Creativity in Decision Making

Learning OUtcomes

  • Discuss ways to promote creativity in decision making

If a decision maker is going to produce novel alternatives when solving a problem, then he or she is going to need a little creativity to help the process along. Creativity allows the decision maker to more fully appraise and understand the problem . . . sometimes in ways others can’t see it.

decorative imageCreativity is the ability to link or combine ideas in novel ways, and their unique alternatives have to be considered useful to others. Creativity is also known as divergent or lateral thinking. Lateral thinking moves away from the linear approach that’s advocated in rational decision making. Some researchers feel that employee and manager creativity is the hallmark of an organization’s success—that solving old organizational issues in new ways creates organizational effectiveness.

If creativity is the key to organizational effectiveness, then how do we get some of that? Is there a way that organizations can foster creativity for the benefit of decision making?

First, it’s important to note the characteristics of creative people, so we can understand what we’re aiming for in our creative environment. Creative decision makers seem to have an ability to sift through the massive amounts of information that can be reviewed when making a decision, and decide what information is and isn’t relevant. Still, they listen to all sources to understand where problems are emerging. And when they’re ready, they present a solution that’s bold and well informed. They don’t rely on the rational decision making model . . . they rely on something more than that. Creativity.

Five characteristics that creative leaders seem to have in common:

  • Perseverance in the face of obstacles and adversity
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Willingness to grow and openness to experience
  • Tolerance of ambiguity
  • Effective use of analogy to apply a known situation to an unknown situation

Organizationally (and individually) speaking, there are certain factors that, when they exist, tend to point to a more creative atmosphere.

  • Questioning attitude. Organizations that don’t invite the questioning of values, assumptions or norms are not likely to be very creative. Organizations need to continually question the long-held beliefs of their industry if they’re going to stay ahead of the curve and come up with creative ways to bring services and products to their customers.
  • Culture. Our traditional values are sometimes at odds with the creative solutions we might come up with to solve organizational problems. If an organization’s culture puts too much emphasis on tradition, they’re likely to stifle creativity around problem solving.
  • Leadership. Similar to culture, leaders who are bound to traditional characteristics of the leader-follower relationship, who don’t promote questioning attitudes or invite their employees to challenge the status quo, will not do much to foster a creative environment.
  • Attitude toward risk. Finally, employees who are afraid to try something new will never put their creative solutions into action! Just as one of the characteristics of a creative leader is a willingness to take risks, so must employees feel comfortable doing so in an organization.

Overall, creativity is likely to flourish in an environment that’s open and encourages participation. Keeping everyone on an even playing field, with no organizational encouragement for an “us versus them” type of environment will increase dialogue and keep ideas flowing.

Practice Question

The Three Components of Creativity

Three components of creativity. Expertise, Creative Thinking Skills, and Motivation come together to make creativity.Studies show that most individuals have the capability of being at least moderately creative, so if organizations want to help individuals develop their creativity, they can leverage the three components of creativity. The three components of creativity suggest that creativity lies at the intersection of motivation, expertise and developed creative thinking skills.

Expertise—technical, procedural and intellectual knowledge—is the foundation for all creative work. You wouldn’t expect someone who knows very little about software programming to come up with creative solutions to problems. The potential for creativity in a given area is enhanced when the individual has an exceptional grasp of the information around a problem or issue. Organizations can have a positive impact on increasing employee expertise with training, mentorship programs, etc.

Creative thinking skills encompass all those personality traits we talked about earlier that are common to creative leaders. Organizations, when cognizant of the traits that foster creativity, can interview and select candidates for hire that have these characteristics.

Motivation here means that an individual wants to work on a particular task because it’s interesting and engaging. An individual who is more intrinsically motivated is likely to have an easier time developing creativity than one who is more extrinsically motivated. Motivation determines the extent to which an individual will engage his expertise and creative thinking skills.

Brainstorming and Cooperative Exploration

Organizations can also stimulate creativity by employing the practices of brainstorming and cooperative exploration.

Brainstorming is a creative process in which individuals generate a large number of ideas without censorship. No idea is a bad one! If you’re looking to bring new customers into a retail store, the idea of “training monkeys to ring up purchases” is on the table until it’s time to review and determine which ideas are actually viable. The benefit of brainstorming is that a group of people can build on each other’s ideas, no matter how ridiculous, and perhaps eventually come up with viable solutions.

Cooperative exploration requires individuals to consider a problem from different points of view. Individuals taking part in a cooperative exploration might find themselves arguing for points that they do not believe. But the process requires that individuals work the problem from all angles to ensure that they received the best point of view.

A chart indicating the different ways individuals approach an issue. The positions are natural, emotional, negative, positive, new solution, and holistic. In the cooperative exploration, the following positions are taken by the participants:

  • Neutral. Individual does not take sides, and just considers the facts.
  • Emotional. Individual only considers the emotional aspects of the issue—who gets hurt? What emotions may be triggered?
  • Negative. Individual only considers the negative—what will go wrong and what if the solution doesn’t work.
  • Positive. Individual only considers the positive aspects of the issue.
  • New solution. Individual only considers the new creative possibilities, or the “what ifs”
  • Holistic. Individual considers the entire issue, asking “What’s the big picture?”

By encouraging participants to consider these different viewpoints, the model encourages lateral and divergent thinking.

Creative thinking and creative decision making can keep an organization ahead of its competitors. Now, let’s talk about how different organizations put all these aspects of decision making together and actually make decisions with them.