Monday, August 4, 2003

How Does Creativity Work at Work? (創意如何發酵?)

How Does Creativity Work at Work? (創意如何發酵?)
[創意組織 ]

How Does Creativity Work at Work?

TODAY's global marketplace is dynamic and hypercompetitive. Organizations must innovate constantly, producing unending lines of better goods and services. Business creativity is now a necessity, not a luxury. Can your company survive without creativity? What about you personally? Do you have original ideas that work? Your career could depend on it. But why are creativity and innovation important? And what's the difference between creativity and innovation? Creativity forms something from nothing, while innovation shapes that something into ever more practical products and services. Creativity by itself can be aimless, shooting off in all directions, some of them useless; while innovation by itself can be sterile, producing nothing fundamentally novel. So how can organizations be structured and managed to be both creative and innovative? And what can we do to bring imagination and productivity to our jobs? If the process can be focused and replicated, creativity helps build companies and promote careers. We assembled a group of creative professionals--three have been chief exeecutives of creative organizations--to answer these questions.


Stephen J. Cannell has written some four hundred episodes for network television, as well as five best-selling novels. As the founder, owner and chief executive of one of Hollywood's largest indepedent television studios, Steve takes us behind the scenes in a business filled with creative egos.

Dr. Mihaly (Mike) Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate School, is the author of leading books on creativity. Mike holds that a company's success depends not as much on coming up with a lot of original ideas as on selecting and realizing the best of them.

Dr. Robert Freeman is the former chief executive of the New England Conservatory of Music and the Eastman School of Music. Bob tells us what it's like to manage an organization overflowing with creative artists.

Dr. John Kao, a psychiatrist and entrepreneur, is the author of Jamming: The Art and Discipline of Business Creativty. John helps companies to foster creativity and sees the successful ones as "idea factories."

Ray Kurzweil, who has founded four high-technology companies based on his pioneering work in computer science, believes that technical diversity and group creativity are essential in this kind of company. Ray is the author of The Age of Spiritual Machines.

ROBERT: Ray, you've started, built, and managed a series of companies based on revolutionary, computer-based systems for new processes, such as speech recognition, and new products, such as musical keyboards. How do you encourage and inspire your employees to be creative?

RAY: Take speech recognition, where the technology is interdisciplinary, requiring experts in signal processing, speech science, linguistics, and half a dozen other disciplines. These people really needed to think as a group, so the first thing we did was to get them all together to understand these different disciplines. An interesting technique--as I noted in the show, "What's Creativity and Who's Creative?--we gave problems from one field to people from another, and let them apply their own tools and traditions to a problem they'd never dealt with before. That way, they really did think out-of-the-box, and they came up with very creative ideas.

ROBERT: Does the boss have to be reasonably familiar with each of those disciplines?

RAY: You do need one person who knows what's feasible: technology has to be feasible, but ahead of the edge. It's important to catch the wave at the right time. You have to aim at something that's going to be an advance when the product comes out--which might be two years later. So you really have to think about where the technology will be.

ROBERT: John, in your book, Jamming, you use your experience as a jazz musician to point up the similarities between that kind of spontaneous creativity and creativity in the workplace. You're also the chief executive of a company called The Idea Factory. What's an idea factory?

JOHN: In a general sense, an idea factory is any organization whose central competitive strengths are creativity, originality, flexibility, and foresight--the ability to see into the future. All businesses want and need creativity, but going from platitudes and slogans to actual practice--which means dealing with people, budgets, opportunities, technology--is very difficult to do. So an idea factory is actually a place, a setting, where creativity can happen every day.

ROBERT: Is creativity more easily generated in a high-tech company than in, say, a distribution company?

JOHN: The only kinds of companies that don't need creativity these days are companies that don't need to change--don't need to keep an eye on rapidly shifting environments. I'd say that would be no companies.

ROBERT: Bob, what's it like running an organization of musical artists, all of whom think they're something special?

