Personal Creativity. In today's financial instability and volatile markets, companies are fighting for positive annual sales figures. Many businesses are struggling to retain their position in the industry and in consumers' minds. However, there are still corporations that no matter of the existing environmental turbulence they still stay in the top 10 of Fortune 500 ranking. What makes these organisations so successful? One example is GE, the most open-minded company that understands the power of human mind and the valuable attribute of idea generation in driving growth through creativity and innovation. According to GE's "Global Innovation Barometer 2013" survey "84% of leaders are confident that innovation can come from anywhere" (GE, 2013:1). The Barometer looks at the term innovation as a formula comprised of company's business models, strategic approaches and human resources - elements that enhance internal quality and performance thus achieving profitability and exploring new successful business opportunities. However, to distinguish your organisation in such way, strategic leaders must first facilitate idea generation and encourage creativity which will turn those ideas into real innovations. In this essay, I will explore how the strategic culture of Cummins stimulated my inner creativity traits resulting in the introduction of a new measurement tool - skills matrix. Different perspectives on individual creativity along with theories and concepts from the field of creativity, innovation and design will be presented. By demonstrating my ability to apply academic knowledge to a real-life situation, I will reflect back on this work experience and analyse and evaluate the creativity process I undertook.
Although Wallas's (1926) and Hesselbein and Johnston (2002) creative process models provide a comprehensive structure of the stages involved in individual creativity, in respect to my chosen event, I feel that they do not correctly demonstrate the actions I undertook during my task. For this reason, a conceptual framework has been created in order to better illustrate the stages and the involved elements of my creative process (see Figure 1).
Figure Conceptual framework
The activity I would like to present as a creative act took place during my placement year in Cummins Power Generation. My role was within a global strategic and improvement department which aim was to support all customer service functions in Cummins' plant network. The team on site was small which gave me the opportunity to regularly and openly communicate with my manager. The first and the most challenging individual task I was given was to create a performance measurement tool in Excel called "skills matrix" that will be initially used by the local customer service team and then distributed globally. My manager explained to me the purpose and what the outcome must be from completing this work giving me complete freedom in planning, designing and executing the tool. As the skills matrix will be created according to Customer Account Managers' interpersonal abilities and process knowledge required for the role, I had to work closely with everyone from the team in order to obtain necessary information, understand the processes and procedures, and input everything relevant in the Excel tool. This assignment required great team work, concentration, critical thinking, decision-making, extensive knowledge and creativity. During the process of completing the task, I managed to effectively communicate with all Account Managers, gather necessary information, understand procedures and see the relationship between different processes thus identifying critical links and skills which were highlighted within the matrix. My personality and communication helped me in completing this small project but what contributed the most to the success of this job was my creative thinking - I was able to apply academic knowledge in reality and propose a new strategic tool seen from operations management perspective. The final design was welcomed with enthusiasm by many middle and top-level managers and is now being used globally as part of Account Managers' Personal Development Plan (see Appendix 1).
To better demonstrate and understand my creative side, I will first discuss and apply different theories and concepts relevant to the described activity. Knowledge of such theories and my own critical evaluation will help me to close my learning cycle from this experience.
Reflection on the activity from theoretical perspective
Stage 1: the role of organisation's goals and culture in creativity
A universal definition of creativity is hard to give as it is a broad term that takes different forms according to the situation. Constructing Allianz Arena stadium in Munich, designing Nike's running shoes or drawing with sand are all acts of imagination and originality that require different mindset and skills. From the context of the described event, I have recognised my measurement tool as an entrepreneurial creativity which Amabile (1997) best explains as "â€¦the production of novel and appropriate solutions to open-ended problems in any domain of human activity" (1997: 18). From this statement an impression is left that only highly novel/innovative ideas are defined as creative. However, as Amabile (1997) further explains, entrepreneurial creativity can be found in actions of process implementation and the use of new or different for the business product/service improvement methods. The design of my skills matrix is an example of such entrepreneurial ingenuity. It was seen valuable for company's internal quality and employees' productivity, two dimensions essential in achieving customer satisfaction and profitability (Heskett et.al, 2008). This tool served as an open communicator between function's manager and his staff which changed employees' work behaviour and enhanced their performance. Moreover, the implementation process required great individual activity as well as team's collaboration in order to address all skills and tasks necessary for an Account Manager role. Therefore, skills matrix is not only a service process improvement within an established system but it is also an evident act of entrepreneurial creativity that led to an innovation in regards to Cummins' performance appraisal techniques (Amabile, 1997).
