Organised chaos – a culture of creativity

A recent article in the Observer titled “Why China lacks Creativity” tells how every year when the Nobel Prize winners are announced China has an internal debate about why their country is so bad at fostering creativity and entrepreneurship.

The article describes how China is taking steps to streamline bureaucracy and provide financing for young entrepreneurs in the hope of encouraging a new generation of enterprises that are not driven by a top-down planned economy.  It describes how China looks envyingly at the USA and sees as an amazingly creative culture, and how those Chinese who move to the USA have had no trouble being successful and creative, making it clear that it is not a genetic deficiency, but a cultural atmosphere that allows it to happen.

They elaborate that creativity is best fostered in a slightly rebellious environment.  While the authorities are looking one way, the creatives are busy developing disruptive technologies that will blow away all previous rules.  And they use the term “benign neglect” as being a good atmosphere in which creativity flourishes.

That led me to think about how this can be translated for companies who seek to encourage creativity and intrapreneurship (an entrepreneurial culture within a larger corporation) in their organisations.

Taking these comments on China, we can see that an authoritarian top-down company culture is not going to foster creativity, and similarly any new ideas would be quickly squashed by a culture that fears reprisals at every turn.  I can even see a problem in the Chinese education system that paints good discipline and high grades as the ultimate route to success.  All this encourages conventional thinking – and truly disruptive entrepreneurs are not normally conventional thinkers.

In fact, in order to turn a traditional company into a modern creative environment you have to consider a range of initiatives, for example: allowing time away from structured effort, providing consistent and genuine praise for the smallest ideas, perhaps changing the visual environment, and fostering other initiatives to change behaviours like stand-up meetings and even lunch-time games.

Now I feel like I am losing you.  I can hear the kick-back from the traditionalists. I can feel the fury if managers feel urgent tasks are being ignored in favour of “play”, and many may have a sense that the organisation is losing a grip on reality.

But somewhere in between that authoritarian culture at one end of the spectrum and complete chaos at the other, you may be able to find a place where you can foster a more creative atmosphere in your organisation.