Creativity is about solving problems. The creative person uses convergent thinking as opposed to divergent thinking to develop novel solutions to puzzles and dilemmas.  Imagination involves divergent thinking and deals with fantasy and play. Creation is about production and development. The creative person uses resources to remove roadblocks. Creativity is goal oriented and is focused on results and solutions. The creative person uses creative ideas to remove barriers that would thwart his/her actions and goals. 

For instance, Shaka Zulu developed new weapons and new tactics that enabled his warriors to be more effective.  He introduced a shorter ‘stabbing’ spear, the ‘iklwa’ that replaced the traditional long and awkward ‘throwing’ spear. On the battlefield, he developed the now-famous “horns of the bull” formation (a two-pronged attack).  He was also smart enough to understand the value of a strategic alliance with the European settlers as well as with other tribes that were initially more powerful than the Zulus. These alliances enabled him to engage in divide and conquer strategies with opponents that were much stronger than his tribe.

Adolf Hitler had a “malevolent” creativity which allowed him to devise strategies and tactics that surprised and defeated many of his enemies. Hitler’s creativity was harnessed to his goal of developing a great Aryan nation that would dominate the world. His battle tactics and political strategies were unfettered by conventional patterns of morality and compassion for humanity.  His total lack of ethics enabled him to find solutions that removed barriers to his dominance over the German nation. Hitler had no qualms about lying, stealing, torture or murder if he thought they would further his goal of Aryan supremacy.  Were Hitler’s strategies and tactics creative?  Wikipedia defines creativity as: “the ability to generate innovative ideas and manifest them from thought into reality. The process involves original thinking. By this definition Hitler was creative although without any morality, I would define it as a brand of “malevolent” creativity. 

The creativity that is expressed in business strategies are legend. Google’s adoption of a search engine that dominated the playing field; Amazon’s “one click” marketing and Apples IPod and IPhone are examples of products that have revolutionized the market place. The power of creative products and services not only drives new business development and new jobs; it also creates new paradigms that radically change existing business rules. Email is not simply a new method for transferring messages and post-it notes are not simply small sticky pieces of paper. These products and services have fundamentally changed the way we do business. The internet is not simply a new market place, it is a radical new world that has changed the way people eat, sleep, relate, purchase products and services, marry, date and even die. 

Many organizations pay lip service to the God of Creativity. How often have I heard managers say “we value creativity in our employees.”  On the other hand, they make sure to hire employees who fit in.  Or they say they want to give their employees time to be creativity and productive, but then they don’t trust them to work at home on their own schedule.  How often I have seen managers who neither trust their employees nor feel that there is any other way to do things but their way. I once asked an employee why she did not go in to see her boss to deal with a problem she had since I noted that the boss had an “open door” policy. She looked at me and said “Yeah, open door but closed mind.”  

Dr. Deming used to say that the job of managers was to remove barriers so employees could do a better job. The job of managers should be to provide resources and support so that employees can be creative. Instead, most managers are a major impediment to creativity as are most management control systems. Employee performance measures, bonuses and reward systems, progressive discipline programs, results based management and MBO systems all guarantee that you will drive creativity and innovation out of your system. 

Most companies do not know how to foster creativity and innovation because most companies want conformance and control over their employees. The most creative and innovative people in the world become robots when they join a company. Can you imagine Lady Gaga, Picasso, Mozart, Walt Disney, James Cameron, Leonardo Di Vinci or Einstein working for a large corporation? Can you imagine what they would have produced?  The very thought is demoralizing.  Yet how many young people come out of a university only to be run through the grinder of corporate conformity.

Strategic leaders know that creativity emerges when people are truly valued as assets and not simply as resources. Creativity emerges when people and problems are brought together without time constraints or threats.  Creativity is not something that can be produced on a time clock or a 9-5 schedule. When Corporate America learns this last fact, it will again start a walk towards creativity and innovation. America became the most powerful country in the world because we were the freest country in the world. Organizations will never have creative employees when they treat them like captives in a zoo. Employees must have freedom and responsibility to be creative. The two traits can and do go together.