BOB: Each of those creative artists is going to have a fairly narrow area of professional disciplinary focus. The bassoon teacher is going to want to make bassoon reeds, the historical musicologist is going to want to deal with watermarks and manuscripts from J. S. Bach, and the piano teacher is going to want to play Chopin etudes. If you put out on the table $75,000 to $100,000 a year, out of an operating budget of $20 million, and say that you will allocate these discretionary funds to projects in which those colleagues work together, you'll get a rush toward the center and some pretty creative ideas.

ROBERT: What's an example of that?

BOB: Oh, a project concerned with the future relationship of supply and demand for classically trained musicians. As soon as you get musicians thinking about that, they'll come to the conclusion that the supply of pianists is already far ahead of the demand. But that's the case only if you plan on sending out the five best pianists from New York to give concerts all over the country. If you can put each of twenty thousand pianists in a different small town in America and get them to develop the musical life in those communities to a pretty high level, you get a wholly different variable.

ROBERT: Steve, you built your private company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, into the largest independent television studio in Hollywood. You produced a thousand hours of network television, shows, like Wise Guy and Silk Stalkings. As a writer yourself, what's it like managing other writers?

STEPHEN: It's an interesting dilemma, because as a writer I have tremendous pride of authorship--which you have to have. And yet as an executive running a company with fifteen hundred employees, many of whom are creative people, you have to do a whole other thing--you have to be a referee. You need to learn how to keep people working together. You have a lot of high-octane people who can get sideways with one another, and in order to keep everything moving forward, you have to subjugate yourself. I always say to people when I come in, "Just because my name's on the building doesn't mean I'm the smartest guy in the building. If I have a bad idea, I want you to tell me."

ROBERT: Do they?

STEPHEN: Oh, boy! If they don't, if I feel they're just slathering Vaseline on me, I pull people aside and say, "Hey, you know what? You're not doing me any good." I need to know when I'm not thinking straight, because I make creative mistakes just like anybody else in the business. In a creative environment, the best idea wins, not the idea that comes from the guy with the biggest title. Everyone should feel part of the process. If the assistant film editor's idea is used in the cutting room, she says to herself, "God, I told them to cut there. I made a contribution, and that's great!" In a creative company, all of a sudden you have this kind of collective heartbeat; people get really excited, and that excitement feeds on itself. Of course, you have to work hard to keep the politicians out of the mix. I have actually let people go who I thought were really talented, because they were playing politics--because they were interested in fomenting anxiety in order to promote themselves. In a creative environment, you have to eliminate politics.

ROBERT: Mike, you've interviewed and analyzed hundreds of creative people from all walks of life. This is the real world, raw data that forms the substrate of your books, like Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. From what you've heard about Ray [Kurzweil]'s technology companies, Bob [Freeman]'s music schools, and Stephen [Cannell]'s television studio, what do you think of these guys?

MIKE: When we think about creativity in organizations, we usually focus on how to generate more and more new ideas from as many people as possible. But that's not where the real issue is. There are lots of good ideas out there. The problem with implementing creativity is how to select, encourage, and realize the good ideas. That's where we don't do a very good job. I think everyone here knows how to do that, but in many organizations they don't. Some CEOs will even hire psychologists to get workers to think out-of-the-box, and although they may increase the number of new ideas, they still don't know how to select the good ones. We have to concentrate more on implementation than on origination.

RAY: The key issue in a group process is defining what you're trying to create. In my companies, we spend a lot of time defining very precisely what it is we're trying to accomplish, and then we take each aspect and break it down in more detail, and we keep doing that until that definition actually becomes the creative output itself.

ROBERT: John, when you work with companies, how do you deal with the selection process that Mike [Csikszentmihalyi]'s talking about?

JOHN: It's fundamental. People often associate creativity in organizations with the big lightbulb, but just in order to prime the pump, companies and all kinds of organizations need to take note of the little possibilities, the small ideas, the pieces of information that don't quite fit with the existing way of thinking. And once an idea gets onto the table, that's just the beginning of the journey. Most companies are a Darwinian jungle, where ideas get killed or stabbed in the back or somehow manage to survive despite the political environment--and that's what constitutes the selection process.

ROBERT: But is that bad?

