent on looking ahead and visioning new breakthroughs - just do it and you will know if you live generatively or not. The need to develop creativity skills within top leadership strata is critical if innovation and solutioning within an organisation is a desired outcome.


Momentum and energy employed by the leader will have a marked effect on how creative, sustainable and ultimately desirable a place is to work and thrive within. The effects this could have on an organisation’s capacity to attract and keep top talent in the constant ebb and flow of talent migration becomes a deliberate point of focus as well. If creativity really is the next frontier and NO. 1 desired leadership attribute of the future what are we doing about it in our organisations along the multiple work streams that need to be negotiated to develop momentum toward the safe space meta- culture?


Knowing what we know and being in the driving seat of our organisation's meta-culture and realising that creativity is a behaviour more than an endowment - ask yourself: "What is your organisations creativity strategy?" if you don't have one ask yourself " How will I deal with the increased ambiguity of tomorrow?" If it is business as usual, I don't think we can bank on managing our piece of the pie forever - we need to design and lead ways to tap into the creativity and innate genius of our people to find the breakthroughs, after all it is they who will deliver them to the customer.

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