Introducing creativity to achieve better project outcomes


A new book, ‘How to steal fire’ , reveals some of the fallacies behind creativity. The truth is that creativity doesn’t come from teams, it comes from team members. In fact, group work can have a negative effect on a project’s outcome.

It is good to remember that smaller groups are often much better at achieving targeted outcomes, as there is less diffusion of responsibility. The danger, as eloquently quoted by William Wrigley Jr, the founder of the eponymous chewing gum manufacturer, is that “when two men always agree, one of them is unnecessary”.

It should also be understood that creativity and innovation are different. To quote HBR’s Roger Schwarz, “Innovation involves two stages—the generation of new ideas and the implementation of the ideas. Creativity is considered to be the first stage of innovation.”

Whereas project teams and project methodology are understood and there is broad agreement on their usefulness in implementation, there is still no agreement on how to spur and nurture creativity in a business environment. So with little research and no agreement, how can we as program and project managers encourage project creativity? Here are four suggestions:

  • Write regularly: Encourage the practice and pursuit of good writing. Follow the example of Amazon where good writing is embedded in the culture, and management progression is dependent on the power of the written word.
  • Look for insights outside of your domain: Flashes of creativity and inspiration can often come at the juxtaposition of two different domains.
  • Use technology as an enabler: How much more could ancient peoples have written with typewriters instead of using pen and parchment? How much more could nineteenth century authors have written with computers than on typewriters? How can you use technology to inspire your own creativity?
  • Creativity needs sustenance and maintenance to grow and mature: Don’t do as William Faulkner says and ‘kill your darlings’. Often companies kill ideas without immediate promise. This path leads that company to an early demise. Nurture these saplings. The example of IBM here should suffice. Their researchers, in the midst of a severe downturn, had a crazy idea, with no immediate payback or even promise of payback. It turned them into a market leader.

Can you use the human spirit of creativity to provide better project outcomes?


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