How can we embed creativity in organisations?

Image from Shift website

I was at an RSA talk by Charles Leadbeater today. At the end of the talk I very briefly met a lady who said that her work was about getting leaders to be creative, and to embed creativity in organisations. She wasn’t sure how to make that happen yet.

Earlier today I was asked how to get non-creative people come up with good solutions to problems. The person I was having the conversation with and I had both noticed that too often, when people are asked for ideas, people will outline the problem again rather than thinking of solutions. Or if a solution is thought of, it’s an area of solutions rather than a specific imagining of how that solution might work in practice. It’s something that I have experienced time and time again with groups of people who are not used to thinking creatively.

The conclusion I am reaching, at least for today, is that it’s not enough to ask ‘non-creative’ people to be creative and expect brilliant results. Creative thinking workshops and introducing design thinking processes into workplaces alone are not going to make the change.


Image from Shift website

For effective ideas, creative people need to be present in order to bring everyone else’s ideas together and facilitate the solution. In my experience, ideas that came out of workshops I’ve run that were any good always, always, always had a creative person as part of the group.

These were people that:
– were motivated to make change for whatever reason
– knew about ideas from a variety of sources, and were actively engaged in the world outside the workplace
– were team players: they listened and distilled ideas from others to come up with ideas that everyone had a part in, and helped the group work as a team

So that’s: motivation, a brain bank full of inspiration, and facilitating collaboration.

And the people that helped produce ideas that were a cut above the rest:
practiced being creative in their personal lives in some way, from drawing to knitting to facilitating alternative events. Better still were the practicing designers, especially service designers.

Experience in creative practice enabled people to visualise and communicate the ideas, to imagine the step by step story of how the idea could work in practice, and to embrace the failure rate of the creative process.

Not everyone has those qualities. It’s the people that are involved that make the difference. More creative people are needed in the mix.

Image from Shift website

This is not to say that some people are creative and some aren’t. Everyone starts off not being able to draw or play an instrument – the only way you can be good at it is if you practice. Practice takes a great deal of time. I have spent my whole life practicing multiple ways of being creative. Other people might have spent 20 years as medical professionals. I wouldn’t be able to do what they can do – it’s not fair to expect them to come up with brilliant innovative solutions.

Co-design works on the basis that people with experience in a particular area are the experts on that area, and have good ideas about what needs to change. That’s not the same as being an expert on imagining what the change could be, or making the change.

So one of those medical professionals will come up a kernel of a special idea through the experiences they’ve had, but it inevitably will need honing and polishing. That’s where people who regularly practice creativity are needed – to help other people imagine and realise the changes they need to see in their industry.

By the way, the NHS are planning to get GP practices to innovate themselves, which is sounding alarm bells in my head. Check out this article about innovation in primary care.

If you’re looking for people with creative experience to get into the room, give me a shout.

I’d love to hear where you stand on this – especially if you feel strongly. You can comment on the post or tweet me (angrily or otherwise) at @liorsmith.

1 Comment

Filed under Design Inspiration, FutureGov, Ideas, My current work

One response to “How can we embed creativity in organisations?

  1. Hi Lior thanks for posting this. I think I understand what you are getting at, some people are not well practiced at design thinking, and some are (is that what you are getting at?). The term ‘creative person’ is a misnomer though, and whilst you make the caveat that ‘this is not to say some people are creative and some aren’t’, I think use of the term suggests the opposite. It seems not to imply that we are all creative, and that we can all become more creative.

    The criteria you’ve listed for a “creative person” are, I think, all means by which someone becomes more creative (being motivated, informed/aware, and a team player), I’d go further though and say that motivation comes from being informed, or at least curious; it’s hard for anyone become more realized in their creativity if they’re bored. Thanks again.

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