JOHN: It depends. If you're talking about organizational creativity as a process that requires investment and involves important resources, like people's careers and intellectual property, you have to be more intentional--you can't just let 'er rip. This is not to say that you need to plan every aspect of how you proceed, but you do have to have a process for developing ideas, funding them, and stewarding them to the point where they have value.

STEPHEN: Well, that's one of the points that Ray [Kurzweil] made right at the beginning--that somebody needs to be the quarterback. It's one thing to foster the ideas and get everybody thinking in the same direction, but if the team starts to wander off, you have to get it back on track.

RAY: And the ideas are not the key thing. As Mike [Csikszentmihalyi] pointed out, there are lots of ideas out there. When we dissect a goal into its parts, we find that there are hundreds of ideas for each of these little subproblems. The question is, How do you select the ideas and put them all together? We try to solve the problem very quickly, which means that we might come up with a first step that doesn't work--but then we analyze that step and determine why it doesn't work. It's an iterative process of getting closer and closer to the goal.

BOB: There needs to be a forum for discussing the ideas.

ROBERT: Mike, if you were doing a book on organizational creativity and Ray [Kurzweil], Stephen [Cannell], Bob [Freeman], and John [Kao] were among your interviewees, what questions would you ask them?

MIKE: On what basis do you promote people in your company? And what are you looking for among your chief people?

ROBERT: How important is promotion in creative management? Bob, how does promotion work in the worlds of music and academe?

BOB: One of the fascinating things about American universities, including music schools, is the process whereby young men and women of age thirty or so, who have just finished doctoral degrees, are taken into the machinery of the selection process leading to tenure and by age forty have made valuable contributions. This has a lot to do with how that process is managed and what the incentives are. What one is always doing in the academic world is looking for teachers who, by age forty, have a good enough national reputation to attract good students and good enough teaching skills to make those students improve and prosper.

STEPHEN: The promotion process is critical to a creative company, and it differs from that in, say, brokerage houses or accounting firms. When you decide to put someone in charge of other people is that you may have to make a choice between creative talent and management skill. Some people who have tremendous creative ability may not have any management skills and never will--and vice versa. I've put writers in charge of television shows who I didn't think were necessarily my best writers, but they were best at getting the show going, making the whole thing run, and fostering a feeling of creativity.

ROBERT: How did you handle the writers you thought were the best but who weren't given the promotions?

STEPHEN: Well, what I try to do with those people is work with them--because you can teach management skills to people. For instance, one thing I sometimes find with creative people is that they behave badly because they're insecure. A writer may scream at his secretary, say, to show how important he is, but what he's really doing is waving a flag over his head that says, "I'm not secure, so I need to build up my own importance by humiliating someone who can't defend herself." So what I'll do is pull that person in and say, "Here's what you're doing, guy. You've just raised a flag, and I can read that flag."

RAY: Managerial promotion is not the only thing that's important. Being put in charge of a group of people is not the only way to get recognition. In our technology companies, creative individuals are really the most important contributors, not necessarily the manager of an R&D department.

ROBERT: How do you reward those people?

RAY: By creating a culture in which they understand that their ability to create knowledge, even if they're working all by themselves, is at least as important as being a manager.

JOHN: There are many ways to reward people which fundamentally reflect what you value. There are companies that will reward people with more free time or money from a slush fund to pursue personal interests.

ROBERT: It's more important than even a personal bonus?

JOHN: It might be a lot more important than cash. Let's look at what motivates creative people--and Mike [Csikszentmihalyi] can certainly help us with that. Often creative people are best motivated by being part of a community in which they can do their best work with people whom they regard as being their peers at the top of their game.

STEPHEN: My brother-in-law says that when people come in for employment interviews at his architectural firm, more and more frequently the first question they ask is "How much free time will I have?" This is a very strange question, because when I was starting out, that was the last thing I was worried about. I wanted to get employed; I wanted to make my mark; I wanted to climb the ladder; I didn't worry about my vacation time.