In order to better illustrate the meaning of my creativity and the influencing elements along the process, the concept of organisational creativity will be presented. The two frameworks shown in Figure 1 and 2 demonstrate that organisational creativity is a process comprised of multiple variables that have great impact on the final design.
Figure Organisational creativity model. Source: Gundry et.al (1994)
Figure Organisational creativity model. Source: Woodman et.al (1993)
As evident from the models, Gundry et.al (1994) illustrates creativity as a linear process that leads to innovation while Woodman et.al (1993) believes that organisational creativity is a multi-level model that turns those generated creative ideas into organisational innovation leading to competitive advantage. Gundry et.al (1994) note that companies must focus on their internal system and procedures to develop employee's conceptual skills. According to the authors, after recognition of individuals' conceptual skills, organisational processes emerge and encourage creativity behaviour. In contrast, Figure 2 (Woodman et.al, 1993) demonstrates that organisational processes, or described as characteristics, are not a consequential stage in business creativity but it is a parallel category which combined with people's skills leads to ingenuity. Gundry's et. al (1994) model also lacks the elements of physical environment and social situation where the individuals/group work in; these creative attributes seen as enhancers as well as constraints are not acknowledged as part of the creative process. From the perspective of my described activity, I believe that the multi-level integration concept best reflects the stages I went through in designing and implementing the skills matrix. Looking at the model and reading through theories of creativity, I realise that the aim of the task was not only to find a way to measure and analyse performance but also to encourage creativity. According to Woodman et.al (1994) "...the availability of information is a crucial variable in the creative process" (1994: 314) further adding that "Organizational creative performance will be increased by the employment of organic organizational designs (e.g., matrix, network designs, and collateral group structures)" (1994: 314). The purpose of the skills matrix is for the Account Managers to understand their strengths and weaknesses and think about how they can improve - either individually or by collaboration and teamwork. It is not only a measurement matrix that will provide the manager with a numerical performance level, it is a method in enhancing manager-employee communication, assessing individual's skills, recognising their accomplishments and strengths, and boost their self-esteem and intrinsic motivation in the workplace. Therefore, this powerful tool can lead to positively changing employee's behaviour towards the work unlocking their creativity. Amabile (1997) recognises the importance of fair recognition and managerial support for encouraging creative thinking. Although I was aware of the advantages in designing the tool and was constantly communicating its importance to the team, looking at the theory, I now better understand the importance of it and I feel I have contributed to Cummins' goal for functional excellence.
Stage 2: Acknowledgment of knowledge, collaboration and motivation in creativity
When my manager briefed me the task, I had no idea what my starting point will be. I was terrified by the fact that such an important job is given to a placement student however I was more than excited to start and come up with a great idea that will impress my manager and the team. I was feeling desperate to get this innovative idea that will earn me the image of a bright and imaginative person. Now going back to that moment, I realise that the theory of creativity presented by Gundry et.al (1994) and Amabile (1997) could have been helpful in understanding the role of each element and how I could have effectively utilized these in creating the skills matrix. As evident from Figure 3 and 4 the authors have recognized the importance of three components in organizational creativity - expertise/education, creativity skills/application and task motivation/environment. Additionally, Arnold (2011) introduces the four Ps of creativity - People, Products, Process and Press. Nevertheless, this concept does not apply to my personal activity as the task did not involve communication and co-creation with external customers, i.e Products element.
