Resolving the clash between creativity and effectiveness in the workplace

Is Management the Enemy of Creativity?

Teresa Amabile, Harvard Business School professor and author of The Progress Principle (2011) says there’s a crisis in corporate management. “While the basis of competition has shifted decisively to innovation, most management tools and approaches are still geared to exploit established ideas rather than explore new ones.”

In my experience as a coach and creativity consultant, middle management presents some of the biggest impediments to organizational creativity and innovation, unless there is a culture that supports creative endeavours.

Amabile says, “There’s no question that it would be better for a business to learn to work with the creative impulses of its own people. But what would that entail in a large organization? Is the whole notion of managerial discipline antithetical to creativity? Or, as Scott Cook of Intuit recently put it, “Is the end of management near?’ “

Industrial-age command-and-control style management is out of sync in a Creative Economy and should only be used in crisis situations. Amabile who has conducted studies on creativity for years, says we need to reinvent management in order to:

  • Enable collaboration by people with diverse perspectives on a problem
  • Respect the fact that creativity thrives in situations where there is slack and redundancy.
  • Rethink job design and incentive systems in light of what really motivates creativity: intellectual challenge and public affirmation.
  • Manage as though we expect creativity from everyone — not just isolated “lone geniuses”

Source: Harvard Business Review Blog. Sept 25, 2008

Is Creativity a Bad Trait for a Senior Leader?

A 2010 study warns leaders not to be too creative. Unless you have plenty of charisma to complement your creativity, thinking outside the box could keep you out of top management. Companies say they want fresh ideas from their leaders, and most researchers concentrate on the positive impact made by creative bosses. But this study focuses on how stereotypes about “creative types” and “effective leaders” clash, leading people to believe that their innovative colleagues aren’t cut out for the top spots.

Psychologists have established that to most people, the prototypical leader reduces uncertainty and promotes stability, emphasizing shared goals and group identity to preserve the status quo. The stereotypes of creative people are at odds with that definition; the very act of advocating unproven solutions can be seen as rocking the boat.

The findings indicate that the dominant model of leadership is one that encourages useful, noncreative solutions. The researchers also argue that creative employees are gradually filtered out on their journey up the corporate ladder.

Bottom Line: Because of conflicting stereotypes about creativity and leadership, stakeholders prefer the prototype of a leader they see as fostering a stable and secure environment. However, creative people who are also charismatic stand a better chance of advancing.

Source: “Recognizing Creative Leadership: Can Creative Idea Expression Negatively Relate to Perceptions of Leadership Potential?” by Jennifer S. Mueller (University of Pennsylvania), Jack Goncalo (Cornell University), and Dishan Kamdar (Indian School of Business) Journal of Experimental Social Psychology December 2010 Via Strategy + Business

In defence of creativity in the workplace

Adobe’s 2014 global study found that companies that embrace creativity outperform peers and competitors on key business performance indicators, including revenue growth, market share, and talent acquisition.

Need help developing creativity in your workplace? Let’s talk.


In my experience creativity in the workplace thrives with leadership support—and that includes fostering a stable and secure environment, and using methodologies such as design thinking that help employees focus their attention on creating value for stakeholders. When fostered in this manner, creativity can be used to enhance productivity and efficiency, but leaders must allow for a certain amount of chaos in the process.

Adobe’s 2016 global study on creativity in business shows that creativity is more important than ever.

Key finding: Investing in creativity pays off with tangible benefits – from higher income to greater national competitiveness and productivity.

 See also

Why You Need to Cultivate Your Inner Life (as a Leader)

The Must-Have Skills You Need to Compete in the New Future of Work

How to Identify and Root Out Assumptions That Keep You Stuck