MIKE: Well, time is the ultimate resource, so now in some sense it's a symbol of power. But I think that what all you gentlemen are saying is very important, and not often implemented in organizations. You're not just throwing money or power at people below you, but you're paying attention to them, and to what they're trying to do. You're trying to find the best match between them and the needs of the organization. I don't think you can achieve creative results in organizations simply by rewarding people financially or with power; you have to pay attention to people and treat them with respect.

RAY: We try not to let rank and ego issues get in the way. We try to create a group enthusiasm--to create a flow, if you will. When this works well, ideas come out of a session and nobody knows who actually came up with them. The group is working as one mind, internalizing the problems and coming up with solutions.

ROBERT: As society becomes more knowledge-based, creative organizations, however diverse in content and customers, are becoming more similar to one another in process and structure. Bob produces knowledge in music schools, Ray in technology companies, Stephen in the entertainment business, John in facilitating new ventures. It's the creative output that makes such similarity of style so fascinating.

RAY: Increasingly, knowledge production is really where it's at. We've created a trillion dollars of new market capitalization in Silicon Valley alone over the last ten years and it's all new knowledge. That's how wealth is being created in the world today. And it's not just computers and software; it's art and music and writing and all kinds, all forms, of knowledge. One reason we're successful in this country is that we have the culture and the institutions to encourage that.

JOHN: The importance of creativity today reflects a fundamental shift in the nature of the economy. In the old days, wealth was created by standardization. In the industrial era, you manufactured something, you sought long production runs to get economies of scale, you were really efficient--you could get a Model-T any color you wanted as long as it was black. And there was a whole set of assumptions about how to manage. Organizations had a typical hierarchical structure to make sure things ran smoothly. That system worked well when the industrial environment was relatively stable, but now it's fundamentally unstable--and so we need fewer economies of scale and more economies of discovery. This means that the approach to organizational structure and management has to shift as well.

RAY: And these shifts are happening faster, because technological change is accelerating--and it's going to continue to get faster.

ROBERT: Let's look at the dark side. What are some of the things organizations do that inhibit creativity?

RAY: If you have a lot of hierarchy, it causes problems by cutting down communication. I've moved away from hierarchical organizations; I've flattened them. I try to recognize everybody's skills and find ways that the group can work together and give people satisfaction.

ROBERT: All of you, I'm sure, have made mistakes. Ray, in retrospect, what have you done that inhibited creativity?

RAY: Throwing too many people at a project.

ROBERT: Bob, I bet it's easy to aggravate musicians. Have you ever done that?

BOB: I'm sure I have, undoubtedly every day, though without intending to. I hope it won't be irrelevant here to draw a contrast between symphony orchestras and string quartets. A symphony orchestra is a very hierarchical organization that gets its artistic direction from a strong leader who's standing on a box with a stick in his hand and who brooks no discussion or enjoys no collaboration on anything. If he says, "It's now too loud," it is indeed now too loud. In a string quartet, the four players who are members of that organization have to interact with one another to achieve creative results. I'm not going to name this famous European string quartet, but it uses no music and has played together for thirty years. The one woman member, who plays second violin, has been married at one time or another to each of the three others. How you get creative results with that kind of collaboration Mike [Csikszentmihalyi] may know, but I don't.

ROBERT: Stephen, are you going to try that system?

STEPHEN: No, I wouldn't try that system. We have in filmmaking what is called the auteur theory, which means that the director has a vision and his vision is omnipotent. This is very similar to Bob [Freeman]'s orchestra model, where the conductor is the absolute boss. I've always fought against the auteur theory, because it doesn't bring the best creativity to the table. You have writers, you have actors, you have directors, and the idea that only one person on a set can have a vision is, I think, wrong. Everybody should have a vision of what he or she has to do, and it's the director's task to mold those visions and keep everything moving in the right direction. A really good director would be willing to see something unexpected that an actor is doing, adjust his own vision, and change the way he directs the scene. I don't think the auteur theory is healthy for filmmaking.

ROBERT: Sounds like you're a perfect boss. Tell me a mistake that you've made.

STEPHEN: Oh, I make 'em all the time.

ROBERT: Tell us one; I won't tell anyone.