Figure Amabile (1997) model of creativity in organisations
Figure Gundry et.al (1994) model of creative organisation
In my experience, all of the three factors influenced my creative thinking however my knowledge (i.e expertise/education) of operations management and analytical mind (i.e creativity skills/application) helped me to better understand the aim of the task, how it relates to company's goals and how I can take advantage of my academic background in order to design an effective tool that will be systematically and continually utilised. I was inspired by Deming's PDCA cycle (Slack, 2007) as a method for project monitoring and continuous improvement therefore I decided to implement it within the skills matrix as I saw its potential in communicating the idea and the systematic approach of the matrix to the Customer Service Manager. After I showed it to my manager, he was very pleased with the idea and gave me a green light in implementing it to the tool. From this experience and previously exposed theory, it is clear that education is a trigger of idea generation. However, expertise is not sufficient. As Gurteen (1998) suggests creativity is about using your knowledge to connect and relate different notions into one new approach. It is about generating effective problem-solving methods (Amabile, 1997). Therefore, expertise is useful only if it can be applied through creative thinking. In the case of my activity, the application of operations management concepts was a sign of my flexibility and problem-solving skills. Reflecting back to theories on creative processes, I recognise that the source of my creativity came from my analytical mind and imagination in terms of applying academic concepts to a business environment. Also, I realise that the origin of my creativity came from association - the application of PDCA cycle and Benchmarking system to the skills matrix (Von Stamm, 2008).
When I was introduced to this small project, my manager gave me full independence and freedom in choosing the structure and content of the matrix. He explained to me the reason for this tool, the positive impact it will have on the function once completed and the opportunities this project will provide me with in understanding the internal processes and company's supply chain. Although no specific time framework was given he emphasised on the importance of implementing this tool for achieving company's strategy. Amabile (2002) explains that creativity does not come under pressure because pressure can only result in frustration - a creativity blocker. Although I felt strange for not having a time constraint, I now understand the reason for it. As Amabile (2002) further explains, I was not under time pressure but I felt like on a mission, I had a sense of focus on the job. This managerial approach decreased my initial fear of failure and boosted my self-confidence thus I was able to fully open and use my expertise and creative thinking. Therefore, the independence, encouragement and support I was provided with stimulated my task motivation. Amabile (1997) states that motivational synergy may exist (that is extrinsic plus intrinsic motivation) and support creativity. My experience with designing the performance tool can be an example of such combination. I was given "clearly defined overall project goals and frequent constructive feedback on the work" (2007:45) by my manager (extrinsic) and I was aware of the positive affect this task will have on my role thus feeling interested and challenged (intrinsic).
Nevertheless, my lack of previous knowledge of Cummins' internal processes affected my creativity and caused a delay in completing my task. Although I had great task motivation, my intrinsic motivation was influenced by the environment (Amabile, 1998; Dul and Ceylan, 2010). When designing the skills matrix, I was heavily dependent on the information that the Account Managers were providing to me. Collaboration was fundamental. As I had no previous experience with procedures and systems nor I had the required explicit knowledge of order management, I found it hard to understand the skills and processes introduced to me. I also found that the Account Managers had different working ethics, processes were not standardised and sometimes people ended up confused while explaining a procedure. At that moment, I started feeling annoyed and helpless. As I had to blindly trust their information, I was under stress when meeting with my manager. Questions like "why this skill is included?", "what is this process/how does it work/what does it involve?" I could not answer immediately so I was feeling embarrassed and unsatisfied with my progress. Reflecting back to theory, Woodman et.al (1993), Amabile (1998) and Arnold (2010) suggest that group work influence creative behaviour. In my case, the team had the role of a creativity blocker. Something more, I needed to rely on the Customer Service Manager for approving the skills matrix structure and methodology before implementation. I was left disappointed many times by him due to his unavailability thus my task was taking too much time to complete. This hierarchical structure and long-decision chain is defined by Ahmed (1998) as creativity impediment. My high dependency on others and my lack of expertise on the subject caused my frustration, unhappiness and discouragement to finish the project. Amabile and Kramer (2011) have identified that "inner work life has a profound impact on workers' creativity, productivity, commitment and collegiality. Employees are far more likely to have new ideas on days when they feel happier" (2011: 1). Nevertheless, reflecting on my experience on team work, I realise the advantages and disadvantages of working individually and in collaboration.
