OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Corporate creativity: does your company have it?

09/17/1997

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Not all creativity is spectacular in nature. Consider a flight attendant for American Airlines, who noticed that about half of the 10 coffee pot lids on an average flight were thrown away at the end of the trip.

She proposed that only five lids be put on each flight.

Now, each lid cost only 1.5 cents, so the overall savings were negligible, right? Well, consider that American was running about 2,300 flights per day. Suddenly that translated into annual savings of more than $62,000.

Would one of your employees approach a manager about such a seemingly trivial improvement? Would the manager have listened? Would there be prompt consideration of the idea and a quick decision and whether to implement it? If the answer is yes, your company is probably in the minority, suggests a new book, "Corporate Creativity."

Authors Sam Stern of Oregon State University and Alan G. Robinson of the University of Massachusetts have not only collected fascinating anecdotes about corporate creativity, they have identified six essential elements at companies that allow them to foster an environment that encourages creativity from all employees. They are:

 

  1. Alignment: Ensuring that the interests and actions of all employees are directed toward a company's key goals so that ANY employee will recognize and respond to a useful idea.

     

  2. Self-Initiated Activity: Encouraging employees to identify a problem they are interested in and feel able to solve, for whatever reason motivates them.

     

  3. Unofficial Activity: This occurs in the absence of direct, official support and with the intent of doing something new and useful.

     

  4. Serendipity: Having the keen insight to recognize the implications of a "fortunate accident."

     

  5. Diverse Stimuli: Providing opportunities for employees to encounter different ideas and stimuli and, more importantly, providing a forum through which they can share their discoveries.

     

  6. Within-Company Communication: Ensuring that people from different divisions and units communicate so that creativity isn't stymied by bureaucratic barriers.