STEPHEN: Well, OK. I once blew up at a network in a meeting--

ROBERT: But they deserved it.

STEPHEN: No, actually I just lost it. I allowed myself to vent in the wrong circumstances. It was my fault, and I left the meeting knowing I had made a horrible error--and when I make a mistake like that I'm affecting not only my own career but the careers of all the other people who are working with me on these projects. And I didn't work for that network again for about nine years.

ROBERT: You bring up an important distinction, because you're a creative person running a large creative organization--as are Ray [Kurzweil] and Bob [Freeman]. How can the same human being be personally creative and at the same time be managing the creativity of others?

STEPHEN: You have to become a little schizophrenic. You have to compartmentalize. There's some part of you that has to be a manager and has to say, "OK, I'm not fronting for this proejct; I'm not the writer here."

ROBERT: Ray, you're an inventor and you run companies. Isn't that a managerial conflict of interest?

RAY: I try to collaborate. My own creative process is to frame a problem at night, think about it, and then go to sleep--and in the morning there's often some creative ideas to work with. But then to get everybody involved in the creative process, we try to recognize everybody's contribution--which is really their reward, along with the thrill of having the technology affect people's lives.

ROBERT: Mike, do you see a conflict when a manager is both personally creative and trying to manage the creativity of others?

MIKE: It could happen, but there's a lot of creativity in management itself. If you can enjoy orchestrating talent and skill, being a manager of creativity can be very satisfying.

ROBERT: John, when you work with companies, what are some keys to engender creativity?

JOHN: That's about a ten-hour subject, but I'll comment on a couple of things. One is to look explicitly at the environment within which creative work might occur--I mean both the physical and emotional environments. On the physical side, it's no accident that in Hollywood and in the recording industry the workspace is generally free of the "Dilbert" kind of cubicles, and there are special conference rooms for brainstorming sessions. Big ideas need a big space. The emotional environment is about how the person managing the process makes people brave enough to step forward with their ideas. It also has to do with what the company believes in, because organizations need a north star in order to fix a purpose for creativity. Creativity in and of itself, as we've mentioned, is just new stuff, so a company needs to link creativity to a larger vision of the future. It needs to have what you might call strategic foresight, so that creative work is organized and focused.

ROBERT: Stephen, as a north star, how do you make decisions in your company?

STEPHEN: I'm very intuitive. I was actually asked this question in a magazine interview. I said that if I don't have an answer, I try to solicit the best opinions in my company, but then I make a gut shot at it. The reporter said that I was the first executive to acknowledge relying on intuition in decision making. The other people he'd interviewed all said that they made decisions empirically. They would collect information, they would make graphs, they would use efficiency scales and equations and whatever to figure out the bottom line, and then they would make a decision based on that.

ROBERT: Those other guys may be making decisions just as intuitively as you do, but they could have been embarrassed to say so, because it's socially unacceptable to make decisions based on intuition.

STEPHEN: Well, that's what this reporter said. He said that intuition is considered a feminine trait, and most of those guys wouldn't admit to it. Of course, I will.

ROBERT: Intuition and analysis each have their role; the best decision makers use both.

STEPHEN: You know me. I don't need to claim to use empirical studies to support my decisions just to justify getting paid a lot of money.

ROBERT: Ray, how do you see creativity in rapidly changing technologies?

RAY: Creative groups are dynamic and shifting and aren't necessarily long lasting. With the Web, we can create virtual companies very quickly and have work groups that aren't geographically in the same place. With increasing bandwidth, we can tap math talent in Russia, programming talent in India, and musical talent in China. Creative groups can be formed around the world.

ROBERT: The Web is amazing. Last night I was searching for John [Kao]'s resume on my paper-strewn desk when I realized that it would be easier to download it from his Web site five hundred miles away. Took about eight seconds.

RAY: There's a fantastic network of knowledge that's at our fingertips, and it's becoming more compelling. I feel very plugged in.

ROBERT: Does the integration of technology enhance creativity? Some say that technology enhances control and thus stifles creativity.