Stage 3 and 4: Creative thinking and the new measurement tool
By analysing the elements of my individual creativity I realise how organisational goals and culture and my knowledge and collaboration have triggered my creative thinking which was then transformed into the final design of the skills matrix. My adaptability, curiosity, intrinsic motivation, flexibility and knowledge are personal traits that helped me in reaching creative thinking (Black, 2008). Although I did not consider myself a creative person and I was unconfident in my ability to design a new tool, I understand that the abilities I have identified are actually characteristics of creativity. Moreover, I recognise that I possess convergent creative thinking - my mind finds problem solutions through processing information in a systematic way relying on my consciousness rather than on intuition (Bilton, 2007). A technique that I utilised and further stimulated my creative thinking was a Microsoft tool called Mind Map. It has the same principles of brainstorming which McFadzean (2000) identifies as the most popular and useful tool. I used it in team meeting in order to collect more information on the skills/processes and try to provoke team's imagination.
As this essay is based on reflection-on-action writing, I will now close the learning cycle (Schon, 1987) by identifying the lessons learned from my experience. Firstly, looking at the essay approach and the presented conceptual framework, it is evident that the activity did not follow a traditional creative process model. It was a continuous process of gathering information and knowledge via collaboration and individual decision-making. Even after the task was completed and the new measurement tool was implemented, my creative process did not close. I continued on aligning the content of the matrix with organisation's new tactics thus initiating the creative cycle again. However, I understand that if I was aware of Amabile's (1998) elements influencing creativity, I would have been better prepared thus avoiding the negative feelings I had. Working in a global, diverse environment such as Cummins is not always a positive factor for creativity as defined by Arnold (2010) and Amabile and Khaire (2008). In my experience, diversity was a block to my creativity as I was receiving different information causing confusion and misunderstanding of the skills/processes. I could have dealt better with this problem if I had used a more structured creativity technique compared to brainstorming. Such a tool is the so called "A pair of fresh eyes" (NHS, 2013) which helps in identifying new alternatives in viewing a problem, or in my case an internal process/procedure. Here the Five Whys tool (Mind Tools, 2013) is also beneficial in discovering the root cause and identifying a new common process that will suit every Account Managers working ethics.
Another drawback of working in a big corporation was the process management culture. Again in their article, Amabile and Khaire (2008) describe that this type of leadership inhibits creativity as it does not give freedom of work, it controls the mind of the employees and does not encourage creative problem-solving. For this reason, I was feeling limited in using my imagination. I have learnt that working in a global organisation can have its advantages and limitations which I need to uncover and understand how to effectively use to enhance my creative thinking.
In regards to the described and analysed theory in this essay, I have learnt that I am a creative person who needs to advance her creative thinking and apply it in practice. Critically analysing and evaluating previously undertaken activity made me aware of the benefit of reflection to my learning and self-awareness. I have identified theories and concepts that support my creative process thus showing me I have taken the right approaches and decisions. However, by evaluating a real-life situation from the eyes of academics I realise that some researchers' perspectives are theoretical and not relevant to every business situation. Also, I recognise the positive impact one individual can have on organisational creativity. The skills matrix provides not only a new approach in employees' appraisal but also an enhanced communication system between leaders and staff. As illustrated in the conceptual framework, creativity is an essential human resource that once identified and exploited it will lead to employee productivity, organisational excellence, customer satisfaction and profitability.