RAY: Many solutions to problems are out there; people just have to discover them. With all this knowledge at our fingertips, and with powerful tools to find it, we can attack more complex and demanding tasks.

JOHN: This notion of a group memory is very important. Companies often don't know what they know. Technology enables the representation and sharing of knowledge in ways that haven't been possible before. We're just at the beginning of an exciting era.

ROBERT: Let's fast forward into that era a hundred years. How will creativity impact business?

MIKE: I've been studying many traditional manufacturing firms, and it's incredible how creative they now have to become to survive. They have to change every few years. Previously, they could wait twenty years or so before they had to make their products obsolete, but now it has to be done almost immediately.

BOB: Education in the next century will embody something that the Scandinavians already understand: We're training people for careers that aren't going to end at age sixty-five or seventy but go on until eighty or ninety. Thus the importance of continuing education--the opportunity to bring men and women, perhaps in their mid-forties, back to school either to improve skills that aren't up to current standards or to help them begin new careers.

RAY: A hundred years from now, society will be profoundly different, and people will be profoundly different. We're not going to have unmet material needs. The whole point of society will be to focus on innovation, the creation of new knowledge. And as a species, we will have vastly expanded intellectual skills, because of a merger between our biological brains and the very powerful new technologies we're creating. We're already putting [very simple] implants in our brains, and that will be routine a hundred years from now. We'll be a lot smarter, and the goal will be creating new knowledge.

JOHN: Companies will be measured on ROI--return on innovation. There will be chief innovation officers, who will be responsible for these innovation processes, which will move ideas forward in very explicit ways. People will look at the management of ideas then as routinely as they look at the management of money now.

ROBERT: Stephen, you'll still be writing novels a hundred years from today?

STEPHEN: I'm counting on it; I'll be in a crypt somewhere typing away. I think we're looking at such a huge technological revolution that flexibility and creativity will be essential. There will be many new delivery systems, many more ways to get ideas to the consumer. You'll need to be much more flexible to take advantage of this increasingly innovative world we're in.


CREATIVITY and innovation mark the economic frontier of contemporary commerce. Finding new and better products to sell, services to offer, and ways to work are all essential for survival in highly competitive environments. With increasingly rapid change, the need to anticipate change is critical. Creativity in business is surprise, breakthrough, leaps of logic, sudden shifts in modus operandi. But creativity has to be directed or it may well spin out of control. Modern organizations require both creative management and the management of the creativity--that is, executives who cook up novel ideas themselves and executives who can direct the creativity of others. Creativity is required in all sectors--business, the professions, not-for-profit, academic, government. Creativity works its magic across the organization, from overall strategy to specific R&D, from finance to production, distribution to customer service. Creativity, in short, propels the country's business and catapults its citizens' careers. What drives the best people in the best organizations? An almost obsessive need to change, even to shock. Creative individuals are rolling dynamos; they are intense, gutsy, spirited, strange. It's personalities like these that push us closer to truth.

Editor's Translations:

“Creativity is required in all sectors--business, the professions, not-for-profit, academic, government. Creativity works its magic across the organization, from overall strategy to specific R&D, from finance to production, distribution to customer service. Creativity, in short, propels the country's business and catapults its citizens' careers. What drives the best people in the best organizations? An almost obsessive need to change, even to shock. Creative individuals are rolling dynamos; they are intense, gutsy, spirited, strange. It's personalities like these that push us closer to truth.”
[社會全面 – 企業, 專業, 非營利, 學術, 政府, 都需要創意。 從整體戰略到具體研發, 從財務到生產, 從發行到顧客服務, 創意的魔術橫跨組織。 簡而言之, 只有創意能推進國家的產業, 公民的事業。 最佳的組織裡最佳的人才有一種特質--他門需要改變甚致於震動現狀。創意人士是輾壓發電機; 他們個性強烈, 性質古怪。 這種人士才會把我們推向真理。]
-- Robert Lawrence Kuhn

-- Bevin Chu

Explanation: How Does Creativity Work at Work?
Illustration(s): Stephen J. Cannel, Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Robert Freeman, John Kao, Ray Kurzweil, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

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